Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Drake’


FOI DAILY DOSE: Whistleblower Thomas Drake sentence includes no jail time, British Columbia launches open gov website

NSA whistleblower goes free

After the prosecution of National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake collapsed from felony-level charges to a plea bargain for a misdemeanor, Drake was sentenced to one year probation and 240 hours of community service July 15.

Judge Richard D. Bennett criticized the Justice Department for dragging out its investigation of Drake for years before dropping the bulk of the charges just days before the trial was to begin.

For a detailed account of Drake’s sentencing, check out this New York Times article.

The Government Accountability Project has also published a transcript of Drake’s statement to the press following his sentencing.

 

British Columbia first provincial gov to start open-data site

The government of British Columbia made almost 2,500 datasets publicly available Tuesday when it launched its open-data website.

Although much of the information was already previously available, the website makes it easier to access, according to a Vancouver Sun article.

British Columbia has also adopted an open-data license that will allow programmers to use government information without fear of being sued.

The province will also start posting FOI-requested data online here after the requester has had a minimum of four days to review the information beforehand – a caveat that will let reporters cover stories before others can gain access to the data.

For more information on this open government initiative, see this article from the Globe and Mail.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26)

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Gov report verifies Drake’s NSA claims, metadata ruling repealed

The government released a classified Pentagon report from 2004 that supports National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake’s claims of waste and abuse within the department.

Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in June after various news outlets published stories questioning the Justice Department’s decision to level felony charges against him. He was indicted after he leaked information on the NSA’s problems to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

The report from the Defense Department Inspector General was prompted by complaints about NSA troubles from Drake and other employees, according to a Washington Post article.

It upholds Drake’s claim that the NSA was wasting money on a program called Trailblazer when another more effective program had already been developed.

As a result, Trailblazer sucked more than $1 billion out of the government budget and was abandoned in 2006 due to technical programs and its hefty cost.

The Project on Government Oversight obtained the classified report through a FOIA request and released it Wednesday (heavily redacted, of course).

Court repeals FOI metadata opinion

A New York federal district court repealed its February opinion that declared that metadata – any information for an electronic document that deals with the record’s management or history – must be included in public records.

The opinion was issued in the National Day Laborer Organizing Network v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency case, which was settled June 17.

It was the first federal court opinion addressing the issue of how FOIA rules apply to metadata, according to a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press article.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

 

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FOI Fail of the Week: Obama admin. pushes forward with another leaker case

Despite the watering down of the whistleblower case against former National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake from felony charges to a single misdemeanor, the Obama administration is pressing forward with its next court case against a leaker.

The next target for the Justice Department is Stephen Kim, a South Korean arms expert accused of violating the Espionage Act by providing classified information to Fox News.

A New York Times article outlines the case.

Prior to being charged by DOJ, Kim spent years discussing the potential threats posed by North Korea with various government officials.

The DOJ does not seem to be considering changes to its campaign against leakers despite the collapse of its high-profile case against Drake.

Kim is one of five leaker cases the government has pursued thus far, compared to three in all previous presidential administrations combined. There is also an ongoing grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks, the group responsible for publishing U.S. diplomatic cables and other secret documents online.

Kim began speaking about North Korea-related issues with Fox News reporter James Rosen in March 2009 after a press officer with the State Department asked him to do so.

Kim sent some emails using the pseudonym “Leo Grace.”

In June 2009 Rosen reported that the CIA had learned that, in response to a United Nations resolution expressing disapproval for North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, the government centered in the national capital of Pyongyang would probably react by increasing the number of tests and related activities.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Drake agrees to plea bargain

Whistleblower Thomas Drake’s case ends with plea bargain

The case against Thomas Drake ended with a squeak, not a roar.

Drake, who provided information to a Baltimore Sun reporter in 2007 about waste in the NSA, accepted a plea bargain last week in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of intentionally exceeding authorized usage of his government computer.

Although the misdemeanor carries a potential prison sentence of one year, the government agreed that Drake would not serve any jail time. The misdemeanor is minor compared to the 10 felonies for which he was originally charged.

Drake was not on trial for leaking information to the Baltimore Sun, although the leak led to his indictment.

Concern that the federal government was overreaching in its prosecution of Drake was explored by several media outlets, including a New Yorker article on Drake’s indictment and a Washington Post editorial that said the federal government might be going overboard in its prosecution of Drake.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

 

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Drake catches a break, EPA releases confidential chemical names

Drake may have a few charges dropped in whistleblower case

Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency official who leaked information about wasteful practices in the NSA to a Baltimore Sun reporter, may catch a break and have a few of the charges he faces dropped from his court case.

Drake is being tried under the Espionage Act of 1917 for willfully retaining classified documents, among other charges.

Federal prosecutors will withdraw key documents from the case to protect sensitive technology information, but this may hurt their efforts to prove Drake violated the Espionage Act.

Prosecutors decided to redact the records after U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett ruled they couldn’t substitute classified information with unclassified language without hurting Drake’s ability to defend himself against the charges.

Two counts related to information Drake sent to the Defense Department inspector general to support colleagues’ complaints about the abuses surrounding an NSA program called Trailblazer may be dropped. Drake and his coworkers thought their complaints were confidential, and the evidence for those charges are contained in exhibits that will be withdrawn from court proceedings.

Another charge that may be dropped also involves information Drake sent to the inspector general. The exhibit that bolsters this charge will be redacted.

Two other charges concern information Drake had but which was also available on the in-house intranet for the NSA. Drake could argue that this material was unclassified and easily available to thousands of other employees.

The remaining charges against Drake, which include counts of making a false statement and obstructing justice, are less vital.

This could be a lucky break for Drake and his defense team.

EPA goes public with confidential chemical names

The EPA recently released the names of more than 150 chemicals that had previously been kept confidential in safety and health studies.

The move increases transparency within the agency and gives citizens access to information about chemicals that may carry potential health risks.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade association that represents the chemical industry, said in a statement to iWatch News that it agreed it was important to educate the public about potential chemical risks. But at the same time, some information should be protected to ensure businesses can remain competitive in the industry.

Some of the now-declassified documents were voluntarily disclosed by companies in honor of the EPA’s 2010 request that businesses disclose some of their confidential business information (CBI).

EPA policy will require companies to disclose the names of any chemicals on the agency’s public inventory list if they are mentioned in safety or health studies.

About 17,000 chemicals out of the more than 83,000 that are listed on the agency’s master inventory, however, do not have information about them publicly available, according to a 2009 Environmental Working Group study.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Sticking up for Drake, Nigeria FOI law to keep industry transparent

Public, WaPo stick up for whistleblower Thomas Drake

National Security Administration whistleblower Thomas Drake goes to court next week, but he isn’t without public support for his actions.

Drake is facing charges of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. According to prosecutors, he willfully retained classified documents that he had promised to protect.

Drake provided unclassified but important information to a Baltimore Sun reporter about wasteful spending and other problems in the NSA, which led to his indictment. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

The Washington Post published an editorial Sunday that echoed the concerns of various whistleblower supporters. The central question in the Drake case, at least for the WaPo editorial board, is whether the court case is an overkill response to Drake’s actions.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) showed support for Drake on June 3, presenting a petition to Attorney General Eric Holder and the House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary Committees urging the Department of Justice to drop the case against Drake.

The petition has more than 4,600 signatures according to its Web page on Change.org.

Nigeria FOI law to strengthen transparency of extractive industry

The country’s new FOI law, recently signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, should boost transparency in the extractive industry.

The operations of the industry’s revenue collection agencies and oil companies can be very secretive, but there is a push toward open access that the new law can strengthen.

The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) aims to improve openness among industry companies, especially with respect to their revenue disclosures. Its Executive Secretary, Zainab Ahmed, said the FOI act complemented the NEITI Act of 2007 that created the initiative.

With the implementation of the FOI law, as well as NEITI, Nigeria is moving forward with its goal of improving transparency throughout the nation – both in the government and in the economic sector as well.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI Fail of the Week: Unclassified docs kept secret in Drake trial

Classified information is obviously meant to remain secret. But apparently, unclassified documents should stay secret too.

At least, the prosecution in the Thomas Drake whistleblower court case thinks so. And on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett agreed.

Unclassified but “sensitive” information will be withheld from Drake’s trial because, under the National Security Agency Act of 1959, prosecutors can request that classified and unclassified information can be kept secret from the jurors and replaced with other substitutions.

This legal privilege has been used by the government to refuse releasing records under FOIA, but this is the first time it has been used in criminal trials.

Although the court has decided keeping the unclassified information undisclosed in the trial is acceptable and will not affect Drake’s defense, his lawyers argued otherwise in a May 30 response to the prosecution’s request.

The substitutions agreed to by the court will “signal to the jury that the Court and the government believe information in the document was so potentially damaging to national security that it had to be withheld from the public — the very fact they must decide.”

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

 

 

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Thomas Drake and FOI rules for Ill. gun owners

If you missed it, check out the May 22 episode of “60 Minutes,” which includes whistleblower Thomas Drake’s first-ever television interview.

Drake was indicted in April 2010 under the Espionage Act of 1917 for his actions when providing information to a Baltimore Sun reporter in 2007. The journalist later wrote a series on financial waste and other problematic practices in the National Security Agency, where Drake worked.

Drake will appear in court June 13 and faces up to 35 years in prison.

In Illinois, the legislature took another step toward shielding gun owners from certain records requests today when the Senate passed House Bill 3500 in a 42-1 vote. The bill, which passed the Illinois House in April, would amend the state Freedom of Information Act to protect the personal information of people who have received or applied for a Firearm Owners Identification Card, unless the records are part of a criminal investigation.

The bill now goes to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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