NSA Releases Disputed Email from Drake Case

07.23.12 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

On Friday, the National Security Agency released a declassified email message entitled “What a Wonderful Success” that had been used as the basis for a felony count against former NSA official Thomas Drake in 2010, who was charged with unlawful retention of classified information, including that message.

Although all of the felony counts against Mr. Drake were eventually dismissed, the “What a Wonderful Success” email remains controversial because it has been challenged by a leading classified expert as an exemplar of reckless overclassification.

The document is “an innocuous, internal communication that never should have been classified in the first place,” according to a petition filed last May by J. William Leonard, the former director of the Information Security Oversight Office.  He asked the presiding judge in the Drake case to lift the protective order which currently bars him from discussing the NSA document.

The release of the NSA document was first reported in “Ex-federal official calls U.S. classification system ‘dysfunctional’,” by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, July 22.

Without getting into the specifics of the newly disclosed document, Mr. Leonard said: “I can generally state that the very critical national security tool of classification of national security information is becoming dysfunctional and requires the highest level of attention if it is to continue to be an effective national security tool.”

“Specifically, the system clearly lacks the ability to differentiate between trivial information and that which can truly damage our nation’s well-being. At the same time, and even more importantly, it appears to be incapable of holding government officials accountable for abusing the classification system.”

“If the system continues to be one-sided, where individuals are routinely held to account for supposedly improperly disclosing protected information but no one is ever held accountable for improperly classifying information in the first place, it sends a very clear message to the millions of individuals with security clearances to continue to overclassify with impunity. That does not bode well for either the security of our nation or our democratic form of government.”

“Absent meaningful corrective action by the Government at the highest of levels, to include the President, I despair for the integrity of the classification system,” Mr. Leonard said.