from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 67
July 13, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


Former National Security Agency official Thomas A. Drake, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of exceeding the authorized use of a government computer, will ask a federal court to sentence him to one year probation with community service at a sentencing hearing on Friday, July 15.

Mr. Drake, who is understood to have been a source for several Baltimore Sun stories that revealed NSA mismanagement, was indicted in April 2010 under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling classified information, as well as obstruction of justice and making false statements, charges that he denied. In a breathtaking reversal last month, the prosecution abandoned all of the ten felony counts in the Drake indictment, and accepted a misdemeanor guilty plea instead.

Technically, however, the court could still sentence Mr. Drake to a maximum of a year in prison, though the government is not requesting more than a year of probation.

This week, Mr. Drake's attorneys filed a sentencing memorandum to bolster his request for probation.

The document, with numerous attachments, testifies to Mr. Drake's distinguished military service in the US Air Force and the US Navy Reserves, his exceptional professional achievements (with multiple commendations from NSA), his physical courage, his moral rectitude, and the high esteem in which he is held by his colleagues. (The memorandum, filed under seal, was partially redacted to exclude personal information about Drake's family and friends.)

Meanwhile, his attorneys argued, Mr. Drake has already suffered severely, even before being sentenced. His professional career has been all but terminated. He lost his clearance and the possibility of a federal pension. He was fired from a teaching position at Strayer University as a direct consequence of the government's felony indictment. He has been uprooted from the community of his peers. And he has been driven into debt.

"Friends and colleagues from all stages of his life resoundingly call Mr. Drake a hard-working, dedicated, and honest public servant who puts others first," wrote public defenders James Wyda and Deborah L. Boardman. "They herald his honesty and patriotism, and laud his commitment to family, citizenship, and the ideals of the Constitution."

"Against the backdrop of Mr. Drake's personal history, and in light of the suffering and punishment he already has endured as a result of his actions, incarceration is not an appropriate sentence in this case," they wrote. "A one-year probationary sentence, with a condition of community service, is the just punishment in this case, for this crime, and for this defendant."

Judge Richard D. Bennett of the Eastern District of Virginia will preside over the July 15 sentencing hearing.


Former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling, who is suspected of leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen, this week asked a court to issue subpoenas for staff and records of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The move is part of a defense strategy to show that it was Senate staffers rather than Mr. Sterling who leaked the classified information in question.

"Mr. Sterling is charged with unlawfully disclosing classified information to a third party [i.e., Mr. Risen] not authorized to receive the information," Sterling's July 11 motion explained. "An obvious defense at trial will be that any disclosure to the third party was done by another person or by multiple individuals -- and not by Mr. Sterling."

"Specifically, Mr. Sterling spoke to staff members of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2003 about the Classified Program underlying the charges in the Indictment. These conversations were all lawful. Discovery in this case has revealed that Mr. Sterling spoke to two Committee staff members, Donald Stone and Vicky Divoll, and that they briefed a third Committee staff member, Lorenzo Goco. Less than a month after Mr. Sterling's conversation with the Senate staffers, Mr. Risen contacted the C.I.A. requesting comments for an article on Classified Program No. 1. The timing is highly suggestive that it was one of the staff members and not Mr. Sterling who unlawfully disclosed classified information."

The subpoenas were first reported by Josh Gerstein in Politico ("Alleged CIA leaker wants to subpoena Senate and intel panel aides," July 11).

Proposing a potential alternative source for the unauthorized disclosure, while a sensible tactic for the defense, might have the unintended consequence of increasing the pressure for Mr. Risen to testify. Prosecutors are already urging the court to grant a subpoena for Risen to clarify the facts of the matter. Even if he is not compelled to identify his source, he might still be pressed to confirm who was *not* his source.


An article in the Russian edition of Forbes magazine this week somewhat facetiously considered the tourism potential of Russia's secretive and tightly secured closed cities.

"In today's Russia there are 42 closed administrative territorial entities -- or ZATOs -- surrounded by rows of barbed wire and guarded by armed patrols. They belong to the Ministry of Defense, Rosatom (State Corporation for Atomic Energy), and Roskosmos (Federal Space Agency)," the article (in Russian) said.

"A special pass is needed in order to gain access to the territory of a ZATO. This is most readily available to anyone who has close relatives resident in a closed city. A pass is also issued to people who have got a job in a ZATO or who have found themselves a husband or a wife among the local residents."

"But there are also more circuitous routes, of course. From time to time some ZATOs stage cultural and sports events to which outside participants are invited. But the most desperate simply find holes in the fence or steal their way into a city along secret paths. In this context, admittedly, consideration has to be given to the fact that gaining unlawful access to the territory of a ZATO carries the risk of administrative punishment in the form of a fine and immediate expulsion from the territory."

"Forbes has selected 10 closed cities in Russia that are worth a visit. Or at least worth the attempt." The profiled cities include Krasnoyarsk, Zelenogorsk, Kapustin Yar, Lesnoy, Mirnyy, Novouralsk, Ozersk, Sarov, Severomorsk, and Snezhinsk.

The enticing Snezhinsk "is full of mysterious artifacts that have been preserved from Soviet times: structures whose purpose is unknown, ventilation pipes that protrude from the ground in the very heart of the city, tunnels leading off into the unknown."

The 2008 book "A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry" by Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger included a chapter on Russia's closed cities.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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