A transcript of the sentencing hearing in the case of National Security Agency whistleblower and public servant Thomas Drake, following the complete collapse of the government’s 10-count felony case against him, shows the Justice Department prosecutor calling for Drake to be fined an amount five times as great as the $10,000 of his Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize awarded in April – in order to repudiate any idea that Drake should be honored and allowed to “profit” from his action in revealing a hugely wasteful boondoggle associated with illegal federal surveillance-state activity. As if the damage done by the Bush and Obama administrations’ shameful four-year prosecution of Drake and the destruction of his career didn’t send a sufficiently chilling message to other potential truth-tellers inside the government, over-reaching prosecutor Welch had to cap things off with a petty, mean-spirited swipe at the Ridenhour Awards – an event that helped draw public attention to the government’s war on national security whistleblowers.
Earlier CSW post:
Thomas Drake NSA whistleblower victory: government’s case implodes
Steven Aftergood, posting July 29 on the Secrecy News blog of the Federation of American Scientists, reported (“Handling of Drake Case Was ‘Unconscionable,’ Court Said“):
The government’s treatment of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake was abusive and akin to acts of British tyranny in pre-Revolutionary War days, said Judge Richard D. Bennett at the July 15 sentencing hearing which concluded the Drake case, one of the Obama Administration’s record number of anti-”leak” prosecutions. A transcript (pdf) of that hearing was prepared at the request of Secrecy News. …
Much of the tension arose from the recommendation of the relentless prosecutor, William M. Welch, that Mr. Drake should be fined an additional $50,000 to serve as a deterrent and to “send a message” to other government employees who might be inclined to follow in his footsteps.
Mr. Welch complained that Mr. Drake had “received a $10,000 prize for having been a whistleblower,” namely the Ridenhour award, which was presented to Mr. Drake in April 2011.
Mr. Welch said that Mr. Drake should therefore be fined at least $10,000 in order to repudiate and cancel whatever “profit” and public respect he had gained from his whistleblowing activity, in which he exposed questionable management practices at the National Security Agency.
“He shouldn’t walk away in the sense of a comparison between the fine and this award with any semblance of a notion that he’s profited in any way from his conduct,” Mr. Welch said. “At a minimum, the fine ought to be $10,000, but I would urge the court to impose the $50,000.”
But the judge wasn’t having it.
“There has been financial devastation wrought upon this defendant that far exceeds any fine that can be imposed by me. And I’m not going to add to that in any way,” he said decisively.
Judge Bennett further rebuked the government for its handling of the case. From the time when Drake’s home was searched in 2007, it took two and a half years before Drake was indicted, “and then over a year later, on the eve of trial, in June of 2011, the government says, whoops, we dropped the whole case.”
“That’s four years of hell that a citizen goes through,” the judge said. “It was not proper. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
“I don’t think that deterrence should include an American citizen waiting two and a half years after their home is searched to find out if they’re going to be indicted or not,” Judge Bennett said. “I find that unconscionable. Unconscionable. It is at the very root of what this country was founded on against general warrants of the British. It was one of the most fundamental things in the Bill of Rights that this country was not to be exposed to people knocking on the door with government authority and coming into their homes. And when it happens, it should be resolved pretty quickly, and it sure as heck shouldn’t take two and a half years before someone’s charged after that event.”
Tom Drake was awarded the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, just weeks before his case was scheduled to go to trial. It appears that the political and media campaign waged on his behalf was significant in framing a narrative of the case that emphasized Drake’s contribution as a public servant and helped to discredit the government’s ongoing war on national security whistleblowers. Scott Pelley’s interview with Drake on CBS 60 Minutes and an outstanding feature article in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer were surely helpful in this regard.
The Ridenhour Prizes
Ridenhour Prize recipients
Thomas Drake Recipient of 2011 Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize (about the award, with video and transcript of Drake’s acceptance speech at the National Press Club, Washington, DC)