Former National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas A. Drake says continuing mismanagement and malfeasance have turned the nation's premier electronic spy agency into "the Enron of the U.S. intelligence community."
Mr. Drake, whose federal criminal case concluded last week, said in an interview with The Washington Times that he thinks management failures at NSA related to electronic surveillance and other issues that he protested — first through internal channels and then by sharing unclassified data with a Baltimore Sun reporter — are continuing.
"The agency never even accepted the basis for the [Pentagon inspector general's] investigation in the first place," he said, referring to the internal audit launched after he and others at NSA's Fort Meade headquarters in Maryland complained about contract fraud and mismanagement.
He compared the agency to the Texas-based energy trading giant Enron Corp., which went bankrupt in 2001 and became a symbol of corporate fraud and corruption.
Mr. Drake was sentenced to one year's probation and community service last week after the government's 10 felony counts against him were withdrawn. He instead pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of exceeding authorized access to a government computer.
The judge called the prosecutors' handling of the case "unconscionable" because it took 2½ years to charge Mr. Drake and another 14 months to bring him to trial before all the major charges were dropped at the last minute.
The Justice Department said this week that it will continue pursuing other cases against intelligence officials accused of leaking classified information.
"The guilty plea of the Drake case has no affect on other pending matters," Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney told The Times. "Each case is unique, based on its fact and circumstances, and the department is proceeding in the pending cases."
They include the prosecutions of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling and State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, both involving accusations of leaks to reporters.
Another major case is that of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is facing military charges related to hundreds of thousands of classified documents obtained in Iraq and passed to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.
Mr. Drake's whistleblowing is related to NSA's multibillion-dollar plan to develop a digital eavesdropping and data storage system called Trailblazer, which would index and analyze large amounts of electronic data that the agency gathers from monitoring computers and telephones around the world.
Even though the public version of the inspector general's report is heavily censored, Mr. Drake said: "It is clear that NSA disputes the findings. ... They have never accepted they did anything wrong."
"There was a cover-up," Mr. Drake said. "The truth is Trailblazer was an even more abysmal failure than they let on in public."
In 2005, NSA Director Michael Hayden told Congress that Trailblazer was "a couple to several hundred million" dollars over budget and months behind schedule. The program was abandoned in 2006.
"In the end, they delivered nothing," Mr. Drake said of contractor SAIC, which was paid $280 million for the demonstration phase of the program. Mr. Drake said executives at NSA, including the deputy director at the time, William B. Black, were former SAIC employees and the contract was "hard-wired for SAIC."
Mr. Black returned to work at SAIC after his retirement from the NSA in 2006.
Through a spokesman, SAIC said the company and its executives declined to comment.
Mr. Drake, who held a senior position at NSA from 2001 until 2008, said the agency had planned to spend more than $4 billion on the program with SAIC and dozens of other contractors, and that fraud and abuse were widespread in Trailblazer and related programs.
"It really became a feeding frenzy as contractor after contractor bellied up to the Trailblazer bar," he said.
Mr. Drake said NSA's accounts — like most other Defense Department bookkeeping systems — were "unauditable."
The agency's budget is classified, but even for those inside the agency, "It was very difficult to determine where most of the money was going except at a very general level," he said.
The government "fought very hard" to keep any reference to the inspector general's report, or his other whistleblowing activities, for instance to Congress, out of the court case.
"Why were they so afraid of that getting into court?" he asked. "It's the continuing cover-up."
The NSA press office referred a request for comment to the Justice Department.
Ms. Sweeney, the Justice spokeswoman, said: "The department has long valued the legitimate exposure of waste, fraud and abuse if it occurs while at the same time protecting the rule of law.
"There are laws prohibiting government employees who are entrusted with the nation's most sensitive information from disclosing classified information to anyone not authorized to receive it."
Despite the administration's pursuit of leaks, some observers say, such cases often are difficult to prosecute without exposing secrets that the government wants to protect.
A former U.S. official familiar with the Drake case called leak cases challenging.
"You have to make absolutely sure that the victim agency understands very clearly who will be called as a witness and what they might be asked about," the former official said. "They have to be OK with that. ... If that is not adequately or sufficiently discussed, problems can come up."
The approach of the default "Day of Doom" makes the question pressing....
This now seems a valid question. A solution to the deficit problem is clearly available:
1- Return income tax rates to what they were when that paragon of presidential virtue, Bill C. was in office. (irony alert) I hear people "going on" about the stultifying effect of income tax rate increases on small businesses. I don't get it. The US economy was booming under those tax rates. "People are afraid because the S Corporations will be hurt by higher taxes." "S corporations," "mumble, mumble," "double taxation," "mumble, mumble," "class warfare," "mumble, mumble." I used to be one of the owners of an S Corporation. The principal benefit of such a corporation is that distributions (not salary) to the owners IS NOT taxed as corporate income. The same thing is true of partnerships. So, basically, the truth is that well off people just don't want their taxes raised. They succeeded in having their Republican friends lower their taxes in the Bush years and they are fighting to keep them low using their ability to "bribe" members of Congress with campaign fund money.
2- Get rid of the Part D medicare pharmacy benefit. It is welfare for big pharma and it is not funded in any realistic way. You want a pharmacy benefit? Go around the world and ask people who have such benefits how they do it. Start by asking the French.
3 - Abandon the "Wars of Revolution" philosophy that now dominates our foreign policy. Let there be no more large commitments of ground and air assets to campaigns intended to change the civilizations of others. Think sneaky, not oafishly big. COIN is a bad joke. It always was... Michael Brenner wrote to tell me a new version of the light bulb joke. "How many COINistas does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is five, one to hold the bulb and the other four to rotate the table the first is standing on." Think small, THINK!
Collectively, these three things would bring the budget into balance. Can we do these things? Evidently not. The theological wars under way in the Congress seem to prevent such solutions. If that is true, then the country is ungovernable. we may be able to put a "bandaid" on the 2 August problem but the underlying conflict may be fatal.....
Eliminate all current wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Lybia, War on Terror, etc WELL over 2 trillion in ten years.
Eliminate 60% of DoD budget 4 trillion dollar saving in 10 years.
Eliminate overblown international spying, do not need 16 competing bureaucracies, saving probably 500 millon over 10 years.
Eliminate Israel's support 30 billion over ten years
Eliminate tax deduction for foreign support donations [e.g. Israel's settlements] fairly large amount over 10 years
Eliminate 70% of DoE's budget for nuclrear arms 100 billion over ten years
Set marginal rates for all types of income to be equal in a progressive manner [e.g. 40 % above $500 000].
Write a new simple tax code -- billions saved on accounting for citizens, and billions saved by IRS in assuring enforcement per year.
Install single pay medical insurance a la France, sans insurance companies [except for extras as in Europe] 10 trillion dollars in ten years.
Increase Social Security contribution to all personal income, install mean testing for claw back a la Canada for instance.
US has become ungovernable, COL Lang lays out several really easy fixes (in policy, if not in the institutional politics) to right America's financial ship of state. Below you'll find a number of charts, as far as I know based on OMB or CBO data, that show were our current debt comes from and what some of the things we could fund if our elected officials were to follow COL Lang's recommendations. The first three are all from the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, the last one is uncredited, but is simply another way of presenting the data in chart 3. I've seen these all over the Internet in the past year from economics blogs and sites to news and commentary sites, so I don't even know who to give the original hat tips too, but if you're looking for consistently good economic analysis I recommend Brad Delong's Grasping Reality with Both Hands, Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture, Yves Smith's Naked Capitalism, Andrew Leonard's How the World Works, Felix Salmon's blog at Reuters, David Cay Johnston's columns at Tax.com, and Bruce Bartlett's columns at Capital Gains and Games. Also, though he's often shrill and is definitely partisan, Paul Krugman's NY Times blog. I'm sure I've left a ton out, and I apologize, but I spend several hours a week staying up on the macroeconomics stuff from across the spectrum, so I'm sure I've slighted somebody.