Former National Security Agency Executive Turned Whistle-blower, (or spy) Tom Drake in a sketch by Michael McCutcheon.
We all want to be safe. Most of us expect our government, in one form or another, to protect us from internal and external threats. But, if Thomas Drake (read one version of the full story here and another here) is correct than the United States government has been using the excuse of the September 11 attack to, in his words: "unchain itself" than there is serious cause for concern.
I'm sure we all have that friend who posts endlessly about the erosion of civil liberties and the coming empire (I have hundreds of them now, I think they are forming a majority), but the public facts and statements are compelling whether or not you prefer a corduroy jacket or a tin-foil hat.
Thomas Drake began by pointing out "fraud, waste and abuse", which government officers are required to point out, in 2005. The original incident involved a private company which he alleged provided weaker intelligence analysis at a higher cost, all paid for by the U.S public. The story has been confirmed, according to some sources, but this may have been the first action which attracted the wrong kind of attention to him.
Now, this action should have been protected under federal legislation protecting whistle-blowers, but as one source reports he was deliberately targeted through a misuse of the 1917 Espionage Act which was passed to target spies, not whistle-blowers.
In an interview aired today on BBC's Hard Talk, Drake noted that President Obama has charged more people under the 1917 act than all previous presidents combined since the act was passed. He claims that he fulfilled his duty to report waste, and also to expose misuse of government power. He also said that he was hired from outside of the NSA under a movement to bring in new eyes and new perspectives to the agency, which by it's own admission at the time was very much unprepared for the digital age.
This implies that he felt that it was part of his mandate to expose flaws in the NSA and to bring them forward to Congress. But, his seniors clearly didn't agree. Instead of just trying to charge him with leaking sealed documents, they alleged that he was retaining classified documents. This could have resulted in a 35 year prison sentence under the 1917 act. That case fell apart, and instead he was charged under lesser offences and only given a year's probation. He claims that he passed on documents that were not classified and that he was acting legitimately.
I can see both sides of this argument. On the one hand (even by Drake's admission), security administration needs to be able to keep some information confidential. But, on the other hand is it not the duty of public servants to point out, in the U.S government's own terminology Fraud, Waste and Abuse? If you spent as much time watching U.S military TV as I did during my time in Korea, that slogan is deeply entrenched after countless public service messages.
Where's the line here? How much secrecy do these agencies need to provide security? How should people who provide information be handled? According to Drake, Congress must be informed, but also the Fourth Estate (the media) is the final check in America's system, to ensure that government's do not become "unchained". Keep in mind that Drake did have his day in court, and the court did find him guilty of the lesser charges.
It's sometimes difficult to know what to think on matters which are all behind smoke and mirrors. It's difficult to know who to be more afraid of: the 'bad guys' or the government.