At first glance, the lanky, bespectacled shop assistant wearing a blue T-shirt and Levis at the Apple store in a suburb of Washington, D.C., looks little different than the other `‘geniuses’’ extolling the joys of the iPad.
Upon closer examination, the man patiently explaining the tablet’s specs to a tourist from India turns out to be about twice the age of his counterparts.
A decade ago, Thomas Drake was wearing a suit and tie to his job as a government technical analyst for the National Security Agency, and held a top-level security clearance.
Outraged at what he saw as waste of funds in program development, along with intrusions into the lives of law-abiding American citizens, Drake, 55, made choices that led to personal and professional isolation and his subsequent indictment in 2010 by the Obama administration under a law usually reserved for traitors.
Today Bloomberg News tells his story in an examination of President Barack Obama’s unprecedented level of national security prosecutions. The exclusive reveals the personal and professional costs of being caught in the government’s investigatory cross-hairs. Drake is interviewed, along with Stephen J. Kim, a government expert on North Korea who is currently under indictment on counts of disclosing classified information and making false statements.
Drake tells Bloomberg that Obama’s deployment of the Espionage Act against government whistle-blowers sends a signal to “see nothing, say nothing, don’t speak out — otherwise we’ll hammer you.” Drake brought his concerns about privacy violation concerns to his superiors and also spoke to a reporter about waste, fraud and abuse in the NSA intelligence program, though he is adamant that he didn’t share classified information at any time with anyone outside of the proper channels.
The case against Drake collapsed last year before trial after he agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, with the government dropping the more serious charges that could have sent him to jail for 35 years.
“They paint you into a very dark corner, because they are saying you are a traitor, you committed treasonous acts, you are an enemy of the state, and what you did violated your oaths,” Drake says.
From the time that FBI agents raided his home in November 2007 to his plea deal last year, Drake struggled with the costs of speaking out as his career collapsed, his finances dwindled and friends kept their distance. During that journey, Drake went from a $155,000-a-year government expert with a good pension prospects to working as a wage-grade employee at a retail store.
That fate has scared off most of his former colleagues.
“There are only two people left who will still speak with me inside the government, and even they do so under very circumscribed conditions. Many others won’t see me at all,” Drake said over a coffee this week before his morning shift at the Apple Store. “Without fail they say the following: ‘I still have kids in schools, I still have a mortgage, I don’t want to jeopardize my retirement, I don’t want to jeopardize my job. I’m not going to say nothing to nobody.’”