NSA Watching Reporters: Whistleblower

Photograph by Timothy Jacobsen/AP Photo

Former senior executive with the National Security Agency, Thomas Drake, leaves the U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore in this 2011 file photo.

Whistle-blower Thomas Drake says reporters are being tracked by the government, particularly if they cover national security issues or major banks.

“It’s routine,” Drake said, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington today. “Anybody that writes in this space, anybody that publishes or may be writing in this space, they’re going to be monitored.”

Drake, a former senior employee at the National Security Agency, was prosecuted in 2010 by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department under the Espionage Act. Drake faced 10 felony counts in an allegation that he shared classified information with a reporter and faced a possible 35 years in prison.

He was linked to a report in the Baltimore Sun about inefficiencies and cost over-runs in an NSA surveillance program that was later abandoned. He maintains that he never shared classified information, and the case collapsed before trial and after he plead guilty to misdemeanor.

Monitoring of journalists picked up “shortly after 9/11,” Drake said. It was allowed by Vice President Dick Cheney and administered by a special office at NSA that deals with “relationships with commercial concerns,” he said, though the name has gone through several changes and he no longer knows it.

“It makes the Nixon administration, or that era, look like pikers by comparison,” he said.

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