April 15, 2010

Look Forward, Not Backward [5:20 pm]

Well, unless we’d rather not: Former Senior National Security Agency Official Is Indicted [pdf]

In a highly unusual legal action against an alleged leaker of government secrets, a federal grand jury has indicted a former senior National Security Agency official on charges of providing classified information to a newspaper reporter in hundreds of e-mail messages in 2006 and 2007.

[...] Only a handful of prosecutions have been brought against government officials in recent decades for leaking information, and such cases often provoke a public debate over the tradeoff between protecting government secrets and covering up government wrongdoing or incompetence.

The Justice Department spent several years investigating leaks to The New York Times after the newspaper disclosed in December 2005 the existence of the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program, run by the N.S.A. No government official was charged in that case.

News reports based on classified information are common, and they are often followed by a referral of the leak by the intelligence agency to the Justice Department for investigation. But prosecutions remain rare, in part because of the difficulty of identifying leakers and in part because spy agencies often fear a trial will do more damage to national security than the original leak.

As Glenn Greenward ably points out, there are all sorts of NSA shenanigans that merit “looking back,” but only this guy drew the short straw….

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