The case against Drake imploded this week in the face of numerous negative rulings from Judge Richard Bennett and growing, widespread public support for Drake. ( The New Yorker and 60 Minutes reported on the case in May, and last week the The Washington Post's conservative editorial board opined that the Drake prosecution "smacks of overkill.")
The plea deal is consistent with what Tom Drake told the government all through his years-long ordeal - the truth - that he never disclosed classified information to a reporter. Drake turned down earlier plea deals because he did not want to plea bargain with the truth.
The Drake case is part the Obama administration's twisted strategy to bastardize the Espionage Act to go after public servants who blow the whistle on government wrongdoing. The Espionage Act prosecutions are meant to send a chilling message to whistleblowers. Scott Shane of the New York Times writes :
The case against Mr. Drake is among five such prosecutions for disclosures to the news media brought since President Obama took office in 2009: one each against defendants from the National Security Agency, the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the military and the State Department. In the past, such prosecutions have been extremely rare -- three or four in history, depending on how they are counted, and never more than one under any other president.
The Justice Department's defeat in the Drake case only emphasizes the point scholars and transparency advocates have been making all along: the Espionage Act is an archaic law meant to go after spies, and it should not be used to go after whistleblowers.
The experts agree, Ellen Nakashima of WaPo quotes law professor Stephen Vladeck, who points out that using the Espionage Act is even more nefarious considering that massive over-classification plagues the intelligence community:
"As a tool for prosecuting leakers, the Espionage Act is a broad sword where a scalpel would be far preferable," said Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at American University. "It criminalizes to the same degree the wrongful retention of information that probably should never have been classified in the first place and the willful sale of state secrets to foreign intelligence agencies."
The New Yorker's Jane Mayer reports :
The prosecution has been seen as a test of the government's use of the Espionage Act to crack down on alleged leakers of national-security secrets. The withdrawal of all felony charges, and acceptance of no jail time for Drake, will likely be seen as evidence that the government overreached in using the Espionage Act against news sources rather than spies.
Drake's victory is a blow to the Obama Administration's attempts to create an Official Secrets Act without congressional approval by criminally prosecution whistleblower under the Espionage Act. The message to the Obama administration is clear: criminalizing whistleblowing does not work with the public or in our federal courts.
Despite Lanny Breuer's inflammatory opening press statement when the Drake indictment came down over a year ago that
Our national security demands that the sort of conduct alleged here-- violating the government's trust by illegally retaining and disclosing classified information-- be prosecuted and prosecuted vigorously.
the Justice Department, as per usual with the widespread media reports critical of the Drake prosecution, declined comment on the plea deal.