Former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake was originally charged with leaking classified information. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

Whistleblower Thomas Drake, who in 2010 became the first American charged with espionage in almost 40 years and who was a predecessor of Edward Snowden, applauds a new report by the PEN American Center accusing the government of failing to protect whistleblowers.

The report comes after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said at last month’s Democratic debate that NSA whistleblower Snowden “could have gotten all the protections of being a whistleblower” instead of leaking materials to the press. PEN’s report shows that Clinton is wrong and that the U.S. government gives employees and contractors little assurance that they won’t be prosecuted, even if they go through sanctioned channels.

Of his experience as a whistleblower, Drake said during “Secret Sources: Whistleblowers, National Security and Free Expression,” a panel at the Newseum in Washington examining the impact of the Obama administration’s response to national security leaks, “I had become a dissident, as far as the NSA was concerned […] If you become a dissident, the white blood cells kick in, culturally, to get rid of you.”

Charges that Drake passed classified documents to a newspaper reporter were dropped in 2011. He said of the PEN report to Al-Jazeera’s “America Tonight”:

Probably the biggest takeaway for me is it’s one of the first reports that actually pulled this information all together in a cogent fashion. It gives a history. It shows the dynamics. It shows how things have evolved. It shows how far the administrations, particularly President Obama, have gone in pursuing those who would dare hold up a mirror to power. It talks about the lack of protections for sources. It highlights the risks to journalism, as sources, like myself, are considering engaging in criminal activity. It raises serious questions, extraordinarily disturbing questions, about the government.

The irony of it, in my own case, was that the media was largely my saving grace. The media began to put a spotlight on what was happening. What’s at stake here is free press, to conduct aggressive journalism when dealing with very sensitive topics. National security has an extraordinarily overwhelming influence right now, and it tends to get what it wants. There really is no limit in terms of how much security you want. You want a perfectly secure society? Then I have to give up all rights and all freedoms, but what does that look like? I can play that game, the what-if scenarios. What if? What if? What if? Is it really worth it?

We need a robust press, because that’s the foundation of our form of government and the foundation of any free and open society. But what we’re seeing is a very disturbing trend, as there’s a much more autocratic presence that’s exerting itself. It’s a control mechanism that’s born out of fear, and I think it speaks, very disturbingly, to the darker sides of the human condition.


, read Drake describe the burden taken on by whistleblowers and his last few years spent in the sights of the U.S. Justice Department.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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