Obama wrong to tag whistleblower as a spy

    I admit I tend to give Barack Obama a little slack. Seeing a guy beset by absurd insult from the right and misguided flak from the left, makes you want  to cut him a break when he disappoints, whether on Guantanamo or tax deals. But the president is doing something for which I can find no excuse.   It should enrage anyone who believes in open government, privacy rights, and a free press. It is the prosecution of Thomas Drake. I confess that most of what I know about this whistleblower who faces trumped-up charges of spying comes from Jane Mayer’s article in this week’s New Yorker.  But Mayer is a very reliable reporter. In the 1990’s Tom Drake started to work for the vast, supersecretive National Security Agency.    According to Mayer, Drake was part of an effort called ThinThread. It was a data-mining program that could map the global avalanche of electronic communication each day in real time and pinpoint patterns that suggested security threats. ThinThread had a problem; it vacuumed up too much information on American citizens, in violation of the Constitution. To his credit, ThinThread’s inventor revised it to screen out data on Americans.  But NSA’s director shelved it and green lighted another surveillance system, called Trailblazer. Trailblazer turned into a fiasco, wasting $1.2 billion.  After 9/11, the NSA revived a version of ThinThread to meet the Bush White House’s thirst for electronic surveillance. But it scrapped the privacy controls! As the New York Times later reported, this program spied relentlessly on unsuspecting citizens. The Bushies predictably went after the leakers who talked to the Times.  Drake had not, but he had talked about the Trailblazer mess to another paper. That was enough to get him charged with spying. Clearly, Drake he was angry at NSA. He may be stiff-necked, self-righteous, obsessive.  But he did not intentionally give classified data to the enemy. He gave embarrassing info about his bosses to a reporter. He’s no spy, but faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.   If this case holds up, the Espionage Act becomes a club to intimidate whistleblowers and reporters. Obama proclaims his belief in transparent government.  Why he insists in the Drake case on doing the Bush Administration’s dirty work is beyond me.

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