NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has made clear what we owe to Thomas Drake. “If there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake,” said Snowden, “there couldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”
To find out why Ed Snowden said that — and to gain more understanding of how the “national security” state operates when truthtellers get in the way — please read this interview that the RootsAction Education Fund just did with Tom Drake.
As the chair of the Whistleblowers Public Education Campaign, Tom Drake deserves and needs our tangible support. If you want to provide some support now, please click here.
Q: What was your background before you began working at the National Security Agency in 2001?
“I was a contractor with the government, was a principal in a couple of boutique dot coms, did a lot of IT, management and software and systems engineering consulting with industry in the 1990s as the Internet economy and the digital age took off, had worked at Booz Allen & Hamilton, and also served in the Navy, CIA, and Air Force.”
Q: What were you hoping to accomplish when you got there?
“I was brought into NSA as a senior executive under a special outside hiring program due to pressure from Congress and others that NSA needed to stir up the gene pool and take advantage of the skillsets and expertise of people who had not grown up inside NSA their entire career. The focus of my work at NSA was change leadership and management, communications and bringing the best of government and industry to bear at NSA. However, I went in eyes wide open, knowing that the odds of making any difference were slim.”
Q: How did the NSA evolve during your time with the agency?
“I would say NSA actually devolved. Under then Director Michael V. Hayden he had already thrown in his lot with the military-industrial-intelligence-contractor complex and was spending massive amounts of money to buy NSA’s solutions from large defense firms rather than make them with the best of American ingenuity and inventiveness in service to the common defense needs of the nation. In essence, NSA sold out national security to the highest bidder.
“In addition, NSA embarked on a super-secret mass domestic surveillance regime after 9/11 approved by the White House that was in violation of the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).”
Q: What were some of the main problems that you saw emerge while you were an NSA executive?
“I saw and observed many problems at NSA including gross mismanagement, coverup regarding the intelligence surrounding 9/11, financial impropriety, willful violations of the rights of people in secret on a mass scale and also the smothering of programs that were a threat to the big-ticket flywheel contractors and their profits as well as the careers of NSA senior managers.”
Q: What were the pressures to remain silent about wrongdoing at the NSA?
“The pressures to remain silent were enormous. Silence was viewed as institutional loyalty. I was even warned NOT to cooperate with official investigations into NSA conduct and coverup regarding its own actions in violation of the 4th Amendment, covering up its own role in the failure to provide for the common defense and keeping innocent people out of harm’s way on 9/11 and the massive multibillion-dollar programmatic fraud perpetrated under the cover and color of national security.”
Q: Would you describe what you went through as a crisis of conscience?
“I was confronted by the specter that if I were to remain silent, I was complicit in the subversion of the Constitution by the NSA and abuse of its powers, its coverup of its own culpability in 9/11, and the massive multi-billion programmatic fraud and waste. I chose to exercise moral agency in the face of all this wrongdoing and became a whistleblower. I found myself staring into Pandora’s Box and the abyss was staring back at me. I chose to act and defend the 4th Amendment and the Constitution, the law and regulations and statutes against my own government. After blowing the whistle through many protected channels, I did choose to exercise my 1st Amendment rights and went to the press with unclassified information.”
Q: What was your departure from the NSA like?
“My departure from NSA was quite abrupt. I was teaching at the National Defense University within their Industrial College of the Armed Forces as a visiting professor of behavioral science focused on strategic leadership, leadership ethics, information strategies and national security policies when I was unceremoniously raided by the FBI.”
Q: How would you sum up the experience of being threatened and then prosecuted by the Justice Department?
“It was the worst period of my life across some five years facing the prospect of spending many decades in prison for simply calling out the government on its own violations of the Constitution and our rights, its blatant and willful wrongdoing and abject lack of accountability for numerous 9/11 intelligence failures. The government went after me with extreme prejudice involving malicious retaliation and did all they could to turn my truth telling into the acts of a traitor for speaking truth to and about power.”
Q: What were the main reasons that the case against you collapsed in court?
“The government’s case ultimately collapsed under the weight of truth.They were unable to prevail in the courtroom and, on my terms 14 months after I was summarily indicted, they dropped all 10 felony counts against me (including five counts for allegedly violating the Espionage Act) in exchange for pleading out to a minor misdemeanor for exceeding the authorized use of a government computer. In addition, Jesselyn Radack (the Director of WHISPeR with ExposeFacts) was key in defending me in the court of public opinion, when I had no voice or advocacy for my whistleblowing against the government. She led the strategic campaign to educate the public regarding my own public interest disclosures as a whistleblower, and what was at stake in what became the signature Espionage Act case under the Obama Administration.”
Q: What do you want to do in the future as chair of the Whistleblowers Public Education Campaign?
“My central focus is educating and reaching out to people on the real dangers facing democracy, the Constitutional Republic and the attacks on human rights and liberties around the world and the steps people can take to defend and shine light on those who would dare take our freedoms away from us in the name of national security, power and secrecy.”
Q: How does it help your efforts when people make a donation to the Campaign?
“I was financially devastated from the government’s multi-year, multimillion-dollar criminal investigation of me (and others) and subsequent prosecution against me. I am still digging out from a mountain of debt, after coming very close to bankruptcy. I cannot help educate and inform people regarding the disturbing autocratic and authoritarian drift into dystopia without support and aid to continue shining the light on government misdeeds and dangers to democracy and our precious and inalienable rights across the U.S. and the world. Donations to the Whistleblowers Public Education Campaign also support key efforts to partner with others and provide the visibility and voice often drowned out by those defending and protecting abuses of power — of all kinds.”
PS from the RootsAction Education Fund team:
Persecution of Tom Drake left him deeply in financial debt. Ironically, we are in his debt — morally, politically and ethically. We owe him so much because he stood up for civil liberties and human decency.
Let’s continue to help repay that debt to Tom Drake, who exposed extreme mass surveillance by the NSA.
Living in what is supposed to be a democracy, we get vital information because of the courage of whistleblowers.
Tom Drake has no intention of going silent. He wants to keep writing, traveling and speaking out. But he needs our help.
To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of his work, please click here.
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> Freedom of the Press Foundation: “Beware of Trump Administration’s Coming Crackdown on Leaks — and Journalism”
> Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Former NSA Executive Urges Public Vigilance Against Government Overreach”
> Vanity Fair: “In the Trenches of Trump’s Leak War”
> “The Constitution and Conscience: NSA’s Thomas Drake”: Video of speech on May 2, 2017
> The Washington Times: “Donald Trump on Edward Snowden: Kill the ‘Traitor’”
> Jesselyn Radack, The New York Times: “Whistleblowers Deserve Protection Not Prison”
> Jane Mayer, The New Yorker: Thomas Drake — “The Secret Sharer”