Exclusive: House Republican Staffer Introduced Alleged NSA Leaker to Reporter

Declassified has learned that a member of the Republican staff of the House Intelligence Committee was the individual who introduced a senior National Security Agency official, indicted earlier this week for leaking classified information, to the journalist who allegedly received and wrote about the secret material. The congressional staffer, Diane S. Roark, was the staff expert on the budget of the ultrasecret eavesdropping and code-breaking agency when she introduced alleged leaker Thomas A. Drake to Siobhan Gorman, then a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and now on the intelligence beat for The Wall Street Journal. The committee's chairman at the time was Congressman Porter Goss, who delivered a speech on the House floor praising Roark in 2002, when she retired from the staff. A former CIA undercover officer, Goss left Congress in 2004 to become George W. Bush's second CIA director.

On Monday the Justice Department made public a 10-count grand-jury indictment charging Drake, 52, with illegally retaining classified information, obstructing justice, and making false statements to investigators. The indictment says Drake, who held a high-ranking job at NSA between 2001 and 2008, "served as a source" for many articles about NSA by an unnamed newspaper reporter that were published between February 2006 and November 2007. As Declassified reported yesterday, a senior law-enforcement official confirms that the reporter was Gorman, who around that time wrote a series of articles for the Sun describing alleged waste, fraud, and abuse in efforts to update NSA' s information-processing system. NSA had two development programs, code-named "Thin Thread" and "Trailblazer," that seem to have been rival approaches to the problem of modernizing NSA's vast eavesdropping system to cope with the Internet's massive glut of electronic-message traffic. A former intelligence official, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, says Drake may have been on the losing side of an internal battle over the competing programs. Current and former intelligence officials, also asking for anonymity, say that both Thin Thread and Trailblazer were ultimately assessed as wasteful failures, and that as a result NSA was at least temporarily forbidden to make any purchase larger than $100,000 without Pentagon approval. Gorman, who has not responded to an e-mail requesting comment, won a prestigious award from the Sigma Delta Chi journalism group in 2006 for her stories on the subject.

Drake's indictment traces his relationship with Gorman—identified in the indictment as "Reporter A"—back to November 2005, when someone identified as "Person A" allegedly contacted Drake and asked if he would speak to "Reporter A." At the time, the indictment alleges, Drake had a "self-described 'close, emotional friendship' and 'different and special' relationship with Person A that included the unauthorized disclosure of unclassified and classified information to Person A while Person A worked as a congressional staffer and after Person A's retirement in May 2002." The indictment goes on to say that "Person A" gave Drake the journalist's contact information. Subsequently, prosecutors say, Drake met with Gorman, exchanged hundreds of e-mails with her, helped her research and write stories, acquired and hoarded secret and unclassified documents and even reviewed and edited drafts of her stories. Drake's lawyer, a public defender, has not been responding to requests for comment.

Nina Ginsberg, an Alexandria, Va., criminal defense lawyer who represents Roark, confirms to Declassified that her client was the indictment's "Person A" but says Roark did nothing wrong. "The government investigated her connection to these allegations and found no wrongdoing," Ginsberg says. The lawyer adds that Roark's introduction of Drake to Gorman was "not politically driven," adding that Roark says the indictment's description of her connection to Drake is a mischaracterization of the facts. Ginsberg also says that as the congressional staff expert on NSA budget matters, Roark unquestionably had official responsibilities for receiving and evaluating both classified and unclassified information about NSA programs.

The official investigation into the alleged leaks has gone on for years, starting during the George W. Bush administration, according to Ginsberg. Goss, Roark's former boss on the House Intelligence Committee, grumbled loudly about media leaks during his tenure as Bush's CIA chief between September 2004 and May 2006, going so far as to publish a jeremiad in The New York Times headlined "Loose Lips Sink Spies." "Those who choose to bypass the law and go straight to the press are not noble, honorable or patriotic," Goss fulminated. "Nor are they whistleblowers. Instead they are committing a criminal act that potentially places American lives at risk. It is unconscionable to compromise national security information and then seek protection as a whistleblower to forestall punishment."

The Bush administration periodically launched investigations into new leaks, but it brought no federal prosecutions against suspected leakers. Former Bush advisers are delighted by the Obama administration's decision to prosecute Drake, but more liberal elements of Obama's political base are dismayed.