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Former NSA Official Leaked Secrets Via Hushmail

The indictment returned in Maryland on Thursday suggests how easy it is to copy and paste secrets.

A former high-ranking National Security Agency (NSA) official was indicted on Thursday for retaining classified information, obstruction of justice, and making false statements, the Department of Justice said.

Thomas A. Drake, 52, worked as an NSA contractor from 1991 through about 2001, at which point he was hired by the agency as an employee, the indictment says. His security clearance was withdrawn around November 2007 and he resigned from the agency in April 2008.

The indictment alleges that in late 2005 or early 2006, Drake signed up for an account with Hushmail, which provides encrypted e-mail for secure online communication, and contacted a reporter for a national newspaper.

The reporter also signed up for Hushmail and the two allegedly proceeded to exchange information about secret government documents.

As a result of this collaboration, the reporter published a series of reports about the NSA that contained Signals Intelligence information, which involves the collection and analysis of foreign communications. Much of this work at the NSA is classified.

The indictment states that Drake "researched future stories [on behalf of the reporter] by e-mailing unwitting NSA employees and accessing classified and unclassified documents on classified NSA networks" and that he "copied and pasted classified and unclassified information from NSA documents into an untitled Word document, which, when printed, removed the classification markings," among other violations of the law.

Drake is alleged to have brought classified and unclassified documents home, scanned them, and e-mailed them without authorization.

"As alleged, this defendant used a secret, non-government e-mail account to transmit classified and unclassified information that he was not authorized to possess or disclose," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, in a statement. "As if those allegations are not serious enough, he also allegedly later shredded documents and lied about his conduct to federal agents in order to obstruct their investigation."

Breuer said that such violation of the government's trust must be prosecuted vigorously.

The maximum penalties for the charges are: 10 years in prison for retention of classified documents, 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice, and five years in prison for making false statements. Each of the ten charged counts carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

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