By DANA LIEBELSON
When senior public officials leave government, they take much-needed vacations—or even swing through the revolving door to a cushy job in the private sector. But J. William Leonard, former director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), hasn't given up public service at all: he's using his post-public service career to fight for whistleblower Thomas Drake, and improve the government's classification system.
But the government isn’t making it easy—according to a report today in Secrecy News, government attorneys have denied Leonard’s request to publicize certain National Security Archive (NSA) documents from Drake’s case, which could expose problems with the U.S. classification system. Leonard is instead being asked to submit for them under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News points out that, “As it happens, I requested one of those documents under FOIA last year, and the NSA has not acted on it expeditiously, or at all.”
For those not familiar with Drake’s case: he was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly retaining top-secret defense documents for the purpose of unauthorized disclosure. But there is wide agreement that Drake wasn’t a leaker—he blew the whistle on a NSA contract that wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. The espionage charges against Drake were ultimately dropped, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Drake’s court case featured a document he possessed—a NSA email—that Leonard says was wrongfully classified. Leonard served as an expert witness on Drake’s behalf and also filed a formal complaint against the NSA for violating classification rules.
Leonard is seeking to publicize documents from the case because, “The government’s actions in the Drake case served to undermine the integrity of the classification system and as such, have placed information that genuinely requires protection in the interest of national security at increased risk.”
It should be noted that Leonard served 34 years in the federal government before retiring in 2007. During his time at ISOO, he conducted an audit that focused on reclassifying government documents and resulted in many new documents being returned to the open shelves at the National Archives. During his service, Leonard saw “routine over classification of government documents” that was rarely challenged and never punished, according to The New York Times.
POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian says that Leonard should be commended for his commitment to ending excessive government secrecy:
”Leonard may be making his most important contribution to public service now, even though he has retired from government. His unflinching stance on over-classification is forcing the issue, and I eagerly await the outcome.”
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow
Image from the Department of Defense