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Former NSA executive Thomas Drake pleads guilty to misdemeanor

Federal Presecuters John R. Pearson (Left) and William E. Welch

Former National Security Agency senior executive Thomas A. Drake pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor in federal court in Baltimore on Friday, a day after striking a deal to dismiss Espionage Act charges that could have put him away for 35 years.

Prosecutors said they will not request prison time for the misdemeanor, unauthorized access to the intelligence agency’s intranet.

In court papers and in an official statement after the plea was accepted, prosecutors explained the drastic reduction of their case by saying a trial, using the relevant documents in the form required by U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett, would have risked national security.

Drake and his backers have said he never intended to harm the country he had served in various capacities for decades and that the U.S. Department of Justice overreached by charging a whistleblower as if he were a spy.

“This is a just result,” James Wyda, Maryland’s Federal Public Defender and Drake’s attorney, said in a statement after the plea was accepted. “Tom Drake never should have been charged under the Espionage Act. Tom never intended to harm his country. And he didn’t. We are grateful that Tom and his family can start to put this frightening chapter behind them.”

The plea, reached Thursday after negotiations earlier in the week, brought to a conclusion an investigation that dated back to 2007 and drew national attention, including through a recent New Yorker article and 60 Minutes interview.

Despite the agreement he reached with prosecutors, Drake could still face up to a year in prison, Bennett noted repeatedly. Drake, 54, said he understood that as well. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15.

U.S. Department of Justice Senior Litigation Counsel William M. Welch II, the lead prosecutor, declined to comment on the result.