BALTIMORE, March 10 (UPI) -- Prosecutors plan to use code during the trial of an alleged U.S. spy agency whistle-blower to keep classified documents secret, U.S. officials said.
Prosecutors plan to use the unusual "silent witness" procedure in the case of Thomas Drake, accused of leaking secrets, illegally keeping classified documents at his home, lying to FBI agents investigating the case and destroying evidence.
Drake, 53, a former senior official of the U.S. National Security Agency and computer software expert, is the fourth person in U.S. history to be indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 for alleged whistle-blowing, Politico reported.
The silent witness procedure keeps the courtroom open but refers to sensitive evidence in a code that only the judge, lawyers, defendant and jury can decipher, a Washington media lawyer tells Politico.
"It's a process in which everyone except the public knows what's going on," Jay Ward Brown said. "The evidence is presented in a public courtroom, but none of the participants are able to talk about what they're reading out loud or show the evidence, yet it's taking place in a so-called open court proceeding."
Last April's indictment against Drake charges he provided classified information to a newspaper reporter in hundreds of e-mail messages in 2006 and 2007. The indictment does not name the reporter or the newspaper, but defense filings identify the reporter as Siobhan Gorman, then a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.
Gorman wrote articles about a dispute within the NSA over two competing technology systems the spy agency used to track communications involving suspected terrorists.
Gorman, who now works for The Wall Street Journal, was not accused of wrongdoing.
"What makes this kind of issue hard is it requires the court to engage in a balancing of fundamental rights belonging to several different parties," said Ward, who does work for Politico. "One ... is the government's right to keep secret classified national security information, another is the defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial and (a third) is the public and the press's right to observe trials."