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Former Drug Enforcement Administration analyst Jonathan Randel is sentenced to a year in prison on felony theft charges surrounding his passing of DEA information to Toby Follett, a London Times investigative reporter. Randel’s prosecution is unusual because he passed unclassified information to the reporter, and none of his actions threatened national security. The prosecutor of Randel’s case says flatly that Randel was taken to court to discourage other government employees from cooperating with the press. Additionally, there is wide speculation that Randel’s prosecution may have something to do with the target of Follett’s investigation, Lord Michael Ashcroft. Ashcroft (no relation to Attorney General John Ashcroft) was under investigation by the DEA because of his ownership of a bank in Belize that was a known outlet for laundered drug money. Randel provided Follett with information that was not classified, but was categorized as “sensitive.” Times editor Robert Thomson says that Randel’s prosecution is distressing because “[c]onfidential information is passed to journalists every day.” However, Justice Department prosecutor William Duffey, a former deputy independent counsel under Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, says that Randel’s prosecution was designed to warn other government workers of the dangers of cooperating with the media.
'Particularly Alarming' - Lucy Dalglish, head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says, “What is particularly alarming is that this is not classified information and is probably disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act. This is the kind of thing that journalists ask for every day.” She says that other, similar actions by other public employees have been addressed with reprimands and letters in their personnel files. “But jail?” she asks. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes in 2004, “Clearly this was a warning aimed at potential whistleblowers in the federal bureaucracy, advising them to keep quiet, or risk jail.” (Barringer 1/16/2003; Dean 2004, pp. 67-69)
No Precedent - Neither Duffey nor anyone in the DEA can cite any other cases where the government has prosecuted an employee for leaking confidential but unclassified information. Lawyer Kevin Goldberg, legal counsel for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, says that such a prosecution is rare in the extreme. If such a broad standard were applied to other whistleblowers, then charges could well be brought against FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose revelations of FBI mismanagement and obduracy before the 9/11 attacks earned her a citation as one of Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year.” Journalism professor Catherine Manegold calls Randel’s prosecution “not too different from McCarthyism.… If we are confined to official, pre-vetted statements, that’s a terribly dangerous place to be.” (McDonald 1/15/2003)
Protecting Lord Ashcroft - Dean will say that the Justice Department’s prosecution of Randel was extraordinary, writing that the Department “threw the book at him.” It filed a twenty-count indictment against Randel, including 16 separate charges for each time Randel used a DEA computer to locate information on Ashcroft, and characterizing each computer usage as a separate scheme to “defraud” the US government. If convicted of all charges and given the maximum possible sentence, Randel would have faced up to 580 years in prison—a prime reason, Dean believes, that Randel accepted a plea bargain to a single charge of felony theft. According to Dean, Randel strongly believes that the Justice Department prosecuted him to protect Ashcroft, a wealthy Conservative lord living in the United States. (Dean 2004, pp. 67-69) According to his attorney, Steven Sadow, Randel thinks “Ashcroft was getting a free ride for crooked activities. That’s why he did what he did.” Ashcroft has filed a lawsuit for defamation of character against the Times over its charges that he was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering; the Times’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, settled the case by printing a front-page apology to Ashcroft (see December 8, 1999). (McDonald 1/15/2003) Ashcroft is also being probed over his potentially illegal dealings with the US toy manufacturer Tyco, and is suspected of participating in racketeering, securities fraud, tax fraud, and/or falsification of records. (Dean 2004, pp. 67-69)
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