By Elaine Hargrove-Simon, Silha Fellow and Bulletin editor
Jonathan Clay Randel [not to be confused with the former Washington Post reporter Jonathan Randal, see "Qualified Privilege for War Correspondents Recognized by ICTY" on page 11 of this issue of the Silha Bulletin], an intelligence analyst employed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was sentenced to a year in federal prison and three years supervised release for leaking U.S. government information to the Times of London from February 1999 until September 1999. Randel pleaded guilty to the charges on June 4, 2002, and was sentenced on Jan. 9, 2003 in the federal District Court in Atlanta.
According to Assistant United States Attorney Randy S. Chartash, one of the prosecutors in the case, Randel was prosecuted under federal laws 18 U.S.C. section641, (selling public property or records), section1031 (obtaining money through false pretenses), and section1343 (fraud by wire, radio or television). Randel pled guilty to charges of selling public property or records. Last year, a report generated by an anti-leak task force under the direction of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recommended that government administrators use laws already on the books to identify and punish employees who leak information.
According to the Fulton County Daily Report, Randel was approached by Times freelancer and British television correspondent Toby Follett about information concerning bank holdings in Belize belonging to billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft, formerly the treasurer of Great Britain's Conservative Party. Belize's bank secrecy laws have enabled aided drug dealers and others to hide their financial activities from investigators. Because Ashcroft owns the Bank of Belize, his name had surfaced four separate times in DEA data bank reports involving at least one drug dealer who laundered money through that bank. The Daily Report quoted Steven H. Sadow, Randel's attorney, as saying that Randel gave Follett the information because "he thought Ashcroft was getting a free ride for crooked activities." The Times published a series of articles about the controversy in 1999.
Ashcroft then sued the Times for defamation. The London Observer reported that, in preparation for the suit, Times officials asked Follett to reveal the identity of his source, and he named Randel. According to Times officials, it was during this time that Randel traveled to London to meet with them and to give his testimony in the case. Between Follett and News International, the Times parent company, Randel was paid $13,000, designated to cover travel expenses and missed wages. Times owner Rupert Murdoch eventually settled with Ashcroft in return for a front-page apology. The apology stated that the newspaper had no evidence that Ashcroft had been involved in either drug dealing or money laundering. According to the Guardian of London, the Times also agreed never to "aggressively investigate" Ashcroft again. But as a result of the controversy, Ashcroft was forced to resign his post as party treasurer. The London Daily Telegraph suggested that it was Ashcroft who tipped off federal prosecutors to Randel's role in leaking the information to the Times.
The information that Randel provided the Times came from restricted DEA investigative databases. Court documents describe the information "sensitive and confidential" but not classified.
William S. Duffey, Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said that the Randel sentencing is a warning to other government employees who might consider selling information. Leaking, he told the Daily Report, "jeopardizes the integrity of the justice system. Here is person who was hired in an intelligence-gathering function whom we entrusted with highly sensitive information. He had a duty and he agreed he had a duty to keep that information secret."
Michael Sissions, a senior consultant at the literary agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, who served as an expert witness for the Atlanta U.S. Attorney's office, wrote in an article published in the Daily Telegraph that at a briefing with the DEA prior to Randel's hearing he was told, "The sole purpose of the DEA [officials said] was to pursue organized crime, which was intrinsically international. Confidential relationships with other agencies [like the DEA] were vital. There had been consternation at Scotland Yard at the Randel leaks. Indeed, the head of the DEA's international division had been dispatched post-haste to London and Moscow to allay misgivings in the intelligence community."
The gravity of the leaks were further emphasized by U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story at Randel's sentencing, who said, "The risk you created was tremendous. This is like the drunk driver who gets home without killing anybody. Nobody got killed. But you should never have gotten in the car. No agent was killed and no investigation was compromised. But the risk was certainly there."
However, the Guardian said that the information Randel leaked to the Times was "similar" to documents the Guardian obtained on Ashcroft through the United States Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under FOIA provisions, foreign entities may request and receive non-exempt government records.
Randel's attorney has said the decision will be appealed. Meanwhile, Matt Born, writing for the Daily Telegraph, speculated that Times may be facing "fresh indictments" over the case. Born quoted an unidentified attorney who said that the "Times was part of a conspiracy in Britain to commit a crime in America." As a result, Times executives may face charges of bribing a U.S. government official. If that were to happen, Jonathan Randel himself may be asked to testify against the newspaper in order to reduce his term. The unidentified attorney in Born's story said that a U.S. judge could seek a British court order for News International to release its documents concerning the Randel case. If incriminating evidence were found, Times officials could face a request for extradition and criminal charges in the United States.