Department of Justice Charges FBI Whistleblower Under Espionage Act

The Department of Justice has filed charges under the Espionage Act against Terry Albury, a former FBI agent.

Photo: Matt Slocum/AP

A former FBI agent has been charged with two counts related to the unauthorized disclosure of national security information, according to documents filed by the Department of Justice this week, marking the latest instance of the Trump administration’s stated intention to crack down on leaks to the press.

The charges, filed by the DOJ’s National Security Division in Minnesota, accuse Terry J. Albury of one count of “unauthorized disclosure of National Defense information” and one count of “unauthorized retention of National Defense information.” The Star Tribune, a Minneapolis-based newspaper, reported that “Albury is listed as a special agent for the FBI with a phone number corresponding to its Minneapolis division in an online directories.”

The Star Tribune linked the charges revealed Wednesday to a series of stories published by The Intercept regarding a set of secret FBI guidelines. The Intercept’s editor-in-chief, Betsy Reed, provided the following statement:

We understand that there is an Espionage Act prosecution underway against an alleged FBI whistleblower in Minnesota, who is accused of leaking materials relating to the FBI’s use of confidential human sources. News reports have suggested that the prosecution may be linked to stories published by The Intercept. We do not discuss anonymous sources. The use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers seeking to shed light on matters of vital public concern is an outrage, and all journalists have the right under the First Amendment to report these stories.

Rather than a complaint, the documents revealed Wednesday were informational, suggesting that the government may have secured a plea deal in the case. The government claims that from February 2016 to January 2017, Albury unlawfully possessed “a document pertaining to assessing Confidential Human Sources dated August 17, 2011, and an undated document relating to threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country,” and that Albury “knowingly and willfully” shared those materials with a journalist. The DOJ also accuses Albury of unlawfully possessing “a document relating to the use of an online platform for recruitment by a specific terrorist group.”

“Terry Albury served the U.S. with distinction both here at home and abroad in Iraq,” said Albury’s attorneys in a statement. “He accepts full responsibility for the conduct set forth in the Information. We would like to add that as the only African-American FBI field agent in Minnesota, Mr. Albury’s actions were driven by a conscientious commitment to long-term national security and addressing the well-documented systemic biases within the FBI.”

The DOJ’s penchant for targeting alleged leakers of national security information, and the news organizations that bring that information to light, was a hallmark of the Obama administration, with more leak cases brought during Obama’s eight years in office than every prior administration combined. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration has vowed to continue that tradition. In August, Sessions said the government had already received nearly as many criminal referrals for leaks as “in the previous three years combined.”

“We are taking a stand,” Sessions said at a press conference, adding that the DOJ was “ramping up” efforts to crack down on leaks and reviewing policies surrounding subpoenas directed at media organizations.

The first and best-known of those efforts thus far has been the case of Reality Winner, an intelligence contractor accused of leaking to The Intercept a top-secret document confirming that Russian military intelligence operatives executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier, while targeting more than 100 local election officials with spear-phishing emails. The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media, has taken steps to provide independent support for Winner’s legal defense through the Press Freedom Defense Fund.

As a matter of policy, The Intercept has not and will not comment on confidential sources. The Intercept has, however, documented the aggressive measures the Trump-Sessions DOJ has taken in Winner’s case, including shrouding the case in secrecy and denying Winner bail.

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