The Trump administration's attempt to crack down on government leaks got its first guilty pleas on Tuesday as former Special Agent The FBI admitted to filtering classified information to the media and keeping classified information in their home without permission.
Former FBI agent Terry Albury, 39, appeared in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota, to plead guilty to two serious breaches of the Espionage Act, a century-old law that covers both espionage as other infractions related to the mishandling of classified information.
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Accusations filed last month as part of a plea agreement between federal prosecutors and Albury does not name the news organization involved, but an affidavit used last year to obtain related search warrants with the case it indicates that the online news channel The Intercept was the recipient of the Albury leaks.
The affidavit said closed-circuit videos taken in an office that Albury used in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport showed him using a digital camera to take pictures of the screen on his FBI computer. In other instances, Albury used a cut and paste function to move sections of classified documents to another document so that it did not appear to have printed the originals, authorities said.
Some of the same documents that Albury accessed were published by The Intercept in "The Secret Rules of the FBI," a series that details the use of informants by the law enforcement agency.
After district judge Wilhelmina Wright accepted Albury's arguments at a hearing on Tuesday, the Justice Department issued statements promoting the development as a warning to other potential leaks.
"Terry Albury betrayed the trust that the United States gave him," said the interim US attorney. the Eastern District of Virginia, Tracy Doherty-McCormick. "Today's guilty plea must serve as a reminder to those who are entrusted with classified information that the Department of Justice will hold them accountable."
Stephen Laycock, the special agent in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI field office in Washington, said: By violating his oath in office, Terry Albury not only betrayed the American people but also his fellow FBI employees who they work to safeguard confidential information on a daily basis. Nobody is above the law, and the FBI will continue to investigate people who disclose classified material to those who are not authorized to receive it. "
The Intercept has not confirmed that Albury was one of its sources, but the outlet the publisher in chief, Betsy Reed, condemned the prosecution for being clumsy.
"We are not talking about anonymous sources," Reed said in a statement last month. "The use of the Espionage Law to prosecute whistleblowers seeking to throw light on matters of vital public importance is an outrage, and all journalists have the right under the First Amendment to report these stories "
Prosecutors from the United States Attorney's Office in Minnesota are not handling the case, apparently refused due to frequent interaction with Albury while working for the FBI in the Minneapolis area, including liaising with US customs officials at the busy Minneapolis airport.
In theory, Albury could receive up to 20 years in prison for the two felony counts. However, you are likely to receive a substantially shorter sentence according to federal sentencing guidelines that include provisions that shorten the recommended sentence when defendants plead guilty.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has urged the Justice Department and fleeting intelligence agencies, particularly those that release sensitive information about the interactions between their advisers and Russia.
Last August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a broad campaign against leaks and said the FBI was reorganizing to form a unit dedicated exclusively to leaks of classified information. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also said that the Justice Department was reviewing its policies that limit investigators 'access to records about journalists' communications with their sources. No results of that revision have been announced.
The only other leak case presented during the Trump administration also involves an alleged disclosure to The Intercept. Last June, the FBI arrested a contractor and linguist from the Georgia-based National Security Agency, Reality Winner, on suspicion of revealing a secret report published the previous month about Russian intrusions into state databases.
Winner, 26, is fighting the only serious crime, according to the Espionage Law, which he faces in that case. A test date has not been established.