A former Minneapolis FBI agent who sought to expose what he called “systemic biases” within the bureau has been charged after allegedly leaking secret documents to a national news reporter, according to federal criminal charges filed in Minnesota this week.
The charges, filed by prosecutors for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, are the first to come in Minnesota since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a broad crackdown on government leaks last year.
A two-page felony information, a charging document that typically signals an imminent guilty plea, outlines two counts filed against Terry James Albury of unlawfully disclosing and retaining national defense information.
Albury is accused of sharing a document on assessing confidential human sources — otherwise referred to as informants — and a document “relating to threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country” with a reporter for a national media organization.
The second count charged against Albury alleged that he failed to turn over a document “relating to the use of an online platform for recruitment by a specific terrorist group” last year.
The charges do not name the reporter or news organization but allege that Albury possessed and shared the information between February 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — the same date that the Intercept published an entry to its “FBI’s Secret Rules” series on how the bureau assesses potential informants.
The report drew upon a secret document obtained by the Intercept that has the same publication date described in the charges against Albury.
In a statement Wednesday, attorneys JaneAnne Murray and Joshua Dratel said Albury would be taking responsibility for the charges, while also hinting at his motivations.
“Terry Albury served the U.S. with distinction both here at home and abroad in Iraq,” the statement read. “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 FBI in Minneapolis and Justice Department both declined to comment on the charges on Wednesday.
In a story on the organization’s website, Intercept editor-in-chief Betsy Reed provided a statement saying: “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.”
According to previously sealed search warrant applications in the case executed last August, the FBI eventually linked references to secret documents in federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the Intercept in March 2016 to Albury’s activity on the FBI’s information systems.
The FBI also later identified 27 government documents — 16 of which were marked classified — published online by the Intercept between April 2016 and February 2017 and found that Albury had accessed more than two-thirds of the files.
The FBI also identified a gray highlight across a row of text of the August 2011 document that is not present in the original document. Investigators also confirmed that Albury conducted “cut and paste” activity on that document and printed the copy a month before the Intercept’s FOIA requests. He also allegedly accessed about a half dozen other secret documents referenced in the requests, at least one of which was later published online.
The FBI said that Albury continued cutting and pasting screen shots, printing some out. The agency said Albury used a digital camera to photograph documents at his office at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where he had been assigned as a special agent working counterterrorism and other matters. According to the search warrant applications, security cameras at the office captured Albury taking the photos on three occasions last summer.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota is not involved in the prosecution of Albury.
Albury began working for the FBI in 2000 and most recently worked as a special agent assigned as an airport liaison, according to the affidavits sworn by an FBI counterintelligence agent in support of the federal search warrants.
The affidavits also pointed to discussions between Albury and a co-worker in 2015 in which they weighed reporting what they said was an inappropriate e-mail sent by another colleague.
During the discussion, the affidavit read, Albury wrote in an e-mail that “if [the Office of Professional Responsibility] does not respond, let me go on record and say i will contact the press.”
“While the co-worker’s e-mail is unrelated to the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents to the News Outlet, the exchange of these messages shows that Albury had considered disclosing internal FBI information to the media,” according to the affidavit.
Under Sessions, the Justice Department has publicly proclaimed an aggressive stance on leakers.
The attorney general said last August that the department had more than tripled the number of active leak investigations through the first half-year of the Trump administration.
Sessions also ordered his national security division and U.S. attorney’s offices to prioritize leak cases and said the FBI created a new unit to manage the volume of probes into unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information.
Sessions also said he was reviewing the department’s policy on issuing subpoenas to reporters.
“We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country any longer,” Sessions said.
The Justice Department in June 2017 charged federal contractor Reality Leigh Winner in Georgia shortly after she allegedly released a classified intelligence report to the Intercept that suggested Russian hackers attacked at least one U.S. voting software supplier before the 2016 presidential election.
The Intercept article published in January that cited the August 2011 secret FBI document showed how agents cultivate FBI informants.
According to the document published by the news website, agents create assessments of potential informants to try to identify “motivations and vulnerabilities” that could be used to induce their cooperation.
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