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Justice Department charges former Minnesota FBI agent with leaking documents

The Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington.
The Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington. (J. David Ake/AP)
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The Justice Department has charged a former Minneapolis FBI agent with leaking confidential documents to a news organization, according to a federal complaint filed in Minnesota on Tuesday.

The agent, Terry J. Albury, was charged with two counts of unlawfully retaining and disclosing national defense information to “a reporter for a national media organization.” The complaint does not name the reporter or the organization, but it says that Albury had unauthorized possession of the material between February 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017.

The Intercept published a story on Jan. 31, 2017, alleging that the FBI aggressively investigates people who could be valuable sources.

According to the complaint, Albury shared a document about assessing confidential human sources or informants and another document about threats posed by certain people “from a particular Middle Eastern country.” Albury is also accused of possessing documents last year “relating to the use of an online platform for recruitment by a specific terrorist group” and failing to deliver the documents to authorities.

JaneAnne Murray and Joshua Dratel, Albury’s attorneys, said in a statement: “Terry Albury served the U.S. with distinction both here at home and abroad in Iraq. 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 charges were filed by prosecutors in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. The FBI also declined to comment.

This is the second leak investigation involving the Intercept news organization. Last June, Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old government contractor, was charged with mishandling classified information. Federal prosecutors said Winner gave a top-secret National Security Agency document to a news organization.

Contractor charged in NSA document leak

That case, which involved the Trump administration’s first criminal charges filed in a leak investigation, was revealed shortly after the Intercept posted a redacted U.S. intelligence document that involved Russian government efforts to use hacking techniques against employees of a company that provides technical support to states’ voting agencies.

“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,” Intercept Editor in Chief Betsy Reed said in a statement Wednesday.

“News reports have suggested that the prosecution may be linked to stories published by The Intercept,” Reed’s statement said. “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.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Tuesday that a previously sealed search warrant application in the case revealed that the FBI linked references to secret documents in federal Freedom of Information Act requests by the Intercept in March 2016 to Albury’s activity on FBI information systems.

According to the Star Tribune, the FBI identified 27 government documents, including 16 classified ones, that were published online by the Intercept between April 2016 and February 2017 and discovered that Albury had accessed more than two-thirds of the files.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last year that the Justice Department has tripled the number of leak investigations over the number that being conducted at the end of the Obama administration.

Sessions also in August said that he was reviewing the Justice Department’s policy on issuing subpoenas to reporters.

“This culture of leaking must stop,” he said.

Attorney General says Justice Department has tripled the number of leak probes