Former FBI special agent Terry Albury pled guilty to disclosing documents to a reporter and unauthorized retention of a document in violation of the Espionage Act, which are both felonies. He faces up to five years in prison.
Albury’s defense attorneys, Joshua Dratel and JaneAnne Murray, put out out a statement that asserted the disclosures were an “act of conscience” by a person who was the only black field agent in the Minneapolis field office.
“It has long been a critique of the FBI that it consists of and reflects a predominantly white male culture, which, as a result, has often treated minority communities with suspicion and disrespect,” the statement contended. “[Albury] was required firsthand to implement FBI investigation directives that profiled and intimidated minority communities in Minnesota and other locations.”
The statement demonstrates Albury had clear whistleblower motives when he released the documents.
According to the plea agreement, from February 2016 to August 29, 2017, when the FBI executed a search warrant, Albury provided a document on FBI informants dated August 17, 2011, to a national media organization. He also provided a document on alleged “threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country.”
It is believed a journalist with the Intercept received these documents because they published a series on the FBI’s recruitment of informants, although the government declined to specify which outlet received the documents.
The agreement further indicates he possessed a document on how a “specific terrorist group” uses an online platform for recruitment. It does not appear this was ever disclosed to any media organization.
Albury worked from August 2012 to August 28, 2017, as a special agent for the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office. He was assigned as an airport liaison to Customs and Border Protection at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and had a top secret security clearance granting him access to classified information.
The plea agreement outlines the set of considerations that the court will consider during sentencing.
Albury’s offenses involved documents marked “secret”, and the government maintains he abused a “position of trust.” Yet, the sentence should be reduced because he accepted responsibility (and is not proceeding to trial).
The government and Albury stipulate that he could be sentenced from anywhere to 37 to 57 months in prison. He can be fined anywhere from $15,000 to $200,000. Supervised release would last at least one year.
By pleading guilty, he waives his right to appeal, and he waives his right to obtain documents on the investigation and prosecution of his case under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.
The FBI does suffer from institutional racism. The agency’s own statistics indicate, as of 2017, 78 percent of intelligence analysts and 83 percent of special agents were white.
Former FBI director James Comey openly declared in July 2016, “We have a crisis in the FBI, and it is this: Slowly but steadily over the last decade or more, the percentage of special agents in the FBI who are white has been growing.”
The time frame of February 2016 to August 2017 includes President Donald Trump’s escalating attacks on minorities and his executive order to ban Muslims from several countries from traveling to the United States.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Albury and a co-worker in 2015 “weighed reporting what they said was an inappropriate e-mail sent by another colleague.” An email said, “If [the Office of Professional Responsibility] does not respond, let me go on record and say I will contact the press.”
OPR is one place government employees are told to go to blow the whistle on workplace issues or other more serious matters. But the Justice Department used these communications against Albury.
“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,” prosecutors declared.
According to the search warrant affidavit, Albury disclosed documents to The Intercept that were published as part of a series called “The FBI’s Secret Rules.” It highlighted the vast post-9/11 expansion of the agency, including how the agency is able to target a person’s immigration status to coerce them into becoming informants.
The Justice Department has pledged to escalate the war on whistleblowers that metastasized under President Barack Obama.
In August 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department received “nearly as many criminal referrals involving unauthorized disclosures” as were “received in the previous three years combined.” A new counterintelligence unit was launched to investigate leak cases.
Albury’s case is the second major prosecution of a whistleblower under Trump. Reality Winner, an NSA contractor, was charged in June 2017 for releasing an NSA report on alleged Russian hacking of voter registration systems and awaits a trial, which is scheduled for October.
Winner faces one charge of violating the Espionage Act, but she has not pursued a plea agreement. The Justice Department has kept her in jail for refusing to take responsibility, and if convicted, she could face more time in prison than Albury for not pleading guilty.
Remarkably, in 2013, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou pled guilty to a leak in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and received a 30-month sentence. Former State Department employee Stephen Kim pled guilty to violating the Espionage Act in 2014 and received a 13-month sentence.
Former CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, who is African American, went to trial and received a 42-month sentence.
Albury will likely be sentenced to 37 months, more than what was given to individuals in comparable leak prosecutions under Obama.