A former counterterrorism agent at the F.B.I. who gave classified documents to the news media in an effort to reveal how the bureau treated minority communities pleaded guilty on Tuesday to the unauthorized disclosure and retention of national defense information.
It is the most recent prosecution in a growing series of leak cases being pursued by the Justice Department, which has significantly increased its focus on such investigations since President Trump took office. However, the actions of the agent, Terry J. Albury, largely predate Mr. Trump’s presidency.
As a field agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Minneapolis office, Mr. Albury provided a reporter with two documents between February 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017, according to the charges against him. The first document, dated Aug. 17, 2011, described how the bureau evaluated confidential sources; the second, which was undated, concerned “threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country.” Mr. Albury also possessed, without authorization, “a document relating to the use of an online platform for recruitment by a specific terrorist group.”
“Mr. Albury was entrusted by the F.B.I. with a security clearance, which included a responsibility to protect classified national defense information,” Bill Priestap, assistant director of the bureau’s Counterintelligence Division, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Instead, he knowingly disclosed that material to someone not authorized to receive it.”
Mr. Albury, 39, faces up to 10 years in prison on each of the two charges, but under his plea agreement, he could receive less than five years. Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota will decide his sentence.
In his plea, Mr. Albury acknowledged that the facts outlined by the government were accurate and that he had acted with the knowledge that he was breaking the law. His lawyers, JaneAnne Murray and Joshua Dratel, said in a statement that he viewed his disclosures as “an act of conscience” in the face of racism at the F.B.I.
“It has long been a critique of the F.B.I. 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 said. It added that Mr. Albury — who was the only African-American field agent in the Minneapolis office — had decided to act after he was assigned to the bureau’s counterterrorism team and “was required firsthand to implement F.B.I. investigation directives that profiled and intimidated minority communities in Minnesota and other locations.”
Public court documents do not name the news organization to which Mr. Albury gave the documents, and a Justice Department spokesman declined to identify it. However, an Associated Press report noted that the date and subject matter of one of the documents correspond with those of a document cited in a Jan. 31, 2017, article by The Intercept.
The Intercept article reported that F.B.I. agents “have the authority to aggressively investigate anyone they believe could be a valuable source for the bureau.” Among its sources was a classified document dated Aug. 17, 2011, which said that in evaluating potential informants, the bureau would “attempt to psychologically evaluate the target to determine the target’s motivations, mental stability and loyalties” and “seek information on the target’s habits, hobbies, interests, vices, aspirations, emotional ties and feelings concerning his country and his career and his employer.”
Betsy Reed, editor in chief of The Intercept, said in a statement on Tuesday that the organization would not discuss its anonymous sources, but that the Justice Department’s “use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistle-blowers seeking to shed light on matters of vital public concern is an outrage.”
In a statement released by the Justice Department, John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said Mr. Albury had “admitted that his actions put America at risk.”
But in their statement, Mr. Albury’s lawyers emphasized that the documents he disclosed did not include “any names of any F.B.I. personnel or assets or any operational information.”
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