The War On Whistleblowers Claims Another Casualty

from the stop-telling-people-how-the-government-is-fucking-with-them dept

Another whistleblower will be going to jail. Thanks to the application of the Espionage Act, former FBI special agent Terry Albury wasn’t able to defend his leaking of FBI internal documents to journalists (most likely The Intercept) by claiming he leaked to expose noxious FBI tactics and behavior. Defenses predicated on public interest aren’t allowed in Espionage Act trials, meaning Albury’s decision to plead guilty is there to limit the number of years he’ll spend incarcerated, rather than an indication his leaks were meant to harm the government.

Albury’s attorneys released this statement to the Columbia Journalism Review shortly after his court hearing.

Terry Albury is a good and honorable man. His conduct in this case was an act of conscience. It was driven by his belief that there was no viable alternative to remedy the abuses he sought to address. He recognizes that what he did was unlawful and accepts full responsibility for his conduct, which he has demonstrated by reaching an agreement with the government to plead guilty.

Albury’s statement while entering his plea pointed to internal FBI problems that personally affected him. These apparently pushed him towards leaking documents, as the issues described likely made use of proper channels impossible. When the problem is systemic racism, there’s little hope an African-American agent is going to find anything more than vindictive behavior and recrimination by staying within the walls of the Bureau.

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.”

The leaks cited here are only part of the set of documents given to journalists. They detailed the FBI’s internal rules for finding and developing informants. Agents are given a lot of latitude to pursue people they want to turn into informants. The lack of controls or oversight led to plenty of profiling by the agency, resulting in the targeting of marginalized groups disproportionately. This process allowed FBI agents to leverage anything and everything against targets to turn them into confidential informants. This included the threat of deportation or blocked visa applications if the target was a foreign citizen in the United States. As the article at The Intercept notes, the FBI would routinely deport informants whenever they ceased being useful.

But there’s more to the leaks than pursuing Muslims or black teens or whoever the FBI felt would be most-easily leveraged or likely to have criminal contacts. The leaked documents also contained info about the FBI’s surveillance of journalists — all part of the Obama Administration’s war on leakers.

In 2015, after several scandals involving the surveillance of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News during the Obama administration, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced an update to the Justice Department’s “media guidelines,” which implemented strict rules for when the government is allowed to use subpoenas, court orders, or warrants to spy on reporters’ communications. However, the guidelines conspicuously exempted NSLs from the rules, meaning the FBI or Justice Department could use NSLs to circumvent the strict media guidelines and spy on reporters without any court oversight.

This may look like a crackdown on FBI spying, but in reality, it allowed the FBI to misuse NSLs to obtain records pertaining to journalists’ contacts, presumably in hopes of sniffing out leakers and whistleblowers. The only check against abuse is internal: an agent deploying an NSL targeting a journalist must obtain permission from the FBI General Counsel or a supervisor in the national security division. Considering both the GC and NatSec brass would be just as interested in finding and exposing whistleblowers and leakers, obtaining permission for an NSL is likely laughably easy.

What Terry Albury exposed was the FBI’s abuse of internal rules to target certain demographics and surveil journalists. This was classic whistleblowing but it’s being treated as classic espionage, despite the absence of malicious motive or the direct delivery of documents to an enemy foreign power. But that’s the way this law rolls. And as long as it can be used to punish whistleblowers, it will never be changed.

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Comments on “The War On Whistleblowers Claims Another Casualty”

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Anonymous Coward says:

leaks and minority groups

Is it my imagination, or are just about all the leakers people in ‘minority’ classes who until a few decades ago would not have even been trusted by the government to keep secrets?

Mega-leaker Snowden was of course a straight white christian male, who in the old days were just about the only kinds of people ever granted government security clearances. But then Manning (homo/trans/sexual), Winner (female), and now Terry Albury (black) joining the ranks of classified secrets leakers.

I’ve got to wonder if the policy of equal opportunity/affirmation action hiring that’s only been around a few decades at these sorts of high-security oriented agencies (trans & homo sexuals were historically prohibited by law as well as by convention) will take a serious hit, as these minority segments that only recently earned the right to be trusted seem to have turned out to be, perhaps, as a group statistically highly untrustworthy.

By comparison, Israel has never believed in “diversity” and has long denied security clearances to (non-Jewish) Druze and Bedouin soldiers, as well as completely barring them from intelligence agencies — even career officers who have proven their devotion and loyalty many times over.

The post-WWII Rosenberg nuclear bomb ‘leaks’ may have caused many people in the US government to distrust Jews for decades afterward. Could the recent Obama/Trump-era leaks do likewise for the other minority groups involved in abusing classified information?

Just a thought.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Leaks and statistics

Four confirmed leakers out of a community of thousands of employees who had access to this material makes for a pretty poor sample. I think we don’t have enough data points to make any informed analysis about whether some groups are more prone to leak than others. At this stage, all we can say is that these (very broad) groups are not categorically opposed to leaking, since one member from each group has leaked documents.

If I had to write up a profile, I’d say that ethnic background and gender are unlikely to be a predictor at all. Intelligence is at least somewhat correlated, since stupid leakers may not last long enough to get their hands on anything worth leaking. (However, some of the things Reality Winner did, particularly post-arrest, seem rather stupid, so this predictor is imperfect.) Leakers who act selflessly probably feel greater loyalty to the idea of the country than to the specific governmental institutions operated in the name of the country. (But note that some leakers are clearly using it as a form of office gossip, to enhance personal, professional, or party standing.) There’s probably some bias toward individualism, since collectivists would emphasize loyalty to the State over loyalty to the Constitution. Indirectly, that may skew Democrat vs Republican a bit, but both parties have large "establishment" wings. Leakers are unlikely to be establishment believers.

The solution is obvious and easy though. We need more leakers, preferably ones like Snowden who have the sense to get out of the jurisdiction before being identified. There are almost certainly enough scandalous documents to go around, even accounting for Snowden’s outsized outing of outrageous surveillance, which notably reduced the stack of misdeeds that others could leak. If we had more leakers, we would not only be better informed about the government’s misdeeds, we would also be well on our way to having a large enough sample to make meaningful comments about whether some groups are disproportionately likely to engage in patriotic leaks. We might also be able to do other interesting analysis, such as finding whether leakers are unusually low- (or high-) paid, whether they come from subcultures that emphasize individualism vs subcultures that emphasize collectivism, etc.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: leaks and minority groups

Still at wiLLie? Finally got a sunny day here in Pa; Didn’t we? How’s the kid? Since your recent activity on YT, I can only guess your baby momma finally figured you out and kicked you out of her mom’s trailer back into your mom’s. Poor Wilbert Sr. I feel bad for him. At least his other children did well. Can’t win ’em all eh wiLLie?

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Constitutional defense.

It strikes me that the Espionage Act is unconstitutional

It is certainly immoral – whether the US constitution bothers with this particular piece of morality is another issue.

Given a jury trial and a country where plea bargains are not so well entrenched he probably could have pleaded not guilty – a la Clive Ponting

and allowed the jury to nullify the law.

Joe says:

Re: Constitutional defense.

“Defenses predicated on public interest aren’t allowed” Proof of sociopathy, right there. Yeah, it’s basically like how ‘unlawful orders’ don’t really exist, if they came from the PTB. Kidnapping people and handing them to people you know are violating inalienable rights? Perfectly OK.

ECA (profile) says:


HOw many (not saying terrorism) School attacks have been by _________(fill in the blank)

If we divided up the USA by the Birth place of our forefathers, WHERE WOULD YOU BE NOW?? If he hadnt come??

NOW, under the word ‘WHITE’ insert your nationality…
HOw many of those words match with others??

WHITE ISNT A NATIONALITY…Neither is we went around the world Changing every other religion we could, NOT dependent on COLOR..

and if you have a description for WHITE I will bet you leave off about 7/8 of the WHOLE PLANET..

Ninja (profile) says:

And as long as it can be used to punish whistleblowers, it will never be changed.

If we want that changed we have to both vote in people that are willing to add accountability and protect rights AND we need to keep close track of what they are doing and vote them out permanently the moment they get soiled by interests other than what they promised. Ok, you want to get corporate money? Make good use while you are in your position because you are never getting elected enough. I know it’s some sort of hard to attain dream I’m talking about but that’s the only way and even if some people will keep voting with their anuses if we manage to get a critical mass of people voting well it should act as a good deterrent.

Also I’d like to leave this:

Politicians are like baby diapers. Both should be changed frequently. For the same reason.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Made a comment about voting on FB..
WHY do we vote for that Picture on TV/Computers/newspapers??
We dont even look up their personal history..
How many of them can balance a check book??
The person didnt know that around 1000 people ran for president..didnt know that there were OTHERS in both parties that RAN for president..
He only saw and knew about the top 4..


ugo says:


“… direct delivery of documents to an enemy foreign power.”

Perhaps, with the secret declaration of war on the Adversary (re. on civilian Drug Users, civilian File Sharers, on civilian Whistle-Blowers, on civilian Terrorists) – better known as the general public – the press has been secretly reclassified as an “enemy foreign power” also, to allow the legal harassment and prosecution of yet another dastardly enemy of the state.

It certainly would not be surprising. 🙂

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