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Former FBI agent pleads guilty in leak case

Updated: 2013-09-25 08:21
By Agencies in Washington ( China Daily)

Anti-spying law used to prosecute tipsters

US prosecutors are increasingly seizing on an anti-espionage law to pursue US citizens suspected of divulging government secrets to the press, a major shift in the use of a 1917 law that was designed to stop leaks to the country's enemies.

Eleven times in US history, all of them since 1971, federal prosecutors have brought charges under the Espionage Act for disclosing information to newspapers, blogs or other media outlets. Eight of those cases occurred since US President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

These are the some of the 11 cases:


Daniel Ellsberg became the first such defendant in 1971, when prosecutors accused the national security analyst and his colleague Anthony Russo of providing what would become known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other media outlets. The secret documents revealed the extent of US involvement in Vietnam. Charges against the two men were dismissed when a judge found the government had wiretapped Ellsberg, possibly illegally.


Samuel Morison, a former US Navy intelligence analyst, was charged in 1984 with illegally passing secret photographs of former Soviet ships to a magazine, Jane's Defence Weekly. He pleaded not guilty, but a jury convicted him, making him the first person convicted under the Espionage Act for divulging secrets to the press. He was sentenced to two years in prison but paroled. Then-president Bill Clinton pardoned him.


Lawrence Franklin, a Defense Department employee, was charged in 2005 with passing classified information about Iran to two pro-Israel lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Franklin pleaded guilty and received a 12-year sentence.


Former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake was suspected in 2010 of revealing information about the agency's warrantless wiretapping program. He was indicted under the Espionage Act but said the only information he leaked was about waste in an NSA program, which he gave to the Baltimore Sun. The 10 felony counts were dropped when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received no prison time.


Chelsea Manning, an Army private first class then known as Bradley Manning, turned over more than 700,000 classified files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in the biggest breach of secret data in US history. Manning was sentenced in August to 35 years in a military prison after being found guilty of 19 counts but acquitted of the most serious one, aiding the enemy.


Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was charged in 2011 with illegally disclosing classified information about Iran to James Risen, a New York Times reporter, for his book State of War. The case remains pending, as the government has tried unsuccessfully to force Risen to testify about his sources.


Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was charged in 2012 with divulging to journalists secret information about the CIA's interrogation program, including the identity of a covert officer. In an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.


US officials said in June they had filed sealed criminal charges against former NSA contractor Edward Snowden for unauthorized leaks and theft of government property. Snowden prompted a worldwide debate after he gave documents to newspapers showing the extent of US surveillance programs. Russia granted him asylum.


A former FBI agent agreed on Monday to plead guilty and likely go to prison for telling a reporter about a US operation to disrupt a bomb plot, becoming the latest government employee to face criminal charges for leaking official secrets.

The investigation that led to a plea agreement for Donald Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Indiana, sparked a debate over press freedom when The Associated Press reported this year that, as part of the government probe, the Justice Department seized the news agency's telephone records without its permission.

Sachtleben agreed to admit to two criminal counts related to the misuse of national defense information, according to papers filed in the US District Court in Indianapolis.

He agreed to a prison sentence of three years and seven months for telling the news agency of the bomb plot, in addition to eight years and one month for unrelated child pornography charges, the court papers said.

If accepted by a judge, the prison sentence would be the longest handed down in a civilian court for a leak of classified information to a reporter.

"I am deeply sorry for my actions. While I never intended harm to the United States or to any individuals, I do not make excuses for myself," Sachtleben, a former bomb analyst, said in a statement released by his lawyer.

In the more than four years since US President Barack Obama took office, the Justice Department has waged a vigorous campaign against unauthorized leaks to the media, bringing more such cases than it had under all previous presidents combined.

Eight of 11 media-leak cases were brought since 2009.

US Attorney General Eric Holder had called the leak about the bomb plot one of the most serious in the country's history.

Storm of protests

A story by AP in May 2012 described a US operation in Yemen to foil a plot to blow up an airliner using a bomb hidden in an attacker's underwear. The news service said it delayed publishing the story at the request of government officials until security concerns were allayed, but US officials said the leak compromised a US agent working to undermine al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Two months later, Holder appointed a senior prosecutor, Ronald Machen, to lead an inquiry.

A storm of protests by media outlets arose in May when AP reported that the US Justice Department seized records tied to more than 20 separate telephone lines. AP President Gary Pruitt said it was an attack on the news agency's sources, while Justice Department officials said the seizure was essential to the investigation and allowed by law.

Investigators connected the leak to Sachtleben only after comparing the AP phone records to a separate database of people with access to the bomb from the foiled plot, a Justice Department official said on Monday.

Sachtleben had access to the FBI lab where the bomb was being analyzed, the official said.

When investigators sought access to Sachtleben's computer, they realized they already had it from the unrelated pornography inquiry, the official said.

Machen, the US attorney for the District of Columbia, said in a statement, "This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation's secrets and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information."

Sachtleben retired from the FBI in 2008 after about 25 years, according to the Justice Department. He continued to work on contract as a bomb analyst.

"I understand and accept that today's filings start the process of paying the full consequences of my misconduct, and I know that the justice system I once served so proudly will have its say," he said in his statement.

FBI Assistant Director Valerie Parlave said in a statement that the bureau "will continue to take all necessary steps to pursue such individuals who put the security of our nation and the lives of others at risk by their disclosure of sensitive information".

AP spokesman Paul Colford declined to comment.

"We don't ever comment on sources," he said in an e-mail.



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