ST. PAUL, Minn. – A black former Minnesota FBI counterterrorism agent pleaded guilty Tuesday to leaking classified documents to a reporter, saying in a statement that he knew it was illegal but felt he had to act against a culture in the bureau that often treats minority communities with suspicion and disrespect.
Terry J. Albury, 39, appeared in federal court in St. Paul on one count of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information and one count of unauthorized retention of national defense information. Under his plea agreement, Albury faces a likely sentence of between 37 and 57 months but the decision will be up to U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright, who did not set a sentencing date.
Albury said little during the hearing apart from brief answers to the judge's questions, and declined to comment afterward. But his attorneys, JaneAnne Murray and Joshua Dratel, issued a statement to reporters on his behalf saying Albury, who was the only black field agent in the FBI's Minneapolis office, acted out of conscience. They said he was troubled by how racism within the FBI affected its interactions with minority communities.
"The situation became even more acute for him when, having previously served a tour for the FBI in Iraq, he was assigned to the counterterrorism squad and was required first-hand to implement FBI investigation directives that profiled and intimidated minority communities in Minnesota and other locations in which Terry served," they said.
Albury was accused of sharing documents with an online news organization sometime between February 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017. They included a document, dated Aug. 17, 2011, and classified as "secret," that related to how the FBI assesses confidential informants, and an undated document "relating to threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country."
Many of the FBI's counterterrorism investigations in Minnesota have focused primarily on the state's large Somali-American community. Roughly three dozen men from the community left the state to join al-Shabab, a Somali Islamic extremist group, or militants in Syria including the Islamic State group. Others have been convicted on terrorism-related charges for plotting to join or provide support to those groups.
The date on the classified document that Albury acknowledged leaking and its subject matter corresponded with a story posted by The Intercept on Jan. 31, 2017, that deals with assessing informants and recruiting them by identifying their "motivations and vulnerabilities." The story references a secret document dated Aug. 17, 2011. Public case documents don't name the news organization or any reporters, nor did any names emerge during the hearing.
The Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have made prosecuting government employees who leak sensitive information to the media a high priority. Sessions pledged to clamp down on leaks last year, saying the Justice Department had more than tripled the number of active leak investigations since President Barack Obama left office and that the FBI had created a new counterintelligence unit to focus on such case.
"Albury admitted that his actions put America at risk," John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement. "As this prosecution demonstrates, we will not waver in our commitment to pursue and hold accountable government officials who violate their obligations to protect our nation's secrets and break the laws they have sworn to uphold."
A second count charged Albury with unauthorized possession of a document "relating to the use of an online platform for recruitment by a specific terrorist group." He acknowledged having classified documents at his home without authorization.
The search warrant application says that Albury began working for the FBI as an intern in 2000 and became a special agent in 2005. He was most recently assigned to the Minneapolis field office where he worked as a liaison at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in counterterrorism and other matters, it says.
A sworn statement by an FBI counterintelligence agent says Albury accessed at least two-thirds of the 27 classified documents that the news organization posted online. Some of those documents had been photographed from a computer screen, it said, adding that Albury was caught on surveillance video at his airport office photographing his computer screen on three dates last year.
Albury remains free on his own recognizance pending his sentencing.