Espionage Act Charges Against Former FBI Agent Raise Concerns: Knight Institute

March 29, 2018

On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department charged a former Minnesota FBI agent, Terry Albury, under section 793(e) of the Espionage Act with leaking classified information to the online news site The Intercept. The indictment, apparently in connection with the disclosure of some of the same information the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and Freedom of the Press Foundation have been seeking through the Freedom of Information Act, comes as the Trump administration has dramatically escalated leak investigations.

Last November, the Knight Institute and Freedom of the Press Foundation sued for information about the FBI’s domestic surveillance practices, and the extent to which those practices may infringe on the freedoms of speech and of the press. Tuesday’s indictment, part of a larger Justice Department push to investigate and prosecute leakers, underscores those concerns. The FBI agent charged is accused of leaking FBI documents cited in a January 2017 Intercept article titled “Secret Docs Reveal: President Trump Has Inherited an FBI With Vast Hidden Power.” He was reportedly the only Black field agent in the bureau’s Minnesota office, and, in a statement released yesterday, Albury’s attorneys said his actions “were driven by a conscientious commitment to long-term national security and addressing the well-documented systemic biases within the FBI.”

In response to reports of the charges, Knight Institute Executive Director Jameel Jaffer issued the following statement:

“It’s disturbing to see the Espionage Act being used once again against a public servant who appears to have been motivated by a desire to inform the public about wrongdoing. The Espionage Act is a blunt and draconian tool that doesn’t distinguish between disclosures to the media and disclosures to foreign intelligence services, or between disclosures in the public interest and disclosures that compromise national security. Its use in circumstances like these will chill whistleblowers, make investigative journalism more difficult, and deprive the public of information it needs to understand government policy.”

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.