Dear Leakers: Maybe Leaking to Glenn Greenwald's Intercept Is Not a Good Evolutionary Strategy

Yesterday, the FBI field office in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, announced the arrest of someone for leaking classified information to the press. The twist to the story is that it was one of their own agents.


The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed charges against an FBI agent for allegedly leaking secret documents to a reporter, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Wednesday.

The DOJ alleges that Terry Albury, a Minneapolis-based agent, shared a document on FBI informants with an unnamed reporter for a national media organization. In addition, Albury allegedly leaked a document “relating to threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country.”

Basically, what happened was that Albury leaked some secret FBI protocols to The Intercept, a website run by Glenn Greenwald. The Intercept ran a story on the protocols but they also got a little greedy…or, as the Brits say, too clever by half.

In January 2017, The Intercept published a series titled “The FBI’s Secret Rules,” based on Albury’s leaked documents, which show the depth and broad powers of the FBI expansion since 9/11 and its recruitment efforts.

The Intercept made two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the FBI in late March 2016. The requests contained specific information identifying the names of documents that were not available to the public. In addition, the FBI identified about 27 secret documents published by The Intercept between April 2016 and February 2017.

“The FBI believes that the classified and/or controlled nature of the documents indicates the News Outlet obtained these documents from someone with direct access to them,” according to the warrant. “Furthermore, reviews of the FBI internal records indicate ALBURY has electronically accessed over two thirds of the approximately 27 documents via trusted access granted to him on FBI information systems.”

One of The Intercept’s FOIA requests, dated March 29, 2016, asked for copies of a specific document classified as secret. The document, titled Confidential Human Source Assessing, gives tips for agents on how to cultivate informants.

Ten months later, the news outlet posted the same document it requested to its website and to DocumentCloud, a repository of public documents.

The FBI said it believes that The Intercept had a copy of the document and others before making the FOIA request. The Intercept then “used its knowledge of such documents to create the FOIA requests,” according to the warrant.

According to a review done by the FBI, Albury and 15 other individuals had also accessed the same document from an FBI classified network between August 2011 and March 29, 2016, the date of The Intercept’s FOIA request.

The search warrant said Albury took 11 screenshots of the document on Feb. 19, 2016, one month and 10 days before The Intercept’s FOIA request.


Essentially, Albury was sort of outed by the outlet he leaked to. Because it was by linking the FOIA requests to Albury’s accessing and taking screenshots of the documents in question that they were able to narrow the universe of leakers to one.

Some of this should sound familiar. Back in June, the improbably named Reality Winner was arrested for stealing a document from an NSA facility where she worked as a contractor and passing the document to The Intercept:

On June 1, 2017, the FBI was notified by the U.S. Government Agency that the U.S. Government Agency had been contacted by the News Outlet on May 30, 2017, regarding an upcoming story. The News Outlet informed the U.S. Government Agency that it was in possession of what it believed to be a classified document authored by the U.S. Government Agency. The News Outlet provided the U.S. Government Agency with a copy of this document. Subsequent analysis by the U.S. Government Agency confirmed that the document in the News Outlet’s possession is the intelligence reporting. The intelligence reporting is classified at the Top Secret level, indicating that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security, and is marked as such. The U.S. Government Agency has since confirmed that the reporting contains information that was classified at that level at the time that the reporting was published on or about May 5, 2017, and that such information currently remains classified at that level.

13. The U.S. Government Agency examined the document shared by the News Outlet and determined the pages of the intelligence reporting appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space. [Italics are mine]

14. The U.S. Government Agency conducted an internal audit to determine who accessed the intelligence reporting since its publication. The U.S. Government Agency determined that six individuals printed this reporting. WINNER was one of these six individuals. A further audit of the six individuals’ desk computers revealed that WINNER had e-mail contact with the News Outlet. The audit did not reveal that any of the other individuals had e-mail contact with the News Outlet.


Again, The Intercept, by its own bungling burned a source to the ground and gave her a present for which she had no legitimate use: a multi-year stay in federal prison.

Here’s the lesson to you people reading this and who are thinking about leaking classified information. Don’t. Please. The temporary sugar rush you’re going to get from seeing your leak appear in print just isn’t going to be worth it unless you have the clout of a James Comey, James Clapper, or John Brennan and can avoid arrest. But if you have to leak information, for Heaven’s Sake, don’t deal with idiots. It won’t work out well.


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