Just nine days before his arrest in Indiana on child pornography charges, a former F.B.I. Agent “illegally” leaked classified information about a failed Al-Qaeda plot to the Associated Press, the Justice Department revealed Monday.
FBI contractor Donald John Sachtleben, who served as one of the crime scene team leaders at the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995, entered into a plea agreement with the Justice Department agreeing to forgo trial and plead guilty to two counts of unlawfully disclosing national defense information, the Justice Department said in a news release.
As a part of the agreement, Sachtleben 55, of Carmel, Ind. agreed to serve a 43-month prison term for the national security leak, the government stated in charges filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
The agreement to plead guilty also includes a guilty plea for "knowingly possessing and distributing" child pornography. He was arrested on May 11, 2012 on child pornography charges. In addition to paying $20,000 in restitution to the victim identified in the child pornography he possessed, Sachtleben has agreed to serve a 97-month prison term.
Charges in the national security case and the child pornography case are both subject to approval by a judge before they can be enforced. Once approved, it will bring to an end a case that sparked outrage over press freedom versus national security violations.
The criminal complaint states that on May 2, 2012 Sachtleben, "knowingly and willfully disclosed national defense information to a person not authorized to receive it, namely a reporter with a national news organization
That national news organization was the Associated Press. Published on May 7, 2012, the story said in part:
"The Associated Press has learned the CIA thwarted a plot by al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden."
“As a result of Sachtleben’s disclosure of national defense information to the reporter, the national security of the United States was compromised, a significant international intelligence operation was placed in jeopardy, and lives were put at risk,” the Justice Department said.
It was then that U.S. Attorney Machen said they were "given the task of uncovering who had threatened a sensitive intelligence operation."
In May 2013, the Associated Press reported that the government's task led right to its doorstep. The AP discovered the Justice Department seized two months of the news agency's telephone records from phone companies earlier in 2013 without its knowledge.
Sachtleben was no whistleblower
In fact, the Justice Department said these records were key in breaking the case.
Sachtleben was identified as a suspect in the case "only after toll records for phone numbers related to the reporter were obtained through a subpoena and compared to other evidence collected during the leak investigation," the Justice Department said.
Still, Laura Murphy, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office told the AP that the use of subpoenas would have a chilling effect both on journalists and whistleblowers who want to reveal government wrongdoing.
But the Justice Department disagreed explaining in the criminal complaint that Sachtleben's actions were not considered whistleblowing and therefore not for the public's benefit because he was not "exposing government waste, fraud, abuse, or any other kind of government malfeasance or misfeasance."
“To keep the country safe, the department must enforce the law against such critical and dangerous leaks, while respecting the important role of the press," Deputy Attorney General Cole said in the news release.
No reporter was charged in the Sachtleben case, the AFP reported.
Paul Colford, a spokesman for The A.P., would not comment on the plea deal, saying, “We would never comment on our sources," the Times reported.