Former F.B.I. Agent Pleads Guilty in Leak to A.P.
WASHINGTON — A former F.B.I. agent has agreed to plead guilty to leaking classified information to The Associated Press about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen last year, the Justice Department announced Monday. In a twist, the former agent had already been under investigation in a separate child pornography case, and he has also agreed to a guilty plea in it.
That is a heck of a plot twist. The Times provides some details:
Federal investigators said they were able to identify the man, Donald Sachtleben, a former bomb technician, as a suspect in the leak case only after secretly obtaining A.P. reporters’ phone logs, a move that set off an uproar among journalists and members of Congress of both parties when it was disclosed in May.
Yeah, yeah, they needed the very broad subpoena, or so they say:
Nearly a year later, in May 2013, the Justice Department disclosed that after the F.B.I. had interviewed more than 550 officials and been unable to solve the case, investigators secretly used subpoenas to telephone companies to obtain calling records for 20 lines associated with A.P. bureaus and reporters. The scope and secrecy of the subpoenas outraged journalism organizations and lawmakers of both parties, who accused the department of going too far.
But what about the child pornography?
The Justice Department said the phone records had proved crucial in identifying Mr. Sachtleben as a suspect. In a bizarre coincidence, investigators then discovered that other law enforcement officials had already seized his computer and other electronic materials in an unrelated child pornography investigation.
In a bizarre coincidence they already had his computer and had searched it for kiddie porn but never noticed the classified info reportedly stored on it. Really? Or had they noticed the classified intel but were troubled by their lack of a plausible warrant authorizing a search for it?
Eventually the pieces fell into place for these fortunate investigators:
“Sachtleben was identified as a suspect in the case of this unauthorized disclosure 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. “This allowed investigators to obtain a search warrant authorizing a more exhaustive search of Sachtleben’s cellphone, computer and other electronic media, which were in the possession of federal investigators due to the child pornography investigation.”
A court filing said agents discovered evidence that he had stored classified intelligence information on the computer without authorization, leading to a separate charge under the Espionage Act.
The timing of the kiddie porn case was extraordinary:
The court filing said that he met one of the A.P. reporters, identified only as Reporter A, in 2009, and that in the following years he helped the journalist with information about bomb-related issues.
One court filing quoted text messages in which the reporter reached out to Mr. Sachtleben on April 30, 2012, after ABC News reported that Mr. Asiri might have been working on bombs that could be surgically implanted. Mr. Sachtleben and the reporter exchanged several text messages, quoted in the court filing, speculating about the ABC report. As it turns out, the contractor was about to take a trip to Quantico. On May 2, he visited the lab where the underwear device was being examined, it said, and soon called the reporter.
Two and a half hours later, the court filing said, two A.P. reporters began calling government officials saying they knew that the United States government had intercepted a bomb from Yemen and that the F.B.I. was analyzing it.
The next day, May 3, 2012, law enforcement agents in Indiana, working on an unrelated case involving the distribution of child pornography on the Internet, obtained a search warrant for Mr. Sachtleben’s house, court filings show. They seized his computers on May 11.
So in the world being presented by the Justice Department and the Times, government officials became aware of an important leak when reporters began calling on May 2 2012 but only tracked the initial leak back to Schachtleben a year later.
So in a slightly different world from the one described by the Times, worried intelligence officials found out almost immediately who the AP reporter had recently spoken with that might have compromised the Yemen probe (which involved British and Saudi intelligence in an operation that was ongoing as of May 2, so the US leak was a potential international embarrassment).
And the next day the improbable kiddie porn raid shuts the guy up. Seriously - a guy with 25 years with the FBI was trading kiddie porn under the crafty account of "firstname.lastname@example.org"? Hide in plain sight has been done.
Well. The Feds stifled him with the trumped-up kiddie porn charge and waited for the leak investigators to uncover a publicly plausible trail to the truth. But a year later, the leak investigation remained stalled. So, the AP subpoena, the new search warrants for the already-seized computer, et voila. All very above-board, and who will doubt it?
Meanwhile, the Times slides right past an obvious question - Sachtleben may have leaked to the AP about the fact that the Yemen bomb was in the possession of the FBI (original story), but it was in follow-ups that the leaks about the Saudi/British double agent were published. To be fair, the Times probably won't be aggressively investigating other news agencies leaks, but still, here is the timeline they present:
On May 7, 2012, The A.P. broke the news that the bomb plot had been disrupted, setting off further disclosures.
That evening, Richard A. Clarke, a former Clinton administration national security official who had been briefed on the case by John O. Brennan, then the top White House counterterrorism official and now the C.I.A. director, said the plot never came close to being carried out because it was under “insider control” by intelligence officials.
Soon, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times [link] and other news organizations reported that the would-be suicide bomber in the operation had been a double agent.
So a possibility is that Sachtleben tipped the AP to the existence of the bomb plot. Other officials then disclosed during their victory lap that the Brits and Saudis had been involved. And now Sachtleben takes the fall for everything, and why not, since he is dealer in kiddie porn anyway? That saves Eric Holder from having to figure out who at Obama 2012 the White House might have leaked the follow-up details and saves the press from yet another nasty investigation, so win-win-win. [US N&WR says this investigation is not over, but probably over; the double agent leaker was Richard Clarke, so move on:
The story that prompted the probe was a May 7, 2012, report by The Associated Press, which revealed the White House and Department of Homeland Security incorrectly claimed there was no credible terror threat on the anniversary of bin Laden's death. In truth, there was a terror plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane using a difficult-to-detect bomb.
But the arguably more damaging piece of information – that an undercover agent had infiltrated Yemen's al-Qaida affiliate – was actually disclosed by Richard Clarke, a former official in the Clinton administration, after the initial May 7 article.
Clarke, Reuters reported, was provided the information by then-Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan, who briefed former government officials before they went on TV to discuss the plot.
Neither man has been charged with committing a crime. Brennan now serves as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and unnamed White House officials vehemently denied to Reuters he improperly disclosed classified information.
"This is a really complex investigation and we do have additional steps that we're taking," a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the leak probe told U.S. News.
"THEY'RE ALL INSANE": The Sachtleben arrest was so unlikely on its face that back in the day it was linked to the bizarre disappearance of FBI agent Stephen Ivens. However, the source of the link is the EU Times, which has no credibility, and Sorcha Fall, aka Source Fail.
Knowing what we know now about the capabilites of the NSA, I think it is entirely plausible that they identified the Sachtleben/Yemen leak connection immediately and then felt obliged to conceal their knowledge. As to why he is not fighting the kiddie porn charges, its because they have him on other serious stuff. Well, maybe. Or maybe we have been told the full truth and nothing but the truth.