Former FBI agent pleads guilty to leaking secrets to reporter -Justice Dept

WASHINGTON, April 17 (Reuters) - A former FBI agent accused of leaking government secrets to a reporter pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two criminal counts related to retaining and disclosing defense information, the Justice Department said.

Terry Albury, 39, a former special agent in the FBI's Minneapolis field office, could face up to 10 years in prison for each of the two counts against him, the Justice Department said in a statement.

"As this prosecution demonstrates, we will not waiver in our commitment to pursue and hold accountable government officials who violate their obligations to protect our nation's secrets," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement.

Albury's attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

At the time Albury was charged in March, his 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."

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A source familiar with the case has told Reuters that the online news organization The Intercept was the recipient of the information Albury was charged with leaking.

The Intercept could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

In January 2017, The Intercept published a series titled "The FBI’s Secret Rules" based on Albury’s leaked documents, which showed the depth and broad powers of the FBI expansion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and its recruitment efforts, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

The Intercept reported the initial charges against Albury and published a statement from its editor-in-chief, Betsy Reed, saying the news outlet did not discuss anonymous sources.

But she said the use of the Espionage Act "to prosecute whistleblowers seeking to shed light on matters of vital public concern is an outrage" and defended the right of journalists to report such stories.

It was the second time someone suspected of leaking information to The Intercept had been prosecuted. Last year, a U.S. intelligence contractor pleaded not guilty to an espionage count after being accused of leaking a classified report on Russian interference in the U.S. elections to the news outlet.

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The Justice Department did not identify the news organization that received the information Albury leaked. It said he worked at the time as a liaison with Customs and Border Protection at the Minneapolis airport and had a top-secret clearance that gave him access to some secret material.

The Justice Department said that between 2016 and continuing through August 2017, Albury disclosed national defense information classified as secret to a reporter.

(Reporting by David Alexander and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Peter Cooney)