Rapid growth of media leaks spurred creation of specialized counterintelligence unit: FBI
Complex and increasingly common leaks of classified information caused the FBI’s counterintelligence division to create a new unit devoted to countering unauthorized disclosures, internal documents revealed Wednesday.
Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by The Young Turks, a progressive media outlet, the heavily redacted FBI filesoffered a rare but limited look at the anti-leaking unit established by the Justice Department during the first year of President Trump’s administration.
“By law, the FBI is the lead federal agency responsible for the investigation of violations of the espionage laws of the United States,” reads the “Functions and Mission Statement” section of a document dated Nov. 10, 2017.
“The complicated nature of and rapid growth in unauthorized disclosure and media leak threats and investigations has necessitated the establishment of a new Unit,” the document says.
Classified as “secret” prior to being scrubbed of sensitive information, nearly the rest of the 5-page document detailing the FBI’s new anti-leaking unit was redacted before being released.
An accompanying, unclassified 2-page document indicated the FBI’s Resource Analysis Unit subsequently approved a request by bureau’s counterintelligence division to create a new cost code in May 2018, but most of that document was redacted as well.
The FBI did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Mr. Trump has been highly critical of leaks to the media since taking office, announcing weeks into his administration of having directed his Justice Department “to look into the leaks.”
Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s first attorney general, announced the creation of the anti-leak unit several months later.
“I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” Mr. Sessions said in Aug. 2017. “The department will not hesitate to bring lawful and appropriate criminal charges against those who abuse the nation’s trust.”
The Justice Department had 27 open leaks investigations as of Nov. 2017, Mr. Sessions said at the time, or triple the number initiated during the previous three years.
Under Mr. Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama, the Justice Department prosecuted more leakers under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined, The Young Turks noted.
Initially written to punish spies during World War I, the Obama administration brought charges under the Espionage Act against several individuals for leaking classified information without authorization, including WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, among others.
More recently, the Justice Department during Mr. Trump’s administration filed Espionage Act charges against Air Force veteran Reality Winner and former CIA coder Joshua Schulte in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Winner, 27, was charged in connection with leaking a classified NSA document to The Intercept website about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and is currently serving a five-year prison term after pleading guilty. Mr. Schulte, meanwhile, is suspected of leaking CIA hacking tools to the WikiLeaks website and is being held without bail.