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Ex-FBI agent pleads guilty in leak to Associated Press

First Published      Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:34 pm

Washington • A former FBI 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. Federal investigators said they identified him after obtaining phone logs of Associated Press reporters.

The retired agent, a former bomb technician named Donald Sachtleben, has agreed to serve 43 months in prison, the Justice Department said. The case brings to eight the number of leak-related prosecutions brought under President Barack Obama's administration; under all previous presidents, there were three such cases.

In a twist, Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Ind., was the subject of a separate FBI investigation for distributing child pornography, and he has separately agreed to plead guilty in that matter and serve 97 months. His total sentence for both sets of offenses, should the plea deal be accepted by a judge, is 140 months.

A Justice Department court filing claims that Sachtleben disclosed the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency had foiled a bomb plot in Yemen to an unnamed reporter — The Associated Press was not identified in the filing — on May 2, 2012. The news service broke the news that a plot had been foiled in Yemen on May 7.

A year later, it became known that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed phone companies for calling records for 20 phone lines of Associated Press offices and reporters, without providing advance notice to the organization so they could negotiate over the scope of the effort or ask a judge to quash the subpoena.

The calling records proved crucial to identifying Sachtleben, the Justice Department said. An official familiar with the investigation said the FBI had conducted more than 550 interviews at that point but had not managed to identify a suspect. The records showed communications between the reporter and Sachtleben, who became a suspect.

"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 in a statement. "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."