WASHINGTON – A former FBI explosives expert said Monday he will plead guilty to revealing secret information for an Associated Press article about a U.S. intelligence operation in Yemen in 2012. The article led to a leaks investigation and the seizure of AP phone records in the government’s search for the information’s source.
Donald Sachtleben, of Carmel, Ind., said in court papers that he provided details of the operation to a reporter. Four months ago, Sachtleben also acknowledged that he distributed and possessed pornographic images of underage girls.
A plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis calls for 11 years and eight months in prison for both crimes.
The Department of Justice said in a statement that its pursuit of Sachtleben was made easier by the child-pornography investigation but that Sachtleben was not identified as a suspect in the leaks case until after investigators had analyzed the AP phone records and compared them with other evidence in their possession.
AP spokesman Paul Colford said, “We never comment on sources.”
The deal is the latest legal action in the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of people it believes have revealed government secrets, including seeking records and even testimony of journalists who prosecutors believe were given classified information and then published articles about it.
Monday’s court filing stems from an investigation launched by the Justice Department shortly after the AP reported that U.S. intelligence had learned that al-Qaida’s Yemen branch hoped to launch a spectacular attack using a new, nearly undetectable bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner around the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. The AP’s May 7, 2012, article attributed details of the operation, including that the FBI had the bomb in its possession, to unnamed government officials.
CIA Director John O. Brennan has called the leak “irresponsible and damaging,” while Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the article was the result of “a very serious leak, a very grave leak.”
Just over a year after the article appeared, on May 10, the Justice Department informed the AP that it had secretly obtained nearly two months of call records for more than 20 telephone lines used by AP reporters and editors.