Ex-FBI bomb expert pleads guilty to leaking terror plot secrets to AP

Under a plea deal, the former FBI expert said he provided an AP reporter with secret information about a thwarted terrorist attack. He also agreed to plead guilty to child pornography charges.

J. David Ake/ AP Photo/ File
The Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington. Former FBI explosives expert Donald Sachtleben said Monday, Sept. 23, he will plead guilty to revealing secret information for an Associated Press story about a U.S. intelligence operation in Yemen in 2012.

A former bomb expert with the Federal Bureau of Investigation agreed Monday to plead guilty to providing a news reporter with secret information about a thwarted terrorist attack in Yemen last year.

Donald John Sachtleben of Carmel, Indiana, also agreed to plead guilty to two counts of distribution and attempted distribution of child pornography.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Mr. Sachtleben faces 11-1/2 years in prison for both the national security violations and the child pornography charges.

In early May 2012, the Associated Press reported the details of an alleged plot by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to use a sophisticated new version of a bomb to attack a plane on route to the US. The plot was thwarted, but the press coverage reportedly exposed ongoing US intelligence operations, angering federal authorities.

The Obama administration has made it a top priority to crack down on government officials and contractors who leak sensitive information to the news media.

The scoop about the Yemen attack made new headlines last May when the Justice Department disclosed it had secretly obtained two months of phone records covering 20 business and personal phone lines used by AP reporters and editors.

Justice Department officials said investigators were able to identify Mr. Sachtleben as a suspect in the disclosure case only after agents compared his telephone records with those of the news reporter who broke the story.

That connection, officials say, allowed investigators to obtain a search warrant to conduct a more extensive search of Sachtleben’s cell phone, computer, and other electronic devices. The equipment was already in the custody of federal investigators working on the Sachtleben child pornography investigation.

Sachtleben had worked as an FBI bomb technician from 1983 to 2008 and held a top secret security clearance. He later went back to work for the government as a contractor.

Officials said Sachtleben’s disclosure of information about the bomb plot – and the fact that the device had been recovered – caused harm to US national security, placed an international intelligence operation in jeopardy, and put lives at risk.

“Fifteen months ago, we were given the task of uncovering who had threatened a sensitive intelligence operation and endangered lives by illegally disclosing classified information relating to a disrupted Al Qaeda suicide bomb plot,” US Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen said in a statement.

“This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation’s secrets and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information,” he said.

Joseph Hogsett, US Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, said the charges against Sachtleben send a message to other government officials that “this type of behavior is completely unacceptable.”

According to prosecutors, Sachtleben was already under investigation in the child pornography case before he became a suspect in the leak probe. According to officials, investigators discovered 30 images and video files of child pornography on his computer.

The case is US v. Donald Sachtleben (12CR127.) It is filed at the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.

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