National Press Club

National Press Club Questions Prosecution of Official Who Disclosed Bomb Plot

September 24, 2013 | By John M. Donnelly |

The National Press Club raised questions Tuesday about the Justice Department's prosecution of an ex-FBI agent who reportedly told the Associated Press last year about a foiled terrorist plot to bomb an airliner.

Law enforcement officials told news organizations on Monday that they confirmed only by reviewing AP reporters' phone records earlier this year that the suspect, Donald Sachtleben, had contacted an AP reporter in 2012 about the Yemen-based plot. The collection of the reporters records, under a secret subpoena, had triggered outrage among news organizations. It led to a rewriting of Justice Department rules about investigating journalists. And it helped push the Obama administration to promote a bill that would generally protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources in court.

Sachtleben has agreed to plead guilty to disclosing classified information and to serve 43 months on that charge. He is the eighth person the Obama administration's Justice Department has prosecuted for leaks, compared to three by all previous presidents.

"The crackdown on those who help tell the public information that they have a right to know has gone too far," said National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane. "And now we have an official going to jail based on information that was gleaned by reading reporters' phone records. This can't help but have a chilling effect on journalism and on democracy."

The case began after an intelligence operation in April 2012 broke up a plot to down a U.S. airliner by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The AP's CEO, Gary Pruitt, told a National Press Club luncheon audience in June of this year that the news organization had been assured by senior administration officials in May 2012 that publishing the story would not harm U.S. national security.