Expanding its capability to investigate potential governmental leaks to the media, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created a new unit to address those threats in 2018.
Documents obtained by TYT as a part of their investigation identify the need for the unit as being due to a “rapid” increase in the number of leaks to the media from governmental sources.
“The complicated nature of — and rapid growth in — unauthorized disclosure and media leak threats and investigations has necessitated the establishment of a new Unit,” one of the released and heavily redacted documents reads.
The FBI appeared to create accounting functions to support the new division, with one document dated in May 2018 revealing that a cost code for the new unit was approved by the FBI’s Resource Analysis Unit.
In August 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had stated that such a unit had already been formed to address such types of investigations, which he had deemed as being too few in number shortly after taking office in February 2017.
By November of the same year, Sessions claimed that the number of investigations by the Justice Department had increased by 800%, as the Trump administration sought to put an end to the barrage of leaks regarding both personnel and policy that appeared to come from within the ranks of the federal government.
The investigation and prosecution of leaks to the media from government reached a zenith under the Obama administration, using a United States law that originated over 100 years ago in 1917, and was long unused for such purposes.
The Espionage Act treats the unauthorized release of information deemed to be secret in the interests of national security and could be used to harm the interests of the United States or aid an enemy as a criminal act. While controversial in application, the administration used it to prosecute more than twice as many alleged leakers than had been addressed by all previous administrations combined, a total of 10 leak-related prosecutions.
In July 2018, Reality Winner, pled guilty to one felony count of leaking classified information in 2016, representing the first successful prosecution of those who leaked governmental secrets to the media under the Trump administration.
Winner, a former member of the Air Force and a contractor for the National Security Agency at the time of her arrest, was accused of sharing a classified report regarding alleged Russian involvement with the election of 2016 with the news media. Her agreed-upon sentence of 63 months in prison was longer than the average of those convicted for similar crimes, with the typical sentence ranging from one to three and a half years.
Defendants charged under the Espionage Act by the FBI are challenged in mounting their case by the fact that they are prohibited of using a defense of disclosure in the public interest as a defense to their actions.