FBI Forms Media Leaks Unit, Documents Show

Patrick Kissel, Reporter

According to documents acquired by independent media organization The Young Turks (TYT) under the freedom of information act, the FBI in late 2017 established a new unit to counter and investigate leaks by government personnel to the media.

“I guess [journalists] could be prosecuted for reporting classified information since the information is supposed to be classified,” junior Brianna Dotson said.

The heavily redacted document that outlines the new unit is dated November 10, 2017. The unit is assigned to the counterintelligence division of the FBI, according to the document. Other documents included are a cost code request by the counterintelligence division, and the document accepting the request dated May 24, 2018.

“The complicated nature of – and rapid growth in – unauthorized disclosures and media leak threats and investigations has necessitated the establishment of a new Unit,” the document reads.

The establishment of the unit whose name is redacted in the document, came after numerous statements made by then attorney general Jeff Sessions. On August 4, 2017 at a press briefing on the reevaluation of the way the Justice Department was conducting investigations into leaks, Sessions said that there was a “dramatic growth in the number of unauthorized disclosures of classified national security information in the past several months.”

“Since January, the [Justice] Department has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations compared to the number pending at the end of the last administration, and we have already charged four people with unlawfully disclosing classified material or with concealing contacts with foreign intelligence officers,” Sessions said in the briefing.

During testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions claimed that the Justice Department had increased investigations into the leaking of classified material by 800 percent. According to Sessions, at the time of the November testimony which was four days after the date on the internal documents obtained by TYT, the Justice Department had opened 27 investigations into leaks.

“I suppose it could be alarming, because it is such an increase in investigations,” Dotson said.

These increases in investigations come after the Obama administration had already charged people under the espionage act than all other administrations combined, according to Jake Tapper on CNN’s The Lead in 2014. According to a 2013 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, during the Obama administration, eight people were the subject of felony prosecutions under the espionage act, in comparison with the three total prosecutions from all previous administrations combined.

“Reporters’ phone logs and e-mails were secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department in two of the investigations, and a Fox News reporter was accused in an affidavit for one of those subpoenas of being ‘an aider, abettor and/or conspirator’ of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist,” the report reads.

The full documents can be viewed here.