Guilty Plea Of FBI Officer Opens Debate On Alleged Racially Biased Data Collection

The case of former FBI counterterrorism officer Terry J. Albury has finally come to a close.

Albury was charged last month with leaking classified documents on programs of the Bureau that targeted minority communities for surveillance and intelligence collection. Albury felt these programs were discriminatory and unfairly targeted minority individuals, without basis for suspicion.  

During court proceedings, no specific news outlets were named that had published stolen documents. The best guess as to where the information was released was a series of stories posted by The Intercept in January of last year that detailed the methods by which the FBI assesses and manages informants.

The evidence against Albury was damning from the beginning. The FBI identified 27 documents - 16 marked classified - that The Intercept published, and found that Albury had accessed more than two-thirds of them. Additionally, surveillance footage from Albury’s office showed him taking pictures of his computer screen on several occasions.

Albury recently pled guilty to “unlawful disclosure and retention of national defense information,” each of which is a felony under statutes of the Espionage Act. Under his plea agreement, Albury faces a likely sentence of between 37 and 57 months in prison, but the decision will be up to U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright, who did not set a sentencing date.

The former FBI agent seems to have been genuinely motivated by a desire to right some perceived wrongs he felt were committed by his former employer, not a personal vendetta to expose the federal government. Albury served the United States with distinction domestically during his substantial career, and overseas where he was deployed in Iraq for a tour, conducting fieldwork and intelligence coordination for FBI counterterror efforts. According to his lawyers Albury’s actions were driven by a "conscientious commitment to long-term national security and addressing the well-documented systemic biases within the FBI," and that he felt a duty to do so as the only African-American FBI field agent in Minnesota.

While Albury believed that specific policies of the FBI in its intelligence gathering work were illegitimate and unjust, the case is being touted as evidence of the Bureau's systemic “race problems” and being used to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the agency as a whole.

Anyone who cares about the integrity of law enforcement in America should be open to critique of methods used by these organizations. At the same time, it is wrong to assert that questionable tactics undermine the legitimacy of an agency as a whole.

The most we can hope to come from this case is a sound discussion on the methods employed by organizations with the mandate to protect us. Unfortunately what we’re getting instead is a lot of demonizing rhetoric, asserting that federal law enforcement is fundamentally racist at its core.

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