On April 17, 2018, the FBI announced that Terry J. Albury, a former Special Agent of the FBI, pleaded guilty in connection with his unauthorized disclosure and retention of classified national defense information.
There were two interesting components to this announcement:
- What Albury illegally disclosed – along with potential ramifications.
- Who made the announcement.
Albury gave information – classified at the Secret level – about the agency’s methods for conducting surveillance on political, religious and minority groups to a reporter. This included an unredacted copy of the agency’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.
The FBI can in certain circumstances bypass its own rules in order to send undercover agents or informants into political and religious organizations, as well as schools, clubs, and businesses.
For instance, none of the rules apply if a foreign government operates the organization, or if the FBI “reasonably” believes the organization to be acting on behalf of a foreign power, so long as its U.S.-based members are mostly foreigners.
And the rules only apply to groups the FBI deems “legitimate.”
The redacted definition of a “legitimate” group is one “formed for lawful purposes” and whose “activities are primarily lawful.” This would exclude obvious criminal networks but could also exclude activist groups if an agent decides that their “primary purpose” is to hold protests involving unlawful acts.
Some of the instances granting exclusions to the FBI are similar to those applied to FISA Title I and Title III Surveillance.
FISA Title I and III provisions relate to the conduct of electronic surveillance and physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes of persons, facilities, or property inside the United States
FISA Title I and Title III surveillance require there be probable cause to believe the proposed target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power and that the facility (can be a phone number) or place is – or is about to be – used by that target.
Carter Page, a U.S. citizen, was surveilled under FISA Title I. The FBI used the Steel Dossier to portray Page as “an agent of a foreign power” – specifically Russia – to the FISA Court.
But of course there’s one big difference between the FBI’s loophole and surveillance under Title I and III.
FISA Title I and III surveillance require formal approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
Consider what’s being permitted by rules specific only to the FBI.
Undisclosed Participation (UDP) in the activities of an organization – no supervisory approval required – is permitted if any of the following apply:
- A Confidential Human Source (CHS), who is already a member of the organization, or who joins the organization of their own volition, volunteers information not in response to a specific request or tasking by the FBI.
- The organization is an entity that is openly acknowledged by a foreign government to be directed or operated by that foreign government.
- The FBI believes the organization to be acting on behalf of a foreign power and its membership is comprised primarily [undefined] by non-U.S. persons.
- The organization was not formed for a lawful purpose or because its primary purpose is to engage in unlawful activity. An unlawful subgroup of a lawful organization may also be subject to UDP w/out supervisory approval as long as UDP is limited to subgroup.
- The information to be obtained will be derived solely from attending public events open to the general public (excludes religious services which do require approval).
The latitude contained within these carveouts is fairly significant – and open to interpretation.
Simply defining the intended activities of a lawful group as “unlawful activities” might be enough for the FBI to engage in unsupervised surveillance.
It makes one wonder.
How many times – and under what specific instances – the FBI has used these exclusions to gain Undisclosed Participation in an organization’s activities…
From the FBI’s announcement:
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Tracy Doherty-McCormick for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Assistant Director Bill Priestap of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division announced the plea.
“Mr. Albury was entrusted by the FBI with a security clearance, which included a responsibility to protect classified national defense information. Instead, he knowingly disclosed that material to someone not authorized to receive it,” said Assistant Director Priestap. “The FBI will work tirelessly to bring to justice those who would expose America’s secrets. Today, as the result of the hard work of dedicated special agents, analysts, and prosecutors, Mr. Albury has taken responsibility for his illegal action.”
I’ve written about Bill Priestap several times:
Where is Bill Priestap – FBI’s Counterintelligence Head – Dec 28 2017
Priestap was recently referenced in the House Memo:
According to the Head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence division, Assistant Director Bill Priestap, corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its “infancy” at the time of the initial Page FISA application.
Priestap presented the FBI’s contributions to the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, or ICA – Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent Elections – to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 21, 2017.
The ICA, despite limited sourcing and a significant qualification by NSA Director Mike Rogers, was used extensively to push the Russia Narrative (more here).
Priestap has been copied on many significant emails – including FBI Director Comey’s exoneration of Hillary Clinton.
Priestap is referenced in the Strzok/Page texts numerous times.
FBI Agent Peter Strzok reported directly to Priestap and prior to his sudden demotion, Strzok held the position of Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence – directly below Priestap.
Per Comey’s testimony, Priestap was the individual responsible for making the decision not to inform Congressional leadership – the Gang of Eight – about the July 2016 FBI Russia-Trump Investigation:
STEFANIK: If the open investigation began in July and the briefing of congressional leadership only occurred recently, why was there no notification prior to the recent — to the past month?
COMEY: I think our decision was it was a matter of such sensitivity that we wouldn’t include it in the quarterly briefings.
STEFANIK: So when you state our decision is that your decision? Is that usually your decision what gets briefed in those quarterly updates?
COMEY: No, it’s usually the decision of the head of our counter- intelligence division.
And Comey threw him under the Congressional bus in his March 2017 testimony.
Individuals directly below (Strzok) and above (McCabe) Priestap have been ensnared by the Inspector General’s Investigation.
It doesn’t stop there:
- Comey was fired on May 9, 2017.
- McCabe was fired on March 16, 2018.
- Strzok is off Mueller’s team and has been demoted.
- Lisa Page is off Mueller’s team and has been demoted.
- James Baker – FBI general counsel – was effectively fired December 20, 2017. Technically, Baker was “demoted and reassigned”.
- James Rybicki – resigned/forced out on January 23, 2018.
- Michael Kortan – FBI Asst. Director Public Affairs – resigned on February 8, 2018.
- Bruce Ohr has been demoted – twice.
- Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand – the number three official directly behind Deputy AG Rosenstein – resigned on February 9, 2018.
- David Laufman – DOJ National Security Division, Deputy Asst. Attorney General in charge of counterintelligence – resigned on February 7, 2018.
For a more complete listing of resignations & demotions see here.
So why is it that Priestap still has his original position.
I speculated sometime back that Priestap was almost certainly cooperating with the Inspector General.
I still believe he is – but as time has gone by Priestap remains firmly in his position.
I’m beginning to think it may be something more.
The prominent inclusion of Priestap in yesterday’s announcement gave the appearance of a man in an active role.
Everyone around him – everyone – has either been demoted into non-active roles (Strzok, Page, Ohr, Baker), fired (McCabe, Comey) or has abruptly resigned (Rybicki, Kortan, Brand, Laufman).
We now know from the Inspector General’s Report on Andrew McCabe that Lisa Page, when confronted with McCabe’s story of denial, produced texts refuting the Deputy FBI Director.
It was these texts that led to the Inspector General uncovering the thousands of texts between Strzok and Page.
Lisa Page is currently occupying a chair in parts unknown – probably somewhere back in the DOJ.
Yet Bill Priestap still holds an active position – the same position he has occupied since he was promoted on December 21, 2015.
Which leaves me wondering…what if Priestap didn’t get caught.
What if Priestap was the one doing the whistle-blowing.
Priestap wouldn’t be the only one.
We already have a decent understanding of the heroic role that NSA Director Mike Rogers has played.
Who, coincidentally, found himself honored just yesterday:
— NSA/CSS (@NSAGov) April 17, 2018
If you were able to select two individuals as well-placed White Hats it would prove difficult to do better than the heads of NSA and FBI Counter-Intelligence.
Rogers’ role – and informational access was/is of greatest importance. His lone stance against FISA Abuses committed by the FBI, DOJ’s NSD and the DNI will at some point be more fully revealed.
But Priestap would be a pretty solid number two.
Priestap would have been privy to most everything Comey, McCabe, Baker, Strzok and Page were engaged in.
Perhaps Priestap got nervous in the early stages and sought a friendly – and safe – way out.
But to have remained in his current position it would have needed to be really early stage – before his hands got too dirty.
Maybe he was never truly a part of the Comey/McCabe inside group.
His numerous interactions, inclusions on emails and text references suggest otherwise.
Or, Priestap was operating as a White Hat from the beginning.
We don’t know anything with certainty but I’m finding Priestap’s continued tenure as Counterintelligence Head a bit…suspicious.
An active and covert role against actions by the Comey/McCabe Group seems a likely explanation to me.