WASHINGTON, Sept 23, 2013 - A former FBI agent is pleading guilty to charges he leaked secrets to journalists about a failed Al-Qaeda plot in a case marked by the controversial seizure of reporters' phone records, US prosecutors said Monday.
The ex-agent, Donald Sachtleben, "willfully disclosed ... national defence information to a person not authorised to receive it, namely a reporter with a national news organisation," the Justice Department said in a statement. Sachtleben, 55, also planned to plead guilty to separate charges he possessed and distributed child pornography, it said.
President Barack Obama's administration came under sharp criticism from lawmakers and media rights groups over its probe of the leak, after investigators confiscated phone records of reporters at the Associated Press.
But federal prosecutors said the case underlined the government's determination to hold leakers accountable for spilling secrets.
"After unprecedented investigative efforts by prosecutors and FBI agents and analysts, today Donald Sachtleben has been charged with this egregious betrayal of our national security," said federal prosecutor Ronald Machen.
"This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation's secrets and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information," he said.
The leak disclosed a CIA operation that disrupted a plot in 2012 by Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.