Former Federal Contractor Petitions to Plead Guilty to Unlawfully Disclosing National Defense Information and to Distributing Child Pornography
|U.S. Attorney’s Office September 23, 2013|
WASHINGTON—Donald John Sachtleben, a former FBI bomb technician who later worked as a government contractor for the agency, has filed a petition to plead guilty to newly filed charges of unlawfully disclosing national defense information relating to a disrupted terrorist plot. Sachtleben previously had filed a petition to plead guilty to charges of possessing and distributing child pornography resulting from a separate investigation.
Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Indiana, has signed plea agreements in both cases. The documents were filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Charges in the national security case were filed today, and charges in the child pornography case were filed in May 2012.
The developments were announced by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole; Ronald C. Machen, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; Joseph H. Hogsett, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana; and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
The plea agreements signed by the parties would resolve both cases in court proceedings in Indiana. The agreements, which are contingent upon the court’s approval, call for Sachtleben to plead guilty to the two national security charges as well as the two child pornography offenses. The plea agreements call for Sachtleben to be sentenced to a total of 140 months of incarceration, including a 43-month prison term for the national security offenses and a consecutive 97-month term for the child pornography charges.
“This unauthorized and unjustifiable disclosure severely jeopardized national security and put lives at risk,” Deputy Attorney General Cole said. “To keep the country safe, the department must enforce the law against such critical and dangerous leaks, while respecting the important role of the press under the department’s media guidelines and any shield law enacted by Congress. I am grateful to the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys’ offices in both Washington, D.C., and Indiana for their excellent and dedicated work on this case.”
“Fifteen months ago, we were given the task of uncovering who had threatened a sensitive intelligence operation and endangered lives by illegally disclosing classified information relating to a disrupted al Qaeda suicide bomb plot,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “That plot could not have been more serious, as it targeted a plane bound for the United States. 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. 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.”
“The allegations in this case describe the defendant’s repeated violation of a sacred trust that the public had placed in him,” said U.S. Attorney Hogsett. “With these charges, a message has been sent that this type of behavior is completely unacceptable and no person is above the law.”
“Today, Mr. Sachtleben has been charged with knowingly and willfully disclosing national defense information to a member of the media,” said Assistant Director in Charge Parlave. “These charges are the result of a careful and thorough investigation by FBI special agents and analysts who, together with federal prosecutors, systematically conducted more than 500 interviews and, following that exhaustive process, analyzed relevant telephone records obtained by subpoena. After analysis of the telephone records, investigators identified him as the source of this unlawful disclosure. The FBI will continue to take all necessary steps to pursue such individuals who put the security of our nation and the lives of others at risk by their disclosure of sensitive information.”
National Security Case:
According to a criminal information filed today, on May 2, 2012, nine days before Sachtleben was arrested in Indiana on child pornography charges, Sachtleben knowingly and willfully disclosed national defense information to a reporter for a national news organization not entitled to receive it. The charging document alleges that Sachtleben had reason to believe that this information could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation. The criminal information also charges him with willfully retaining documents relating to the national defense without authorization.
Sachtleben worked for the FBI from 1983 through 2008. During his career, he was a special agent bomb technician and was assigned to work on many major cases involving terrorist attacks. In his work as an FBI employee, Sachtleben held a top secret security clearance and had regular access to classified and national defense information relating to the FBI’s activities, as well as the activities of other members of the U.S. intelligence community.
In 2008, Sachtleben retired from the FBI and was rehired as a contractor. Because of his official responsibilities, he maintained his top secret security clearance as an FBI contractor. As a result, he continued to have regular access to classified and national defense information relating to the FBI’s activities, as well as the activities of other members of the U.S. intelligence community. As a contractor, he routinely visited the FBI Lab in Quantico, Virginia.
One of the criminal charges involves Sachtleben’s contacts with the reporter relating to the disruption of a plot to conduct a suicide bomb attack on a U.S.-bound airliner by the Yemen-based terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the recovery by the United States of a bomb in connection with that plot. As a result of Sachtleben’s disclosure of national defense information to the reporter, the national security of the United States was compromised, a significant international intelligence operation was placed in jeopardy, and lives were put at risk.
Sachtleben was identified as a suspect in the case of this unauthorized disclosure only after toll records for phone numbers related to the reporter were obtained through a subpoena and compared to other evidence collected during the leak investigation. This allowed investigators to obtain a search warrant authorizing a more exhaustive search of Sachtleben’s cell phone, computer, and other electronic media, which were in the possession of federal investigators due to the child pornography investigation.
Sachtleben was employed as an FBI contractor until on or about May 11, 2012. The following day, he was arrested in Indiana and charged by complaint with the federal child pornography charges.
Child Pornography Case:
According to a criminal complaint filed in Indiana in May 2012, federal and state investigators became aware of an individual trading images of child pornography online in September 2010. An extensive investigation into that individual led to the arrest of a defendant in Illinois in January 2012. Upon arrest, a forensic search of that defendant’s computer equipment and e-mail accounts allegedly revealed that he had been actively trading the explicit materials online with numerous other people.
Based on that information, law enforcement traced the alleged online activity to Sachtleben’s home in Carmel. After conducting several days of surveillance, a search warrant was executed on May 11, 2012, by law enforcement officers from the Indiana State Police and the FBI Cyber Crime Task Force. Sachtleben was charged in the Southern District of Indiana with possession and distribution of child pornography.
The complaint alleges that an initial forensic examination of Sachtleben’s laptop computer revealed the presence of approximately 30 images and video files containing child pornography. It is alleged that a number of files identified during this initial search matched those that had been found in the course of investigating the Illinois defendant. The complaint further alleges that the laptop’s hard drive contained references to other files known to have been in the possession of the Illinois defendant.
A criminal complaint and a criminal information are only charges and are not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The national security investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office with assistance from the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan M. Malis and G. Michael Harvey of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorney Richard S. Scott of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Assistance was provided by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona N. Sahaf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Senior Litigation Counsel Steven D. DeBrota of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana, who is also prosecuting the child pornography case.
The child pornography investigation was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more on Project Safe Childhood, visit www.justice.gov/psc.