On Thursday, black Judge Wilhelmina Wright, sentenced Terry Albury to 48 months in prison, telling him that his disclosure “put our country at risk.”
From [HERE] BURHAN MOHUMED WAS home alone one afternoon in July 2016, when two FBI agents knocked on his apartment door in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis and asked to be let in. They wanted to talk to him, they said through the door, about “radicalism in the community.” In three days, Mohumed was set to co-host a community event about the government’s controversial Countering Violent Extremism program, which many in Minneapolis’s large Somali-American community saw as surveillance and harassment of Muslims under the guise of outreach. Some of Mohumed’s friends had already received visits from the FBI, and he knew they were on a quest to recruit informants. Without opening the door, he took his phone and started recording.
“You got a warrant?” he asked. “We don’t need a warrant,” one of the agents replied. “You could just make this easier or make this hard.”
“I was really nervous,” Mohumed told The Intercept during a recent interview. “I’m thinking, they could knock the door down, they can plant something, I could be set up. … The power they held over the situation is what scared me. They could literally do anything to me.”
Mohumed, invoking his constitutional rights, refused to let the agents in. “It’s kind of scary to have two white guys coming into the neighborhood looking for people,” he told them.
“I’m not white, brother,” one of the agents replied.
That agent — who only told Mohumed his name was “Terry” — was Terry Albury, a 17-year veteran of the FBI and the only black agent in the Minneapolis field office. Last April, Albury pleaded guilty to two federal charges of violating the Espionage Act after he was accused of taking dozens of FBI documents, including several that were classified, and leaking some to the press. Court documents filed against Albury did not identify the news outlet he was accused of leaking to, but reports linked the charges to a series of stories published by The Intercept regarding secret guidelines for the FBI’s use of informants, surveillance of journalists, and other topics.
Albury’s sentencing is scheduled for Thursday. The government wants him imprisoned for 52 months; Albury’s attorneys say that his was an “act of conscience” and have asked the judge for no time.
Albury, his attorneys say, was driven to his actions by the racism he witnessed throughout his career at the FBI, both within the agency and in the ways in which the bureau interacted with the communities it policed — particularly the Somali-American community Albury was tasked with surveilling in Minneapolis.
That day in 2016, Albury and his colleague left Mohumed’s home without entering or giving him their full names or business cards. They later showed up at his workplace, and Mohumed ultimately turned to Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for legal representation. According to a sentencing memo filed by Albury’s attorneys, “This was an every-day encounter for Mr. Albury. He comported himself in this setting as a model FBI agent. But the conflict and depression generated by these routine but soul-destroying events took its toll.”
Last April, at the time of Albury’s plea, I reached out to members of Minneapolis’s Somali-American community — including Mohumed, who had by then changed his name to Burhan Israfael Isaaq. At the time, neither he nor I knew that Albury was one of the agents who had paid him an unannounced visit two years earlier. “I think he did a great service to the citizens of this country and especially to the people who are vulnerable to harassment from the FBI,” Mohumed told me then. “More power to him. People are definitely grateful.”
Today, Mohumed is less forgiving, and says he’s “adopted a more radical understanding.”
“I do think what he did as a matter of public record is great, I think it really shed light for people,” he said. “But the FBI in and of itself is too problematic. Anyone who involves themselves with it and who naively thinks that they can do good work for them, do community work, is misled and misguided.”
In court filings, his lawyers described Albury as “a consummate professional,” a devoted husband and father of two small children with an impeccable record and little time left to a comfortable retirement. “Why would someone with such a stellar career, a history of probity, young children, and just three years from a pension, jeopardize all he had?” they wrote in a sentencing memo. “The answer lies in the FBI’s own checkered history with race.”
“His objective in disclosure was to alert the U.S. public to practices and procedures that he believed represented both a systemic departure from the FBI’s proper mission in counterterrorism, and abuses of the enormous investigative authority the FBI has been granted since 9/11,” the lawyers argued.
In an online fundraiser set up to help cover his legal fees, friends of Albury wrote that, at the FBI, “he soon found himself immersed in an institutional culture that, in his view, demeaned, demonized, harassed, and intimidated the very people he was sworn to protect and serve.”
“Worse yet,” they added, “Terry was required to implement FBI investigative directives that sanctioned the use of race and religion as basis for targeting wide swaths of communities throughout Minnesota, and other locations in which he served.”
The government, for its part, has argued that Albury was a criminal, who, over an 18-month period, stole information from more than 70 documents, including about 50 classified ones, taking photographs and copying and pasting them in order to avoid detection. The FBI claims, offering no specifics, that his actions could harm national security.
“This case is not about race. Nor is it about blowing any whistles,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. “What it is about is the unlawful transmission and retention of classified national defense information by someone who fully understood how wrong his conduct was.” [MORE]