(Adds Justice Department, comment from Intercept editor)
By Mark Hosenball and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - A federal judge in Minnesota sentenced former FBI agent Terry Albury to 48 months in prison on Thursday for leaking classified information to a journalist, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Albury’s sentence is much harsher than his defense lawyers had hoped, but slightly less severe than the 52-month prison term that federal prosecutors were seeking.
Albury pleaded guilty to two counts of leaking classified materials earlier this year. Joshua Dratel, Albury’s lawyer who earlier confirmed the sentence to Reuters, declined to comment further.
Albury’s attorneys have said that he was a whistleblower and portrayed his decision to leak information related to the FBI’s counterintelligence program as “an act of conscience.”
A source familiar with the case previously told Reuters that the online news organization The Intercept was the recipient of the information Albury was charged with leaking.
The leaks by Albury, who was the only African-American field agent in the region at the time, related to his concerns that the FBI’s tactics for countering violent extremist groups amounted to racial profiling and intimidating minority communities.
In January 2017, The Intercept published a series titled “The FBI’s Secret Rules” based on Albury’s leaked documents, which showed the depth and broad powers of the FBI expansion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Intercept editor-in-chief Betsy Reed did not confirm that her website was a recipient of documents leaked by Albury, but in a statement said of him, “He faced prosecution under the Espionage Act not because he harmed national security but because authorities found his disclosures inconvenient or embarrassing.”
Albury’s sentencing came a day after a U.S. Treasury Department employee was charged for leaking confidential documents related to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Both cases reflect part of a broader crackdown by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on media leaks. (Additional reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Mary Milliken)