Former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling's trial scheduled to begin Oct. 17 on charges of divulging classified information has been postponed indefinitely. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema delayed trial after prosecutors appealed her ruling voiding two prosecution witnesses. The legal dispute's details are confidential. Sterling argues that he is a victim of selective prosecution. He is suspected of disclosing details of confidential CIA operations involving Iran to New York Times reporter and author James Risen in advance of Risen's 2006 best-seller, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.
As part of the Obama' administration's crack-down on whistleblowers expanding on Bush efforts, it obtained Sterling's indictment in 2010 when Leon Panetta, left, was CIA director before he became Secretary of Defense this year.
Sterling joined the CIA in 1993, with duties that included work on sensitive matters involving Iran. An African-American and attorney, he alleged racial bias in a lawsuit against the CIA. But federal courts dismissed his suit on the grounds that litigation would disclose state secrets. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2005 that “there is no way for Sterling to prove employment discrimination without exposing at least some classified details of the covert employment that gives context to his claim.”
In December 2010, authorities indicted Sterling on a ten-count indictment charging him with leaking information about a highly-secret CIA program to Risen. In response to Bush White House requests, Risen's Times editors at the Times had declined to publish details of the program. It involved sending Iran flawed nuclear design materials with a goal of undermining weapon planning. Authorities brought the case in Alexandria, a Northern Virginia locale that encompasses the Pentagon.
Risen is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner whose State of War was a best-seller in 2006. In it, he describes the plan to provide Iranians flawed blueprints of nuclear weapons as a dangerous and unconventional strategy. He quoted CIA sources as saying that if Iranian scientists discovered the flaws as easily as a Russian intermediary had spotted them, Iranians could correct the misdirection and proceed with valuable new information. In that case, Risen wrote, "the CIA would have assisted the Iranians in joining hte nuclear club."
Among other things, Risen's book also reported in depth on a massive federal government surveillance program whereby the government intercepted and stored for potential retrieval domestic emails and phone calls. Former AT&T technician Mark Klein, author of a 2009 book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine...and Fighting It, has said the National Security Agency was working with his company and others to intercept and store billions of phone calls and emails in apparent violation of longstanding warrant requirements under the U.S. Constitution and other federal law. Post-Watergate legislation and widely assumed understanding of Constitutional requirements for warrants restricted such surveillance for the most part to that authorized under warrants granted by a special secret federal court that reputedly always grants government requests.
Obama campaigned against immunity for telecom companies implicated as cooperating in the surveillance without customer knowledge. But he switched positions in mid-2008 after he secured the Democratic nomination from rival Hillary Clinton. He voted with a Senate majority for telecom immunity, thereby thwarting citizen efforts to learn about surveillance through litigation in the absence of significant congressional or news media oversight.
In July, the trial judge ruled that Risen would not have to reveal his sources at trial. But prosecutors have asked her to reconsider that decision. Among other pre-trial decisions, Brinkema has ruled that prosecutions can use what is called the "silent witness" procedure to present "three CIA operational documents, all marked 'secret,' relating to the use of telephones." That and another document was recovered by the FBI in a 2006 raid of Sterling's home in Missouri, authorities say.
Below are articles relevant to the column above. See the full article by clicking the link.
Politico, Judge OKs secret evidence for CIA leak trial, Josh Gerstein, Oct. 3, 2011. A federal judge has ruled that prosecutors pursuing a leak case against a former Central Intelligence Agency officer may present evidence to the jury that will not be seen by the public. Prosecutors may use a controversial procedure known as the "silent witness rule" to present three classified exhibits during the upcoming trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Under the rule, a document is shown to jurors, the defendant, the judge and the jury, but not to the public. Witnesses may refer to the documents in general terms, but do not read from them. The procedure has been used in several trials, but its constitutionality is not firmly established.
Justice Integrity Project, Judges Hit DOJ in NSA, CIA Leak Cases, Andrew Kreig, July 31, 2011. A Maryland federal judge denounced Justice Department prosecutors for delays and "tyranny" in their prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who was being sentenced on a reduced charge of unauthorized use of a computer after years of being investigated on felony charges as a suspected leaker. Meanwhile, a federal judge in a separate leak/whistleblower case provided extensive protections to New York Times reporter James Risen, whom authorities are trying to pressure for assistance in their leak prosecution against former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling.
New York Times, Spies and Spymasters, Walter Isaacson, Feb. 5, 2006. This explosive little book opens with a scene that is at once amazing and yet not surprising: President Bush angrily hanging up the phone on his father, who ''was disturbed that his son was allowing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and a cadre of neoconservative ideologues to exert broad influence over foreign policy.'' The colorful anecdote is symptomatic of State of War. It is riveting, anonymously sourced and feels slightly overdramatized, but it has the odious smell of truth.
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