Trial Delayed for Accused CIA Source on Iran for NY Times

Leon PanettaFormer 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.”

James Risen and State of WarIn 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.

Contact the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Below are articles relevant to the column above. See the full article by clicking the link.

Trial and Book Coverage
Associated Press WSET-TV, Judge delays CIA leak trial as prosecutors appeal, Oct. 14, 2011. A judge has indefinitely postponed the trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking secrets about Iran to a newspaper reporter, following a decision by prosecutors to appeal 1 of the judge's pretrial rulings. Jury selection had been scheduled for Monday in the trial of ex-CIA man Jeffrey Sterling. Federal prosecutors say he divulged classified information about CIA efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions to New York Times reporter James Risen.

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.

Other Analysis on Iran
OpEd News, Quds Force II -- The Storyline Repeats Itself, Michael Collins, Oct. 17, 2011. A faction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard called the Quds Force (QF) is center stage in the War on Terror for the second time in five years. In 2007, President George W. Bush hauled out the group of middle and upper-level Iranian government officials as a rationale for military action against Iran. The decisive shutdown of the Bush effort marks a critical turning point in recent history. QF II began last Tuesday when FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder unified the terror storyline between the rabid neo-conservatives of the Bush era and the low-key loyalists to the national security state in the Obama administration. The Obama White House has hauled out an oldie but goodie from the Bush administration -- the Quds as arch-villain. The intent is the same too.  Blame Iran at a time when the administration needs to "look tough."  Looking tough is very expensive in lives and lives and money.

Fox News / Freedom Watch,
Andrew Napolitano, Oct. 12, 2011 (Video). Today the Feds themselves admitted the top levels of Iran knew nothing of the plot. None of this keeps us safe. We are fools if we praise the government for foiling a plot of its own creation.

Atlantic, Significant Holes in U.S. Legal Case Against Alleged Iran Plotter, Marcy Wheeler, Oct. 17, 2011. The criminal complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar, who is said to have targeted the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. for assassination on behalf of the Iranian government, has several conspicuous gaps in its most pivotal and controversial arguments. In the wake of the Obama Administration's announcement that an Iranian-American used car salesman had set up a plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., a number of Iran and intelligence experts have raised questions about the plausibility of the alleged Iranian plot. But few have commented on problems in the legal case presented against the used car salesman, Manssor Arbabsiar, and his alleged co-conspirators from Iran's Quds Force, a branch of its special forces. There is a handful of what appear to be holes in the complaint. Though individually they are small, taken together they raise difficult questions about the government's case. The apparent holes also seem to match up with some of the same concerns raised by skeptical Iran analysts, such as Arbabsiar's rationale in confessing and the extent of his connection to the Quds Force.
Salon / Unclaimed Territory, The LA Times notices the “double standard” on Iran, Glenn Greenwald, Thursday, Oct 13, 2011. Today we have a pleasant and exceedingly rare surprise: a major media outlet noting that the very behavior which the U.S. Government and all Serious People are now righteously condemning is behavior in which the U.S. itself routinely engages.

Legal Basis for U.S. Troops to Uganda?
Lawfare, Obama Sends 100 US Troops to Uganda to Help Combat Lord’s Resistance Army, Jack Goldsmith, Oct. 14, 2011. This is another humanitarian intervention based on the president’s unilateral Article II power. This time it involves a small number of ground troops rather than air support, and it is not backed by a U.N. Security Council Resolution. The WPR letter notes that Congress in the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 “expressed support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.” But while the President’s letter noted that his action was “in furtherance of the Congress’s stated policy,” he relied as authority for the intervention solely on his “constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.” It will be interesting to see whether the White House consulted with congressional leadership before the intervention, and how Congress reacts.

JIP Logo