Press Group Backs



A CIA whistleblower’s wife impassioned plea for a presidential pardon has brought unusual support from two major media organizations.

Holly SterlingHolly Sterling (shown at right in Justice Integrity Project photo), wife of imprisoned former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, begged President Obama for her husband’s pardon last week at the National Press Club.

Club President John Hughes introduced the session and Reporters Without Borders U.S. Director Dalphine Hagland urged support because reporters cannot function without whistleblowers.

The media comments showed rare support for whistleblowers that was particularly notable because the media often defer especially to intelligence agencies.

Jesslyn Radack NPC 10-15-2015Also notable at the press conference Oct. 14 were the strong protests voiced by former CIA, NSA and Justice Department whistleblowers against the unfairness of the defendant's prosecution and conviction on spy charges for what they aptly described as a double standard compared two other recent high-profile investigations of mishandling of classified information.

One prosecution was the misdemeanor conviction, $40,000 fine and suspended sentence for former CIA Director David Petraeus for allowing his lover/biographer Paula Broadwell to access classified information.

The other is the ongoing debate regarding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email system for her sensitive government work. She is scheduled to appear Oct. 22 before a special House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi deaths of four Americans. Emails retrieved from the server or suspected as missing so far are expected as a major focus for the committee's Republican majority as they question the front-running Democratic presidential candidate.

Former CIA career officer Ray McGovern, former CIA and NSA analyst Thomas Drake, and former Justice Department ethics officer Jesslyn Radack each sharply criticized the unfairness whereby the Obama administration has prosecuted Sterling on espionage charges for actions less serious and less proven than that by high-ranking officials like Petraeus and Clinton.

Radack (shown at left in a JIP photo) noted that President Obama has already made statements that send a message to prosecutors that he is excusing Clinton for her email system while he and his Justice Department have launched an unprecedented crackdown using spy charges against those in the federal government suspected of talking to news reporters.

The news conference prompted in-depth reports by both the conservative Fox News in Herridge: Whistleblowers Call Out Double Standard in Hillary's Email Scandal and the liberal Democracy Now! Breaking Silence, Wife of Jailed CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Seeks Presidential Pardon.

As if all this weren't dramatic and important enough, additional reflection will underscore that the stakes are enormously high for these players and for the public. These officials and spy agencies know vast amounts about each other. They have a vital interest in keeping damaging information private in order to exert maximum leverage. Yet Wikileaks was able to expose CIA Director John Brennan's confidential information in recent days.

The reaction against the Sterling prosecution and those like it parallel several other recent scandalous revelations of broken and corrupt government in Washington, DC.

Our project began a series of reports on Oct. 18 about these epic breakdowns with our column NY Times Features Challenge To Obama Bin Laden Raid Story. We continued the next day with Memo Exposes Former British PM Tony Blair As Liar, Bush Stooge On Iraq. Separate reports soon here shall cover:

  • A Closer Look At Madeleine Albright's Career and Continuing Impact;
  • Russia’s recent initiatives in Syria, including reports that it has used advanced technology to create a zone in Syria where Western electronics do not function; and
  • Continuing controversies over a London subway bombing in 2007 that constituted UK’s “9/11” and the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2103.

We examine The Drone Papers, more specifically below, with an appendix providing a direct link to each installment as well as a range of reaction so far.




66 min.



Senate Intelligence Committeee.
early 2003

Wife of Imprisoned CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out, Oct. 16, 2015.

Expose Facts, Unprecedented News Conference: Oct. 15, 2015 National Press Club, Washington

Jeffrey Sterling was convicted under the Espionage Act as a source for New York Times reporter James Risen’s book State of War. He began serving his three-and-a-half year prison sentence in June. His wife’s news conference was the first time the spouse of a CIA whistleblower has made such an appearance.
National Press Club President John Hughes opened the conference, which featured:
* Thomas Drake
* Delphine Halgand
* Ray McGovern
* Jesselyn Radack

Cosponsors: ExposeFacts, Reporters Without Borders, &

Background on News Conference Speakers:
Thomas Drake is a former senior executive at the National Security Agency where he blew the whistle on massive multi-billion dollar fraud, waste and the widespread violations of the rights of citizens through secret mass surveillance programs after 9/11. As retaliation and reprisal, the Obama Administration indicted Drake in 2010 as the first whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg was charged with espionage, and Drake faced 35 years in prison, turning him into an Enemy of the State for his oath to defend the Constitution. In 2011, the government’s case against him collapsed and he went free in a plea deal. He is the recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Truth Telling Prize, and a joint recipient with Jesselyn Radack of the 2011 Sam Adams Associates Integrity in Intelligence Award and the 2012 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. He is now dedicated to the defense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Delphine Halgand has been working as the Director of the US office for Reporters Without Borders since December 2011. She runs activities for the organization in the country and advocates for journalists, bloggers and media rights worldwide. Acting as RSF’s spokesperson in the US, Halgand regularly appears on American (CNN, Fox News, PBS, Democracy Now…) and foreign media (BBC World TV, Al Jazeera, NTN24…) and lectures at conferences in US universities (Harvard, UCLA, Yale, Columbia…) on press freedom violation issues. She previously served as Press attaché in charge of outreach at the French Embassy to the US. Since graduating from Sciences Po Paris with an M.A. in Journalism, Halgand has worked as an economics correspondent for various French media (Le Monde, Les Echos, L’Express…), focusing mainly on international politics and macroeconomic issues.

Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst turned political activist and speaker, chaired the National Intelligence Estimates in the 1980s. He prepared the daily briefs for presidents from John F. Kennedy to George H.W. Bush. For his CIA service he received the Intelligence Commendation Medal, which he returned in 2006 in protest of the CIA’s involvement in torture. In 2003, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, an organization committed to analyzing and criticizing the use of intelligence. McGovern was one of four American whistleblowers who met with Edward Snowden in Russia in 2013 to present Snowden with an award for integrity in intelligence for providing NSA documents to the press.

Jesselyn Radack heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts. As National Security and Human Rights Director of WHISPeR, her work focuses on the issues of secrecy, surveillance, torture and drone attacks, where she has been at the forefront of challenging the government’s unprecedented “war on whistleblowers,” which has become a war on online activists, journalists and information. Among her clients are seven national security and intelligence community employees who have been investigated, charged, or prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling classified information, including Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and John Kiriakou. She also represents clients bringing whistleblower retaliation complains in federal court and other administrative bodies. Previously, she served for seven years as National Security and Human Rights Director at the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization, on the DC Bar Legal Ethics Committee and worked at the Justice Department for seven years, first as a trial attorney and later as a legal ethics advisor.

ExposeFacts is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Operation Merlin was a United States covert operation under the Clinton Administration to provide Iran with a flawed design for a component of a nuclear weapon ostensibly in order to delay the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, or to frame Iran.[1]

Operation Merlin backfired when the CIA's Russian contact/messenger noticed flaws in the schematics and told the Iranian nuclear scientists.[5] Instead of crippling Iran's nuclear program, the book alleges, Operation Merlin may have accelerated it by providing useful information: once the flaws were identified, the plans could be compared with other sources, such as those presumed to have been provided to the Iranians by A. Q. Khan.[5]
Indictment, conviction of former CIA officer

In late 2010, former CIA officer Jeffrey Alexander Sterling was indicted for allegedly being the source of some of the information in Risen's book, and was convicted of espionage in January 2015.[6] He was convicted and sentenced to 3 1⁄2 years in prison, despite federal sentencing guidelines which recommended a sentence of 20 years or more.[7]

    James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Free Press, January 2006, ISBN 0-7432-7066-5


"USA v. Sterling 10 CIA Exhibits on Merlin Ruse" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 2015-01-14. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
Risen, James (2006-01-03). State of War : The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Free Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-7066-3.
Borger, Julian (2006-01-05). "US blunder aided Iran's atomic aims, book claims". London: Guardian Unlimited. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
Harlow, William R. (2015-01-16). "USA v. Sterling Exhibits 105-108 Risen-CIA Logs" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
Risen, James (2006-01-05). "George Bush insists that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. So why, six years ago, did the CIA give the Iranians blueprints to build a bomb?". London: Guardian Unlimited. Archived from the original on 2014-04-01. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
Isikoff, Michael (2011-01-06). "Ex-CIA Officer Charged with Leak to Reporter". NBC New York. Retrieved 2011-01-07.
"Former CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling

In reality, widespread spying by the U.S. government on Americans began before 9/11 (confirmed here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). And the government tapped the 9/11 hijackers’ phones, and heard the 9/11 hijackers’ plans from their own mouths.

Why didn’t this stop the terror attacks?

Top security experts agree that mass surveillance is actually ineffective … and actually makes us more vulnerable to terrorism, because it distracts people and resources from tried-and-trued counter-terrorism efforts which are effective and actually work.

For example, the former head of global intelligence for the NSA – Bill Binney – says that the mass surveillance INTERFERES with the government’s ability to catch bad guys, and that the government failed to stop the Boston Bombing because it was overwhelmed with data from mass surveillance on Americans. And see this.

Binney says government officials and contractors actually don’t want to solve the terrorism problem … Because once they solve it, they don’t have the “problem” to use as a basic justification to get more money (note … the video clips below are very brief clips which are well worth watching):Sentenced to 3 1/2 Years for Leak to Times Reporter". NBC News. Retrieved 2015-05-16.

Jeffrey A. Sterling
Born     Cape Girardeau, Missouri[1]
Residence     O'Fallon, Missouri[2][3]
Nationality     American
Ethnicity     African American[4]
Alma mater     Washington University School of Law, 1992
Millikin University, 1989
Occupation     Fraud investigator (2004--his arrest in 2011)[2]
Lawyer (?--present)
Former undercover CIA officer (May 14, 1993--January 31, 2002)
Known for     Whistleblower
Spouse(s)     Holly Sterling[5]

Jeffrey Alexander Sterling is an American lawyer and former CIA employee who was arrested, charged, and convicted of violating the Espionage Act for revealing details about Operation Merlin to journalist James Risen.[6] In May 2015, Sterling was sentenced to 3½ years in prison.[7]

Early life and education

Sterling was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.[1] Sterling earned a political science degree at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, in 1989. In 1992, he graduated from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri as a Juris Doctor.[8]
CIA employment

Sterling joined the CIA on May 14, 1993. In 1995, he became operations officer in the Iran task force of the CIA's Near East and South Asia division. He held a top secret security clearance and had access to sensitive compartmented information, including classified cables, CIA informants, and operations.

After training in Persian in 1997, he was sent first to Bonn, Germany, and two years later to New York City to recruit Iranian nationals as agents for the CIA as part of a secret intelligence operation involving Iran's weapons capabilities.[9] From early 1998 to May 2000, Sterling assumed responsibility as case officer for a Russian emigre with an engineering background in nuclear physics and production, whom the CIA employed as a carrier to pass flawed design plans to the Iranians.[10]

In April 2000, Sterling filed a complaint with the CIA's Equal Employment Office about management's alleged racial discrimination practices. The CIA subsequently revoked Sterling's authorization to receive or possess classified documents concerning the secret operation and placed him on administrative leave in March 2001.[11][12]

After the failure of two settlement attempts, his contract with the CIA was terminated on January 31, 2002.[13]
Equal Employment lawsuit

Sterling's lawsuit accusing CIA officials of racial discrimination was dismissed by the judge after the government successfully argued the state secrets privilege by alleging the litigation would require disclosure of classified information. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, ruling 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.”[14][15][16][17]
Conviction under the Espionage Act

Between 2002 and 2004, the U.S. federal government intercepted several interstate emails to and from Sterling, which were "(...) routed through a server located in the Eastern District of Virginia (...)". The authorities also traced telephone calls between Sterling and—according to a senior government official[6]—the journalist and book author James Risen. In the intercepted communications, Sterling allegedly revealed national defense information to an unauthorized person.[13] In March 2003 Sterling also raised concerns with the Senate Intelligence Committee about a "poorly executed and dangerous Operation Merlin."[18]

On December 22, 2010, U.S. attorney Neil H. MacBride filed an indictment against Jeffrey Alexander Sterling on the Unlawful Retention and Unauthorized Disclosure of National Defense Information, Mail Fraud, Unauthorized Conveyance of Government Property, and Obstruction of Justice. Sterling was arrested on January 6, 2011.[13] Sterling became the fifth individual in the history of the United States who has been charged, under the Espionage Act, with mishandling national defense information.[8][19][20][21]

In a hearing at the U.S. District Court on January 14, 2011, Sterling's defense attorney, Edward MacMahon, entered a not guilty plea.[22][23] MacMahon reported to the court that he was still waiting for clearance to discuss the case in detail with his client.[24] Rather than relying exclusively on records of electronic communications to legally establish that Sterling exchanged information with Risen,[25] the prosecution has subpoenaed Risen to testify and reveal his journalistic sources,[26] an effort which Risen and his attorneys are contesting.[27][28]

Sterling was convicted of espionage charges on January 26, 2015. Sentencing was originally scheduled for April 24,[29] but after learning of the sentence of no more than two years’ probation plus a fine given one day earlier to David Petraeus for the felony of providing classified information to an unauthorized person, Sterling's lawyers submitted a plea that Sterling "not receive a different form of justice" than Petraeus, asking for a similarly lenient sentence instead of the 19 to 24 years imprisonment sought by the federal prosecutors.[30] On May 11, 2015, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema sentenced Sterling to 3½ years in prison. Judge Brinkema said there was "no more critical secret" than revealing the identity of a man working with the CIA, and that Sterling deserved a harsher penalty than other recent leakers because he had not pleaded guilty or admitted wrongdoing. The judge said she was moved by his accomplishments but needed to send a message to others: "If you do knowingly reveal these secrets, there's going to be a price to be paid."[7]
Personal life

Sterling is married to Holly Sterling, a social worker. They met via On their second date, they agreed to get married barefoot on the beach. They married in Jamaica.[31][32]

Huffington Post, Would CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Be in Prison If He Were White? Norman Solomon, June 25, 2015. Last week CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling went to prison. If he were white, he probably wouldn't be there. Sterling was one of the CIA's few African-American case officers, and he became the first to file a racial discrimination lawsuit.


Holly Sterling

wife of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. In May, Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison on charges that he gave classified information to a New York Times reporter.
Norman Solomon

executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, co-founder of and coordinator of 16:24
Breaking Silence, Wife of Jailed CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Seeks Presidential Pardon
October 15, 2015



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Editor's Recommendations


Huge double standad

Catherine Herridge

"Unbelievable double standard," Sean Hannity.

Ray McGovern Jesslyn radack at NPC 10-15-2015Jay Sekulow, Center for Law and Justice. There probably abour about 15, and one of them has to be obstruction of justice. When you're talking about multiple statutes, there can be multiple violationsof each standard.

Hannity the key thing is whether Loretta Lynch convenes a grand jury. If she doesn't every American should be outraged

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Editor's Recommendations


Related News Coverage


John, What Clinton Got Wrong About Snowden, John Kiriakou, Oct. 22, 2015. The former secretary of state attacked the NSA whistleblower without bothering to get her facts straight. The presidential candidate and former secretary of state insisted during the recent Democratic debate that Snowden should have remained in the United States to voice his concerns about government spying on U.S. citizens. Instead, she claimed, he “endangered US secrets by fleeing to Russia.” After accusing Snowden of stealing “very important information that has fallen into the wrong hands,” she added: “He should not be brought home without facing the music.” Clinton should stop rooting for Snowden’s incarceration and get her facts straight.

First, Snowden is a whistleblower, not a leaker. Whistleblowing is the act of bringing to light evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, lawbreaking, or dangers to public health or safety. Snowden did exactly that when he divulged proof that the National Security Agency was illegally snooping on all of us. Second, Snowden knew it was impossible to report this wrongdoing through his chain of command at the NSA, where he was working as a contractor employed by the consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton.

I’ve written previously about whistleblower Tom Drake, who went through his own chain of command to report an earlier illegal wiretapping scheme by the NSA. Drake went to his bosses, his office’s general counsel, the NSA’s inspector general, the Pentagon’s inspector general, and congressional oversight committees – only to be charged with 10 felonies, including five counts of espionage. CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, who reported wrongdoing in a CIA operation related to the Iranian nuclear program through his chain of command, was similarly charged with multiple counts of espionage. Now he’s serving 42 months in prison.

The sad fact is that many national security chains of command are overtly hostile to people who report wrongdoing. I learned this firsthand when I spent nearly two years behind bars for denouncing the CIA’s use of torture years after I left the agency. And I didn’t go to any country club. I went to a real prison. Indeed, one of my former supervisors at the CIA called whistleblowing “institutionalized insubordination.” In other words, employees should just “follow orders,” even if those orders are illegal.

Sterling Case

Intercept, CIA's Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to 42 Months for Leaking to New York Times Journalist, Peter Maass, May 11, 2015. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent convicted of sharing classified information Judge Leonie Brinkema lecture (photo by Bill Wetzel via Flickr)with a New York Times reporter, was sentenced today to three and a half years in prison, a significantly shorter term than had been expected. Sterling’s lawyers had asked the judge not to abide by sentencing guidelines calling for 19 to 24 years behind bars. They argued Sterling should be treated with the same leniency shown to former Gen. David Petraeus, who was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and avoid prison after admitting to leaking classified information to his biographer and then-girlfriend, Paula Broadwell. Sterling’s lawyers also pointed to the case of former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who was recently released from jail after a 30-month sentence for disclosing the name of a covert agent to a reporter, and to the 13-month-sentence handed down to Stephen Kim, who pleaded guilty to talking about a classified document with a Fox News reporter. (Judge Leonie Brinkema lecture (photo by Bill Wetzel via Flickr)

“[Sterling] should be treated similarly to others convicted for the same crimes and not singled out for a long prison sentence because he elected to exercise his right to trial,” his lawyers stated in a pre-sentencing memorandum, noting that Sterling had taken his case to a jury rather than reaching a pre-trial plea bargain with prosecutors. “[T]he court cannot turn a blind eye to the positions the government has taken in similar cases.”

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema seemed to agree.

“To put you at ease, the guidelines are too high,” Brinkema said as the sentencing hearing got underway, glancing at Sterling and his lawyers, Ed MacMahon and Barry Pollack.

She went on to say that Sterling’s case was similar to Kiriakou’s, for which she had also been the presiding judge, because both involved the disclosure of the identity of an intelligence agent. She said Sterling should serve more time because Kiriakou had pleaded guilty whereas Sterling pleaded innocent and was found guilty by a jury. Brinkema added that “a clear message” had to be sent to people in the intelligence community that a price will be paid for revealing the identities of intelligence agents and assets, though she also said, in what appeared to be a reference to Petraeus not serving any prison time, that the judicial system had to be fair.

Reporters Without Borders, Holly Sterling asks for President Obama's pardon, Staff report, Oct. 15, 2015. Today, Holly Sterling, Jeffrey’s wife, sent an open letter to President Obama to tell him about the real Jeffrey Sterling and ask for a presidential pardon. She shared parts of this letter this morning at a press conference at the National Press Club, co-hosted by Reporters Without Borders, ExposeFacts and RootsAction. It was the first time the wife of a convicted whistleblower has made such an appearance. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) takes this occasion to reiterate its concerns about the precedent set in the United States’ government’s case against former C.I.A. operative Jeffrey Sterling convicted of allegedly divulging classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen. Jeffrey Sterling is now in jail for merely talking to a journalist regularly. He was sentenced based only on circumstantial evidence.

On June 16, 2015 Jeffrey Sterling self-surrendered to the Englewood Federal Correctional Institution in Colorado, almost 900 miles from his home. After a long and grueling trial, this former CIA operative had been found guilty of 7 counts of espionage on January 26, 2015. Even if throughout his entire trial and to this day, Sterling maintains his innocence, he was sentenced in May to three and a half years in prison. Why? This is a long story. To sum up, Sterling was in touch with a journalist. And this is apparently a crime.

“Does the government have no shame in destroying one man’s life and wasting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to punish a man who had the audacity to do two things: Stand up for his constitutional rights and utilize proper channels provided to him to express concern for the citizens of our country? ” asked Holly Sterling in her letter to the President.

In 2006, the New York Times journalist James Risen published a book entitled State of War which highlighted, among others, classified “operation Merlin” designed to derail Iran’s nuclear program to which Jeffrey Sterling was assigned during his time at the C.I.A. On December 22, 2010 a grand jury indicted Sterling on multiple charges under the Espionage Act for revealing classified information to James Risen. The Department of Justice (DOJ) repeatedly threatened Risen with jail time if he did not reveal his source before finally backing off at the beginning of 2015.

Sterling went through proper channels to divulge his concerns about the classified operation during a briefing with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2003. Yet the jury found Sterling guilty as Risen’s source. But the evidence that formed the basis of his conviction consisted only of multiple emails and telephone conversations between the two men, without any content to directly prove Sterling was the source. The content of most of these emails and phone conversations remains unknown. Only the metadata have been made public.

Circumstantial evidence

Herein lies Reporters Without Borders’ biggest concern: the DOJ built a case against Sterling based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and obtained his conviction in what the BBC aptly named a “trial by metadata.”

“How is it possible that proving the mere existence of contact between a former C.I.A. operative and a journalist is sufficient to convict someone of espionage?, highlights Delphine Halgand, US Director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Is a relationship with a reporter the new catalyst for government prosecution of whistleblowers, whether alleged or actual? If anybody can be sentenced in the United States just because he was merely talking to a journalist on a regular basis, where is press freedom heading in the country of the First Amendment?”

After the verdict, Attorney General Eric H. Holder himself said “as this verdict proves, it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists’ ability to do their jobs”. But leaks are the lifeblood of investigative journalism, given that nearly all information related to national security is considered secret and classified in the United States. In fact, the war on whistleblowers is designed to restrict all but officially approved versions of events.

There is no doubt that the location of Sterling’s trial in the Eastern District of Virginia also had an effect on the verdict: a large part of the jury pool possesses security clearance for various types of jobs within the government. And to make matters worse, the DOJ was able to hide many of its witnesses behind screens to conceal their faces, kept their full names a secret in the courtroom, and even distributed documents to the jury labeled “top secret” to complete their dog and pony show on classified information.

Made an example

“It is clear to Reporters Without Borders that the DOJ chose to make an example of Jeffrey Sterling, to warn government employees against talking to journalists”, says Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications officer at Reporters Without Borders USA.

The United States has witnessed an alarming trend in curtailing freedom of information consistent with its decline in Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 Press Freedom Index. The United States now ranks 49 out of 180 countries, a 14-place drop since 2012. President Barack Obama’s war on whistleblowers played an important role in this decline: the Obama administration has prosecuted a total of 8 whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, which is more than any previous administration combined.

Reporters Without Borders stands with Jeffrey Sterling and supports him in his efforts to appeal his conviction. His wife Holly Sterling stated in her letter to the President, “I am deeply saddened by our lives’ events that Jeffrey and I have suffered and endured. You publicly committed to a transparent government led by your administration, yet it has been shrouded in mistruth and secrecy. Since you have started your push this summer to commute prison sentences for non-violent offenders, will you not extend the same courtesy to an innocent man in prison?”

According to the prosecution, Sterling “had it out for” the C.I.A. after his unsuccessful employment discrimination lawsuit, and this served as his motive for divulging information to Risen. Sterling is the first African American to file such a suit against the agency.

Of the American whistleblowers punished for allegedly leaking classified information to reporters, it seems that midlevel government employees have received the harshest sentences. Like Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou was a C.I.A. operative who was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2013 after taking a plea bargain. He admitted to revealing the identity of a covert operative to a reporter, though this information was never published. It is widely believed that Kiriakou was targeted for exposing the agency’s use of waterboarding during interrogations.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, high level officials like retired general and former C.I.A. director David Petraeus have received a simple slap on the wrist. Petraeus pled guilty to revealing classified information to his biographer Paula Broadwell, who was also his mistress, in April of this year. Although the information he revealed did not get published in his biography, he also made false statements to F.B.I. agents that he did not leak said information. Yet the DOJ requested he receive probation instead of prison time.

This spring, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in a letter to the Judge presiding over Jeffrey’s case: "Equality under the law, as a cornerstone of justice, is significantly at stake in the sentencing of Mr. Sterling. While I realize that no two cases are identical, the fact remains that charges akin to those for which Mr. Sterling was convicted have in recent years resulted in extremely disparate penalties.”

Read Holly’s letter to President Obama in the attached document. Watch video from the press conference here.

Fox News, Herridge: Whistleblowers Call Out Double Standard in Hillary's Email Scandal, Catherine Herridge, Oct. 15, 2015. Today, intel whistleblowers and the wife of an imprisoned whistleblower held a press conference to highlight the glaring double standards between their situations and Hillary Clinton’s server scandal. They claim they lost their careers and life savings for doing just a fraction of what Clinton did. Catherine Herridge reported on "Hannity" that CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced earlier this year to three and a half years in prison for violating the Espionage Act for giving information about Iran to a New York Times reporter. Herridge said that Sterling was also convicted on obstruction of justice charges because a single email was missing from his account. She added that former NSA official Thomas Drake was indicted in 2010 under the Espionage Act for sharing unclassified information with a Baltimore Sun reporter. "Compare that to the Clinton emails, more than 400 containing classified information on her personal, unsecured server," Herridge said. She noted that Clinton's go-to explanation is that nothing on her server was marked classified, but the Drake and Sterling cases show that's no excuse under the law. Herridge said it doesn't matter how emails are labeled. The content is what matters. "The question is, will the law be applied in a universal way, and that there's not a double standard, sort of a law for the common guy and then a law for the politically elite, like Mrs. Clinton?" Video below:

Washington Post, Twisted view of CIA’s Operation Merlin, Walter Pincus, Jan. 26, 2015. The conviction Monday of former CIA case officer Jeffrey A. Sterling for leaking classified information to a reporter requires a review of the CIA’s once-covert operation to slow down Iran’s nuclear program. The CIA effort, which began in 1997, tried to use a former Russian nuclear engineer to misguide Tehran’s scientists pursuing a nuclear bomb. The engineer was to pass on flawed Russian plans for a nuclear triggering device. Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washington Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Called “Operation Merlin” by Risen — after the engineer’s code name — the program was described as not only a failure but as “one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.” Risen said it was one that may have helped put nuclear weapons in the hands of a charter member of what President George W. Bush called the “axis of evil.” In the intervening eight years, stories about this onetime highly secret CIA operation have continued to describe it as a botched effort and one that might have actually helped Iran. Those descriptions, of course, were based on the assumption that all the facts in the book were true.

Petraeus Case

Politico, Feds complain leak lawsuit spurred leaks, Josh Gerstein, Oct. 15, 2015. A flurry of improper leaks to the media is plaguing a lawsuit the FBI is facing over allegations it illegally leaked private information, the Justice Department complained Thursday. The government's move to turn the tables came in a suit brought by Florida residents Jill and Scott Kelley, who contend that their privacy was invaded when FBI and Defense Department officials leaked messages from their private email account after Jill Kelley told the FBI that she and high ranking government officials she knew were being stalked online.

David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell July 2011 afghanistanThe ensuing investigation exposed an extramarital affair then-CIA Director David Petraeus had with his biographer, Paula Broadwell [shown together in a file photo]. The disclosure led to Petraeus's resignation and eventually to his guilty plea earlier this year to a misdemeanor charge he mishandled classified information by storing it at his home and sharing it with Broadwell. In a court filing early Thursday (posted here ), the Justice Department pointed to stories on CNN's website and in Politico [FBI agent in sworn deposition: Petraeus lover accessed his emails, April 23, 2015] detailing aspects of a key FBI agent's deposition in the case. The motion seeking to limit questioning of FBI officials stopped just short of accusing the Kelleys or their attorneys of the leaks, but argued that the disclosures appeared to be part of an effort to abuse depositions in the case to fish for information on topics that government lawyers believe should be off limits.

Gen. John AllenThe DOJ filing argues that the Kelleys' attorneys are pursuing an "ulterior motive" by using the depositions to embarrass and harass witnesses and to seek information not related to the only surviving issue in the suit: whether the FBI or Defense Department leaked private information about the Kelleys to the media. Some press accounts after the probe became public suggested Jill Kelley had an affair with Gen. John Allen {shown in a file photo], something both parties deny. 

Reader Supported News, The Murder of JFK: Another Puzzle Piece Solved, Bill Simpich, Oct. 15, 2015. The mainstream media in America continually fails to understand that Americans are not interested in having a secret government. Former Salon editor David Talbot has a new book coming out this week, entitled The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. The book explores how Dulles targeted foreign leaders for assassination and then brought this practice back home with the murder of JFK. Tufts Thomas Drake Oct. 15, 2015 NPC (JIP)professor Michael Glennon released a book last year on the similarity in security policies of Bush and Obama entitled National Security and the Rise of Double Government. Glennon explains how the roles of the presidency, the Congress, and the courts are “largely illusory” compared to the powers of those safely situated in the back room.

The Intercept, The Drone Papers, Jeremy Scahill, Oct. 15 2015. (Article 1 of 8.) From his first days as commander in chief, the drone has been President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice, used by the military and the CIA to hunt down and kill the people his administration has deemed — through secretive processes, without indictment or trial — worthy of execution. There has been intense focus on the technology of remote killing, but that often serves as a surrogate for what should be a broader examination of the state’s power over life and death.

Drones are a tool, not a policy. The policy is assassination. While every president since Gerald Ford has upheld an executive order banning assassinations by U.S. personnel, Congress has avoided legislating the issue or even defining the word “assassination.” This has allowed proponents of the drone wars to rebrand assassinations with more palatable characterizations, such as the term du jour, “targeted killings.”

When the Obama administration has discussed drone strikes publicly, it has offered assurances that such operations are a more precise alternative to boots on the ground and are authorized only when an “imminent” threat is present and there is “near certainty” that the intended target will be eliminated. Those terms, however, appear to have been bluntly redefined to bear almost no resemblance to their commonly understood meanings.

The first drone strike outside of a declared war zone was conducted more than 12 years ago, yet it was not until May 2013 that the White House released a set of standards and procedures for conducting such strikes.

Huffington Post, Drone Leak: 90% Of Killed Weren't Targeted, (Excerpt of The Drone Papers by Jeremy Scahill). Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an over reliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront.

These secret slides help provide historical context to Washington’s ongoing wars, and are especially relevant today as the U.S. military intensifies its drone strikes and covert actions against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Those campaigns, like the ones detailed in these documents, are unconventional wars that employ special operations forces at the tip of the spear.

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Gawker, Prosecutors Say "Terrorism Expert" Was Actually Just an Expert at Conning Fox News Producers, Gabrielle Bluestone. Oct. 15, 2015. A “former CIA agent” who frequently talked national security on Fox News was actually just an extremely talented con man with a penchant for scamming Fox News producers and government contractors alike. On Thursday, federal prosecutors charged Wayne Simmons with false statements, major fraud against the U.S., and wire fraud. It seems Simmons — a frequent Fox News guest who also wrote a book drawing on his “27 years in the CIA” — was able to parlay his claims of a career in intelligence into actual government contractor jobs abroad. Simmons was invited to train at a U.S. Army facility after allegedly lying his way into a position as a “Human Terrain System Team Leader” for an “unnamed government contractor in 2008.” He popped up in another government subcontractor job. In that role, prosecutors said, he was actually deployed overseas as an adviser to senior U.S. military personnel. He’s been charged with taking a $125,000 “real estate investment” and using it for his personal expenses.

Related News Coverage

Fox News, Source: FBI probe of Clinton email focused on ‘gross negligence’ provision, Catherine Herridge and Pamela Browne, Oct. 16, 2015. Whistleblower calls out double standard in Clinton case. Three months after Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and server while secretary of state was referred to the FBI, an intelligence source familiar with the investigation tells Fox News that the team is now focused on whether there were violations of an Espionage Act subsection pertaining to "gross negligence" in the safekeeping of national defense information. Under 18 USC 793 subsection F, the information does not have to be classified to count as a violation. The intelligence source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the ongoing probe, said the subsection requires the "lawful possession" of national defense information by a security clearance holder who "through gross negligence," such as the use of an unsecure computer network, permits the material to be removed or abstracted from its proper, secure location.

Subsection F also requires the clearance holder "to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer. "A failure to do so "shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both." The source said investigators are also focused on possible obstruction of justice. "If someone knows there is an ongoing investigation and takes action to impede an investigation, for example destruction of documents or threatening of witnesses, that could be a separate charge but still remain under a single case," the source said. Currently, the ongoing investigation is led by the Washington Field Office of the FBI.

The Intercept, This is how it ended for Jeffrey Sterling, Peter Maass, June 18, 2015. A former covert officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, Sterling sat down in a federal courtroom with a lawyer on either side, looking up at a judge who would announce in a few moments whether he would go to prison for the next 20 years. A few feet away, three prosecutors waited expectantly, hoping that more than a decade of investigation by the FBI would conclude with a severe sentence for a man who committed an “unconscionable” crime, as one of them told the judge.

In Sterling’s blind spot, behind his left shoulder, his wife tried not to sob so loudly that the judge would hear. A social worker, she had been interrogated by FBI agents, her modest home was searched, she had been made to testify before a grand jury, and she had given up her hopes for an ordinary life — a child or two rather than the miscarriages she had, a husband who could hold a job, a life that was not under surveillance, and friends who were free of harassment from government agents asking for information about her and her husband.

One of Sterling’s lawyers stood up to ask for leniency. Sterling was a good person, the lawyer said, not a traitor. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. After leaving the CIA, he worked as a healthcare investigator and won awards for uncovering millions of dollars in fraud. He loved his wife. He did not cause any harm and did not deserve to be locked up until he was an old man for talking to a New York Times reporter about a classified program that he believed had gone awry. Please let the sentence be fair, the lawyer said.

It was time for Sterling to say a few words. His lawyers followed him to the lectern, standing a half step behind, as though to steady him if he wavered. A tall man with a low voice, Sterling thanked the court for its efforts to conduct the trial and thanked the judge for delaying its start so he could attend the funeral of one of his brothers. He did not say whether, as the jury had decided, he was guilty of what they had convicted him for — violating the Espionage Act and other laws related to disclosing classified information.

Sterling’s battle against the government had begun more than 15 years earlier, when he was still at the CIA. After he lodged a racial discrimination complaint, he was fired by the agency and filed two federal lawsuits against it, one for retaliation and discrimination, another for obstructing the publication of his autobiography. He also spoke as a whistleblower to Congress. Soon, his savings ran out and he became all but homeless, driving around the country, lost in despair. He eventually returned to his hometown near St. Louis and rebuilt his life, finding the woman who became his wife and landing a job he thrived at.

His new life was torn apart when FBI agents came to his workplace in 2011, placing him in handcuffs and parading him past his colleagues. A few days later, still in jail, he was fired because he had not shown up for work. The drama ended in a wood-paneled courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia on a warm afternoon in May, after Sterling finished his brief statement to the judge.

Sterling’s case has drawn attention primarily for two reasons: it was part of the Obama Administration’s controversial crackdown on leakers and whistleblowers, and prosecutors had tried to force the Times reporter, James Risen, to divulge the name of his source, whom the government believed was Sterling. The case, known as United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, was treated mainly as a freedom-of-the-press issue, with Risen as the heroic centerpiece. Lost in the judicial briefs about the First Amendment was the black man in the middle.

This is Sterling’s story.

Democracy Now! Breaking Silence, Wife of Jailed CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Seeks Presidential Pardon, Narmeen Shaikh and Amy Goodman interviewing Holly Sterling and Norman Soloman, Oct. 15, 2015. In an unprecedented news conference today, the spouse of a jailed CIA whistleblower is speaking out. Holly Sterling, the wife of imprisoned former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, will appear at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to appeal for a presidential pardon. Sterling is serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen about a failed U.S. effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Risen later exposed how the risky operation could have actually aided the Iranian nuclear program. In January, Sterling was convicted of nine felony counts, including espionage. Ahead of her news conference, Holly Sterling joins us along with Norman Solomon, longtime activist and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In an unprecedented news conference today, the spouse of a jailed CIA whistleblower is speaking out. Holly Sterling, the wife of imprisoned former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, will appear at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Sterling is serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen about a failed U.S. effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Risen later exposed how the risky operation could have actually aided the Iranian nuclear program. In January, Sterling was convicted of nine felony counts, including espionage. His case was the subject of the documentary short, The Invisible Man. Here’s a clip.

    JEFFREY STERLING: They already had the machine geared up against me. The moment that they felt there was a leak, every finger pointed to Jeffrey Sterling. If the word "retaliation" is not thought of when anyone looks at the experience that I’ve had with the agency, then I just think you’re not looking.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from The Invisible Man, produced by Norman Solomon of and Judith Ehrlich, who directed The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

Well, we’re joined right now in Washington, D.C., by the wife of Jeffrey Sterling, Holly Sterling, who will be speaking at the National Press Club after she leaves this broadcast. Also with us is Norman Solomon, longtime activist, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, co-founder of and coordinator of

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We want to start with Holly Sterling. Can you talk about what you will be saying at the National Press Club today? What happened to your husband? Why is he in jail. And what are you demanding?

HOLLY STERLING: Jeffrey is in prison currently right now because he was convicted of espionage. The press conference today is to make people aware of what has happened, but most importantly, I have written a letter to President Obama asking for the immediate pardon of Jeffrey.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Norm Solomon, can you explain, for people aren’t that familiar with Jeffrey Sterling’s case, why is it significant and what kind of precedent might it set?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, the case is significant for civil liberties and for freedom of the press and, really, the public’s right to know, with informed consent, in what’s supposed to be a democracy. The challenge is for people to recognize that at many levels the Obama administration is continuing to wage an enormous war on whistleblowing and investigative journalism, in tandem with the tightening, even further, through technology and political choice, of the surveillance state and continued warfare around the planet, as we’ve heard again in the news today in terms of a warfare state.

So the precedents are chilling in many respects. And a few of them, briefly, include that Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on the basis entirely of circumstantial evidence. The government presented a mosaic of supposedly incriminating information that involved entirely legal activities by Jeffrey Sterling. And it should be made clear that Jeffrey is a whistleblower because, through legal channels, he went to the Senate Intelligence Committee as a former CIA case officer to give information about a botched and dangerous CIA operation involving nuclear weapon design transmittal to Iran. So, the precedents are very dangerous because, in a real sense, they’re a warning shot across the bow not only for journalists and potential whistleblowers, but for any government official who even legally goes through channels to provide concerns and information to appropriate officials, who legally speaks to journalists. What happened to Jeffrey Sterling was, in the trial itself, those legal activities were turned against him and used as circumstantial evidence toward conviction.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from The Invisible Man, your documentary, about Jeffrey Sterling’s case. This is a clip.

    JEFFREY STERLING: I reached out to the Senate Intelligence Committee. I gave them my concerns about an operation I was involved in, and I thought it could have an impact, a negative impact, on our soldiers going into Iraq.

    RAY McGOVERN: Operation Merlin was a cockamamie, harebrained scheme developed by covert action operators who had lots of money.

    JEFFREY STERLING: The Senate Intelligence Committee and the House committee, they have clearances to hear this. That is what they are there for. They are there for oversight.

    RAY McGOVERN: They are not oversight committees; they are overlook committees.

    NARRATOR: Before reporting Operation Merlin to the Congress, Sterling had sued the CIA for racial discrimination.

    CONNIE CHUNG: Sterling became the first African-American case officer to sue the CIA for racial discrimination. He claimed a pattern of prejudice derailed his career.

    JEFFREY STERLING: Shortly after 9/11, I felt anger, anger to the point, you know, I want to do something about this. I will drop my discrimination claims. I want to come back and help. The response I got at that offer of dropping my suit was: "You’re fired." John Brennan, the head of the CIA at the moment, he personally came down to the administrative office to tell me that I was fired. Someone told me that, "Well, you pulled on Superman’s cape."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s now jailed CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling explaining how he first expressed concerns about what the CIA was doing. If you, Norm Solomon, could tell us, how was he caught? What did the government do? And explain exactly how this case relates to the many-year legal struggle of James Risen, the leading New York Times reporter who himself faced jail for not talking about who his source was.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yes. The government raided the home of Jeffrey Sterling and Holly Sterling in 2006, as I recall. And Holly was hauled before a grand jury and in front of the FBI in the D.C. area. And then, for several years, nothing happened. And it wasn’t until the Obama administration came in when suddenly Jeffrey, who had gone back into private employment—an exemplary inspector against insurance fraud—was suddenly indicted and arrested and taken into custody. And then there was a dragged-out several years while the government attempted to force the excellent New York Times investigative reporter James Risen to essentially rat on his sources for his book State of War about the Bush administration. And to his credit, Risen absolutely refused to do that. And so, after many years, Jeffrey Sterling was finally taken to trial early this year.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Holly Sterling, can you talk about the role of race in your husband’s case?

HOLLY STERLING: Absolutely. Well, as you had stated, Jeffrey was the first African-American case officer to file a suit against the CIA. And that, that played a major part in the trial, I believe. You know, Jeffrey had upset the CIA, and because of that, they went after him as really the only source, potential source, for Mr. James Risen’s book. And so, subsequently, you know, no one else—no one else was investigated except Jeffrey.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Holly, what happened when the authorities came to raid your home? Can you describe the day, where you were? Were you at home? Was Jeffrey at home?

HOLLY STERLING: Yes. Actually, I had just gotten home from testifying at the grand jury. And Jeffrey and I were home. Approximately 20 minutes after arriving home, my lawyer called to tell me that the FBI was on their way, because they did have a search warrant. And I’d like to note out that my lawyer said that this never happens. He’s never had, in the history of him being a criminal lawyer, the FBI calling to alert him that his client’s home is going to be raided. He said that means they have nothing on Jeffrey.

So, approximately about 10 minutes later after that phone call, there was a knock at the door, and about 15 agents surrounded our home, came in. They went methodically through our home. They were very polite. They asked, you know, "Is this the room where you said you had a computer?" took everything out, wearing gloves, putting things in brown paper bags, you know, and went through, put everything back. At one point, one of the agents went over to Jeffrey and showed him a subpoena for his work laptop. And the agent went to take Jeffrey’s actual suitcase that had the laptop in it. And many people may not know, but Jeffrey was a licensed lawyer before he was convicted, and read the subpoena and said, "It does not include the contents of the bag; it only includes the laptop," and so took out the laptop and gave that to the agent.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Norman Solomon, could you explain what President Obama could do now? What’s in his executive power to do on Sterling’s case?

NORMAN SOLOMON: President Obama has the power to respond to Holly Sterling’s letter today by issuing an immediate pardon for Jeffrey Sterling and getting him out of prison, where he’s been now for four months and is scheduled not for release until the middle of the year 2018. So the president could halt this, really, persecution, I would say, of Jeffrey Sterling that’s been going on for more than a decade, when you trace back the origins of what ordeal he and Holly Sterling have gone through.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Holly Sterling, why have you decided to do this now? You’re the first spouse of a CIA whistleblower, in prison now, to hold a news conference and speak out.

HOLLY STERLING: Well, as Norman had stated, this has been going on for over a decade. And unfortunately, Jeffrey really was—did not get any press coverage during this. It actually somewhat became the Risen case. And he’s been done a great injustice. He’s completely innocent. They had absolutely no evidence to state that Jeffrey had done this. Special Agent Ashley Hunt on cross-examine stated that fact, that there was absolutely no email records, no phone call records; no one had witnessed the two being together exchanging classified information. In fact, she said that she speculated that Jeffrey was the source. So he has been wrongly convicted, and I just think that, you know, he needs to be pardoned, that this was a grave injustice. And he does not need to be in prison for the next three-and-a-half years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you tell us also where exactly he’s imprisoned and how often you’ve been able to visit him and what the process is for you to see him, your husband?

HOLLY STERLING: He actually is in Colorado. During the sentencing hearing, the judge had stated that he should be placed nearest to our home. We live in St. Louis, Missouri. Colorado obviously is not near our home; it’s approximately 900 miles away. I had to get permission to see Jeffrey. And I have been able to see him three times, once a month, since he’s gone in. It is extremely costly for me to go there—flight, airfare—excuse me—hotel, rental car. We get to visit approximately six hours a day on Saturday and Sunday. We sit in a room. We are able to sit next to one another. But the unfortunate thing is that Jeffrey is demoralized when I visit by having to go through a strip search before and after our visit.

AMY GOODMAN: Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project wrote a piece for in May called "The shocking court case that proves the government’s shameful Petraeus hypocrisy." In it, she asks why former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling faced two decades in prison, while former CIA Director General David Petraeus got two years’ probation for similar charges. Radack writes, quote, "Petraeus, who gave a far greater volume of classified and potentially harmful information to his mistress, was given a sweetheart plea deal and was never charged—with anything. Conveniently, his sweetheart plea deal was to a misdemeanor not under the Espionage Act. Similarly, former CIA directors Leon E. Panetta and John O. Brennan, both of whom disclosed the identities of undercover operatives, were never charged." Norm Solomon, can you talk about this difference in how people are treated?

NORMAN SOLOMON: This entire episode, which continues with Jeffrey Sterling, is part of a huge pattern of selective prosecution, in the case of Leon Panetta; selective sentencing, in terms of General David Petraeus. And it shows how the entire judicial and executive branch process, in terms of assessing and prosecuting classified leaks, is just riddled with pollution and poisoned by political power. This administration, worse than any other in memory in this regard, has totally turned the prosecution of leaks into a politicized set of vendettas. And I think it’s necessary—it’s essential—that we recognize that there is no equality or near equality or justice under the law in this regard.

I should add that Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on the basis of metadata, which totally undermines the claims of this administration and its defenders, in terms of surveillance, that metadata is not an intrusion. In point of fact, it’s part of a speculative process where the government is able to inject and project into the proceedings its own assumptions and fantasies about what the metadata actually indicates in terms of content that’s not provided.

And I should add that the news conference today featuring Holly Sterling not only is co-sponsored by and as part of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work, but, very significantly, leadership has been taken by Reporters Without Borders. And this is very important because we need—and it is essential—for journalistic organizations to recognize and fight for the rights of whistleblowers, which are totally intertwined with the rights of an independent and free press. And I have to say that the good news, bad news, good news is that Reporters Without Borders is a conspicuous organization by forthrightly challenging this very oppressive treatment of Jeffrey Sterling. We need many other journalistic organizations to step to the fore and begin a show some courage, which has been lacking from them.

ExposeFacts, An open letter to civil rights groups in the U.S., Jeffrey Sterling, Aug. 13 2015. Dear NAACP, National Action Network, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Congressional Black Caucus and others: Where were you? Where were you when I was faced with blatant discrimination at my job, when my employer told me I was “too big and too black” to do the job?

ExposeFacts, DOD’s Inspector General Investigating Administration Propaganda Again, Marcy Wheeler, Sept. 2, 2015. Several recent incidents make it clear DOD’s Inspector General should not be the one to investigate claims that top officials are politicizing the intelligence on the fight against ISIS.

ExposeFacts, Declaring Chelsea Manning’s Voice against Torture Contraband, Aug. 17, 2015. Among the items Chelsea Manning faces indefinite solitary confinement for reading was the Senate Torture Report.
How a Recent Department of Justice Decision May Harm Whistleblower Protections
August 6, 2015
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A recent OLC decision that limited how much information DOJ has to share with its Inspector General may also limit whistleblower protections.
Tagged With: Chuck Grassley, Michael Horowitz, Patrick Leahy, Sally Yates, Thom Tillis
The Sixth Circuit Upholds Journalist’s Right to Invoke the Fifth Amendment
August 3, 2015
The dispute over reporter David Ashenholt's sources go back to John Ashcroft's tenure at DOJ.

The Sixth Circuit just ruled that Journalist David Ashenfelter may refuse to testify by invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Tagged With: David Ashenfelter, Eric Clay, Richard Convertino, Sixth Circuit
Roll Call Embarrasses Congress into Considering Whistleblower Protections for Its Staff
July 31, 2015
US Capitol

When asked why they were declaring Whistleblower Appreciation Day before extending whistleblower protections to congressional employees, a number of prominent Senators agreed they should provide those protections.

Is the Intelligence Community Inspector General Trying to Give Contractors Whistleblower Protections? July 30, 2015.
One of the first intelligence community whistleblowers to get an appeal under a new process, John Reidy, raises many of the core issues with intelligence whistleblowers.

Consortium News, Jeffrey Sterling’s Selective Prosecution, Chelsea Gilmour, Oct. 17, 2015. Exclusive: The leak conviction of ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling exposed a range of double standards, from how the spy agency treats African-Americans to how favored officials like Gen. David Petraeus get a pass while others get prison, an issue now before President Obama. Holly Sterling, the wife of a former CIA officer convicted of leaking details about a botched CIA plan to give flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran, has asked President Barack Obama to pardon her husband who was targeted for prosecution after accusing the CIA of racial discrimination and taking his concerns about the Iran scheme to congressional authorities. In a 14-page letter to President Obama, Holly Sterling recounted the personal nightmare of the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of her husband, Jeffrey Sterling, an African-American, after an account of the Iran operation – codenamed Operation Merlin – appeared in State of War, a 2006 book by New York Times reporter James Risen.

After a conviction earlier this year based on only circumstantial evidence – with Risen refusing to identify his source or sources – Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to 3½ years in prison, a punishment that the judge made more severe because Sterling would not admit guilt and insisted on a trial.

Holly Sterling pleaded with the President to free her husband, noting the disparity between his sentence and the misdemeanor probation given to retired Gen. David Petraeus who admitted to giving highly classified information to his mistress/biographer and lying about it to FBI investigators.

“How do you explain the obvious disparate treatment of General Petraeus?” she asked Obama. “If one strips away the race, financial status, and political clout of Jeffrey and Mr. Petraeus and solely reviewed the alleged crimes of Jeffrey and those pled by the general, it is glaringly obvious this was selective prosecution and sentencing. Mr. Petraeus pled to far more egregious acts than Jeffrey was convicted of, yet Jeffrey is rotting in a prison cell while Mr. Petraeus continues to live his life as he so chooses.”

She also reminded Obama that he risked going down in history as the president who prosecuted more whistleblowers than all his predecessors combined. Obama’s zealous pursuit of leakers has stifled the normal give-and-take between national security officials and journalists, a process that historically has given the people some insights into what the U.S. government is doing in their name.

In the letter to Obama and at a news conference on Thursday, Holly Sterling sought to provide context for the U.S. government’s aggressive prosecution of her husband. She recalled how he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1993 and was trained as a case officer for the Iran Task Force, which included him learning Farsi.

In 1997, as Sterling was preparing to be stationed in Germany for his first overseas post, he was approached by a supervisor and told the job had been given to another employee, as Holly Sterling explained in her letter to the President. “It was at that moment, his supervisor stated [the reasoning], ‘We are concerned you would stick out as a big black guy speaking Farsi.’ With shock and dismay, Jeffrey replied, ‘When did you realize I was black?’”

Based on this episode and subsequent disparate treatment, Jeffrey filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint based on racial discrimination – the first African-American to do so – but it was dismissed in part because of the “state secrets privilege.” During this time, Sterling and Risen were in contact about the lawsuit, which Risen described in a New York Times story in 2002.

Risk of Whistle-blowing

After being dismissed from the CIA, Sterling took the steps that would eventually make him a whistleblower and get him targeted as the number one suspect in the leak investigation regarding Operation Merlin.

“In 2003, Jeffrey went to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to voice concerns he had regarding ‘Operation Merlin,’ which he worked on while at the agency,” Holly Sterling wrote. “He had grave concerns about mismanagement of the program and potential harm to our country. This was a legal and proper channel for agency employees to voice any such concerns.”

Holly Sterling’s appeal to Obama reflected the desperation of a 10½-year legal battle that culminated in Jeffrey Sterling’s conviction last May on nine felony counts, including seven under the antiquated Espionage Act, a World War I-era law aimed at spies and saboteurs, not whistleblowers.

Her letter seeking a pardon was the catalyst for a press conference about the Sterling case and the Obama administration’s “war on whistleblowers.” The speakers included Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics adviser to the Justice Department and herself a whistleblower; Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency where he exposed both waste and privacy violations; former CIA analyst Ray McGovern; and Delphine Halgand, a representative of Reporters Without Borders.

“I would like to remind everyone that Jeffrey Sterling is a whistleblower,” Radack pointed out. “Sterling is a whistleblower because he met with the Senate Committee on Intelligence [in 2003], a proper internal political channel that we’re always hearing people talk about and he made reports about what he saw as a botched CIA operation.”

Three years later – after Risen’s book was published in 2006 – the FBI targeted Sterling as the chief suspect, searching his house near St. Louis, where he worked as a fraud investigator. There was a period of relative quiet, until 2011, when Jeffrey was lured by his then-employer to his office under the ploy of a work meeting, and then was arrested by the FBI.

Though there were 90 other CIA officers who knew the details of Operation Merlin — and trial testimony during the Sterling case revealed that the FBI initially believed the leak had come from a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee — Sterling became the focal point of the investigation because he was seen as being a “disgruntled” employee who was fired by the CIA. [See’s Persecution of CIA’s Jeffrey Sterling]

During the trial, evidence presented against Sterling consisted almost entirely of the metadata of conversations (phone calls and emails) between Sterling and Risen. The metadata provided the logs of conversations but did not include any actual content of the conversations, only that they took place. At no point were the prosecutors able to find any concrete evidence that Sterling had disclosed information regarding Operation Merlin to Risen.

Adequate Evidence?

The circumstantial evidence was deemed adequate, however, because Sterling was being charged under the Espionage Act, which only requires circumstantial evidence to prove guilt. Besides the relative ease of getting a conviction, the Espionage Act also makes no distinction between revealing information for the benefit of the public interest and engaging in conduct designed to help a foreign enemy in wartime.

“The Espionage Act has become a strict liability law, meaning that the prosecution does not have to prove that the whistleblower had any intent to harm the United States or benefit a foreign nation,” said Jesselyn Radack, who heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts. “Worse, Sterling’s conviction is based on flimsy circumstantial evidence that almost certainly would not result in a conviction, except under the very vague and overbroad Espionage Act.”

Thomas Drake added, “And not only do they [administration officials] go after them [the whistleblowers] under the Espionage Act — it’s selective, it’s malicious, and it’s vindictive. See the problem, and of course, if you’re the government then you know this (they don’t like to admit it, but they will say it when necessary), if you’re charged with espionage there’s no public interest defense.

“If you go to the oversight committee [and the committee officials] decide you might have given something to them [that they] don’t like that you gave to them, even though they have oversight responsibilities, that’s no defense either. So here you are practicing the First Amendment redress in the public interest, and you find yourself criminalized. And that’s what’s happened in this country.”

Since the enactment of the Espionage Act in 1917, the Obama administration has used it to convict more people than all other administrations combined.

“The Obama administration presided over the most draconian crackdown on national security and intelligence whistleblowers in U.S. history,” Radack said. “The Justice Department has used the antiquated Espionage Act as a bludgeon to threaten, coerce, silence, and imprison whistleblowers for alleged mishandling of classified information.”

Radack continued, “Meanwhile, powerful and politically connected individuals accused of the same and much worse conduct receive, at most, a slap on the wrist. Like General David Petraeus, who gave away more secret information at a much higher level to his mistress and received a sweetheart plea deal for a minor misdemeanor.”

Thomas Drake elaborated” “In this country, National Security reigns supreme, it trumps everything. The primacy of national security gives the elite and those in privileged positions of power no accountability. It gives them immunity from any attempt to hold them responsible. And yet, we have an administration that has no problem licensing unto itself the authorization to leak to the press on an extraordinary level, in fact, leaking highly classified sources and methods for political purposes and to present themselves in the best possible light.

“And yet, if you go to an intel committee which provides oversight on the secret side of government, or if you dare go to the press or have any contact with the press, at all, under any circumstances, then you’ll be charged with espionage. Last time I checked, real spies don’t go to the press. Real spies go to other spies. Real spies don’t make public their secrets.”

Targeting Critics

Drake noted parallels between the Sterling case and his own whistleblowing case, in the context of disparate treatment and seeking appropriate redress in the public’s best interest. He explained that the government will often chalk these whistleblowing cases up to “individuals … who have ‘personal grievances.’ … So you have in my [Drake’s] case and in Jeffrey Sterling’s case, we bear the full punishment, we bear the burden of the politics of abject and outright personal destruction.

“We, as sources, whether to hold a mirror to those things in government that are wrong, that violate the law, that actually are, in fact, a danger to our national security, we’re the ones that pay the high price, we’re the ones that are put up on the altar of national security as sacrifices.”

In 2010, the U.S. government accused Drake, who had complained about NSA abuses, of mishandling classified material under the Espionage Act. Eventually all 10 original charges were dropped and Drake pled to one misdemeanor charge of exceeding authorized use of a computer.
Gen. David Petraeus in a photo with his biographer/mistress Paula Broadwell. (U.S. government photo)

Gen. David Petraeus in a photo with his biographer/mistress Paula Broadwell. (U.S. government photo)

As for the disparity between Petraeus’s wrist-slap and Jeffrey Sterling’s prison term, Holly Sterling said, “If you honestly look at the two cases … you see that General Petraeus committed far more egregious acts than Jeffrey had allegedly done, and he did it for selfish reasons, while Jeffrey had gone to the Senate Intelligence Committee because he was concerned about the citizens of our country and what this possible Operation Merlin could have done.

“So, with General Petraeus’s punishment and Jeffrey’s punishment, it’s basically saying that the thought in this country is that if you are a Caucasian person and you do wrong, that you don’t need to be punished for it and you get a slap on the wrist, while if you are a man of color, you are guilty until proven innocent and you belong behind bars.”

Ray McGovern cited the troublesome use of metadata during the Sterling trial as evidence of guilt, noting that another name for metadata is circumstantial evidence. McGovern recalled that last May, “the former NSA General Council, Stu Baker, said ‘metadata absolutely tells you everything about anyone’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need any content.’”

McGovern described a meeting between Stu Baker and former NSA Director Michael Hayden, in which Baker’s metadata quote was repeated in the presence of Hayden. McGovern said, “General Hayden said, ‘If you have enough metadata you don’t need any content — we kill people based on metadata.’ Well, we also imprison people based on, mostly illegally acquired, metadata” – a reference to the NSA’s collection of metadata on people around the world, including American citizens.

Dangerous Precedent

Delphine Halgand cited the dangerous precedent for whistleblowers and journalists that the Sterling trial represented because of the use of metadata: “The Department of Justice built a case against Sterling based entirely on circumstantial evidence and they sustained his conviction in what the BBC called, ‘a trial by metadata.’ How is it possible that proving the simple existence of contacts between a former CIA operative and a journalist is sufficient to convict someone of espionage?

“Is a relationship with a reporter the new catalyst for government prosecution of whistleblowers, whether alleged or actual? If anybody can be sentenced in the United States just because he was merely talking to a journalist on a regular basis, where is press freedom heading in the country of the First Amendment?”

Halgand continued, “It is really clear that the Department of Justice chose to make an example of Jeffrey, to warn government employees against talking to journalists. Leaks are the lifeblood of investigative journalism in this country given that nearly all information related to national security is considered secret and classified.

“In fact, the war on whistleblowers is designed to restrict all but the officially approved version of events. The United States has witnessed an alarming trend in curtailing freedom on information these recent years, and as we heard earlier, President Obama’s so-called ‘war on whistleblowers’ played an important role in this decline.”

As Thomas Drake put it, “In the United States, national security is currently engaging in unamending the First Amendment. The cornerstone, the foundation of the Bill of Rights and all of our liberties and freedoms. If you don’t have the ability to do redress for grievances, if you don’t have the ability to publish what is in the public interest, to inform people, to associate freely one to another, then what we call our constitutional republic, this special form of democracy, begins to erode and disappear.”

Jesselyn Radack summed up the issue by reminding that whistleblower-leak investigations “mak[e] clear that punishing whistleblowers is a backdoor way of punishing journalists.” While curtailing the freedom of the press may be the ultimate target of this “war on whistleblowers,” Radack and Drake both remarked that, tragically, it is usually the whistleblower, the source, who takes the brunt of the law.

Holly Sterling reiterated that sentiment in her letter to Obama. “Not only has Jeffrey suffered but so have his family, his friends, community and society. And now an intelligent, strong, ethical, and productive member of our world feels as though he ceases to exist while in prison.”

While Holly Sterling has requested a presidential pardon, Sterling’s team is also appealing the court’s decision. But as media critic Normon Solomon, who helped host the press conference, put it, “‘Glacial’ would be overstating the speed with which the U.S. government is willing to proceed on such appeals.”

Radack added, “A pardon is vastly preferable to an appeal because appeals can take years and cost tons of extra money whereas a pardon can be done in a snap and it also erases the crime.” But she added, “I predict that General Petraeus will have a pardon before Jeffrey Sterling gets either a pardon or an appeal.”

Chelsea Gilmour is an assistant editor at She has previously published “The Mystery of the Civil War’s Camp Casey” and “Jeb Bush’s Tangled Past.”]


ExposeFacts, In Political Press, Hillary Clinton Gets Subjected to the Thomas Drake and Jeffrey Sterling Standard, July 24, 2015. The political press is attacking Hillary Clinton using the same standards of retroactive classification DOJ used against whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Jeffrey Sterling. The political press is abuzz with news that the State Department (State IG) and Intelligence Community Inspectors General (ICIG) have asked the Department of Justice to review whether the Department’s handling of the personal email from Hillary Clinton was proper. The story was first reported in sensational fashion by the New York Times, revised somewhat overnight, and then reported in more measured form — making it clear that Clinton herself is not being investigated — by the Associated Press this morning.

The report has put the practice of retroactive classification of information — of the type used to convict Jeffrey Sterling and DOJ tried to use to convict Thomas Drake — at the forefront of presidential politics.

The referral to DOJ arises out of State IG’s review of the use of private emails and the response to Freedom of Information Act requests for Clinton’s email. After consulting with the ICIG, State IG reported that a number of the emails reviewed so far, including one released to the public, included classified information. The ICIG criticized State for using retired foreign service officers with extensive FOIA experience to review Clinton’s email before release, rather than conducting an interagency process (though according to a response from Patrick Kennedy, the CIA and ODNI had already approved the arrangement).

The referral pertains to State’s actions, not Clinton’s. “[T]he referral doesn’t suggest wrongdoing by Clinton herself,” AP noted. None of the emails in question were marked as classified when she sent them and one of them — pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of the Benghazi attack — was not classified at time she received it. Nevertheless, this news has led to a flurry of stories implicating Clinton in a potential DOJ investigation.

Clinton supporters are dismissing this as election year frenzy. The former DOJ Director of Public Affairs, Matt Miller, even tweeted, “If you examined the entire email [account] of any senior official, someone in [government] would later argue something was classified. Absurd standard.”

But Clinton is not the first this has happened to. After all, DOJ attempted to use five retroactively classified documents to convict former NSA official Thomas Drake on Espionage charges; once DOJ had to admit that fact, their case against Drake fell apart.

And the only hard evidence DOJ presented that Jeffrey Sterling had improperly handled classified information were documents seized from his home that had nothing to do with the nuclear program he was accused of leaking. When the government introduced three of those documents under a silent witness rule limiting what Sterling’s lawyers could ask about them, CIA’s top classification official admitted they had not been classified as secret at first.

    “When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.

    “They weren’t,” [CIA Chief of Litigation Support Martha] Lutz responded.

    “But they are now properly classified secret?”

    “Yes,” Lutz answered.

The defense team made statements revealing that these documents offered instructions on how to dial rotary phones to call into CIA headquarters, hardly a cutting edge secret. Nevertheless, those documents were a key piece of evidence used to send Sterling to prison for 42 months.

Clinton deserves a good deal of criticism for using personal email that has made it more difficult to access via FOIAs. But retroactively classified information should no more be used to prosecute her — in reality or in the press — than Drake and Sterling.

When asked about the double standard via email, Drake did not join the frenzy. Rather, he described “having really bad flashbacks” given the calls to criminally investigate the former Secretary of State because release of the emails put “unauthorized classified information … in adversaries’ hands.”

Perhaps there’s room for agreement here. Via email, Miller noted, “the entire classification system is a mess: overly complex, riddled with ambiguity, and used at times for inappropriate reasons. And because of that you get perverse outcomes.”

Secretary Clinton surely should have made her emails more secure and accessible, via the formal FOIA process, by using official email. But that doesn’t mean retroactively classified information should be used against her anymore than it should be used against Drake and Sterling.

ExposeFacts, CIA Mission: Destroy the Whistleblower and Perfume the Stench of ‘Operation Merlin,’ Norman Solomon, Feb. 4, 2015. The leak trial of CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling never got near a smoking gun, but the entire circumstantial case was a smokescreen. Prosecutors were hell-bent on torching the defendant to vindicate Operation Merlin, nine years after a book by James Risen reported that it “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”

That bestselling book, State of War, seemed to leave an indelible stain on Operation Merlin while soiling the CIA’s image as a reasonably competent outfit. The prosecution of Sterling was a cleansing service for the Central Intelligence Agency, which joined with the Justice Department to depict the author and the whistleblower as scurrilous mud-throwers.

In the courtroom, where journalist Risen was beyond the reach of the law, the CIA’s long-smoldering rage vented at the defendant. Sterling had gone through channels in 2003 to warn Senate Intelligence Committee staffers about Operation Merlin, and he was later indicted for allegedly giving Risen classified information about it. For CIA officials, the prosecution wasn’t only to punish Sterling and frighten potential whistleblowers; it was also about payback, rewriting history and assisting with a PR comeback for the operation as well as the agency.

Last week, the jury — drawn from an area of Northern Virginia that is home to CIA headquarters, the Pentagon and a large number of contractors for the military-industrial-intelligence complex — came back with guilty verdicts on all counts. The jurors had heard from a succession of CIA witnesses as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, extolling Operation Merlin and deploring any effort to lift its veil of secrecy.

During the first half of the government’s six days of testimony, the prosecution seemed to be defending Operation Merlin more than prosecuting Jeffrey Sterling.

Prosecutors defamed Sterling’s character in opening and closing arguments, but few CIA witnesses had anything bad to say about him. The notable exception, CIA official David Cohen — who ran the agency’s New York office when Sterling worked there — testified that “his performance was extremely sub-par.” Cohen’s affect on the stand gave new meaning to the term hostile witness. He exuded major antipathy toward Sterling, who had been one of the CIA’s few American-American case officers. Sterling filed a racial bias lawsuit before the agency fired him.

Benghazi and Clinton Emails

Atlantic, Should There Be a Criminal Investigation Into Hillary Clinton's Email? Conor Friedersdorf, July 24, 2015. The request for a formal probe highlights the deep dysfunction of America’s system for classifying documents and prosecuting leaks. Federal overseers are urging an inquiry into whether Hillary Clinton illegally mishandled classified documents during her four-year tenure as secretary of state, according to an article published late Thursday in The New York Times. At issue is her decision to conduct official business via private email. “Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled,” the story reported. “The Justice Department has not decided if it will open an investigation.”

The New York Times has since updated its story, characterizing the requested probe as a look at whether emails on Clinton's private server were mishandled rather than whether Clinton mishandled emails. It is not clear who else would be responsible for those emails.

The Wall Street Journal adds that it has seen a memorandum from both inspectors general declaring that an investigation of emails stored on a server at Clinton’s home discovered “hundreds of potentially classified emails within the collection.” Clinton had previously destroyed thousands more emails, but has denied mishandling any classified material in the course of using that private account.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who was recently appointed by President Obama, must now decide whether to launch an investigation involving the most powerful politician in the Democratic Party, potentially changing the course of an election; or to reject the advice of two ostensibly independent overseers and appear to give special treatment to a powerful Obama administration veteran, protecting her from scrutiny as she stands accused of compromising national security.

The New York Times stands by its characterization of the requested investigation as a criminal probe, while the Los Angeles Times reports, "Government officials initially characterized the referral as involving a potential criminal investigation. The Justice Department now says it was not criminal." Whether the inspectors general technically asked for a criminal investigation or some other kind––as now appears to be the case––keeping classified information unsecured at one's house is illegal, as Thomas Drake and others know all too well, so any investigation could expose illegal behavior, which perhaps explains the discrepancy in characterizations.

Observers are left pondering these possibilities:

    Hillary Clinton never knowingly stored any classified documents on her home server, and is the victim of circumstantial evidence that looks worse than it is.
    Clinton technically did have some classified documents on her server, but nothing that actually ever posed any real threat to American national security, because the federal bureaucracy needlessly classifies all sorts of stuff.
    Clinton irresponsibly kept documents on her server that did pose a risk to national security.

There’s a strong possibility that we’ll never know which scenario comes closest to the truth. But whatever happens in coming days and months, this incident will highlight the way in which America’s classification system undermines the rule of law.

The “state secrets” laws in question are applied with extreme unevenness and unpredictability.

Mishandling or leaking classified information can carry heavy criminal sanctions, regardless of whether the material was properly classified, serves any public interest, or poses any real threat to national security. Yet despite the potential for serious criminal liability, powerful officials mishandle or leak classified information with impunity, because their leaks serve the interests of others in power.

Every so often, circumstances align so that a powerful member of the establishment like David Petraeus is subject to punishment––elites can’t be so flagrant as to get caught leaking to a mistress!––but critics of the establishment are more likely to be punished (and punished harshly) for crimes related to state secrets.

For leaking classified information about serious government misdeeds that Americans absolutely ought to know about, Chelsea Manning is caged and Edward Snowden is living in exile under constant threat of spending the rest of his life in jail. The Obama Administration has also waged a war on whistleblowers like Thomas Drake, raiding his home, carrying off boxes of documents from his basement, finding a few allegedly classified documents (that were more secure than they likely would’ve been on an email server), and threatening to destroy his life over them.

He wasn’t alone.

Washington Post, Federal prosecutors recommend charges for ex-CIA chief Petraeus, Sari Horwitz and Adam Goldman, Jan. 9, 2015. David Petraeus could face criminal proceedings for providing classified documents to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, shown with her book, All In.

David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, NBC_TVNew York Times, Prosecutors Said To Recommend Charges Against Former Gen. David Petraeus, Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, Jan. 9, 2015. The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors have recommended bringing felony charges against retired Gen. David H. Petraeus for providing classified information to his former mistress while he was director of the C.I.A., officials said, leaving Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to decide whether to seek an indictment that could send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison. Petraeus and Broadwell are shown together in a photo from an NBC-TV screenshot.


Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Washington Post, Powerful admiral punishes suspected whistleblowers, still gets promotion, Craig Whitlock, Oct. 21, 2015. The U.S. Navy declined to discipline the SEAL commander despite five investigations into illegal reprisals.