42-Month Term For CIA 'Leaker' Continues Obama Crackdown


The 42-month sentence imposed this week on former CIA case officer Jeffrey Sterling for leaking information to a New York Times reporter helps thwart public information about the powerful agency in a precedent extending beyond the CIA.

Jeffrey Sterling Consortium NewsU.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of Alexandria, VA imposed the sentence May 11 on Sterling, 47, who was convicted at trial earlier this year of leaking information to reporter and author James Risen about the CIA plan "Operation Merlin" to send flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran. Sterling has denied leaking the information. The government won nine convictions at trial on a circumstantial case without Risen's testimony.

The Obama administration fought for years to convict Sterling of a spy charge. With convictions that included one for espionage, Sterling faced total potential penalties of nearly three centuries in prison, with the government urging a harsh sentence to deter future leakers. Realistically, the sentence would not likely have been more than twenty years at worst under sentencing guidelines for a first-time offender but prosecutors urged that Sterling's acts be considered multiple offenses.

Sterling's first public interview on the case can be seen in a video interview organized by Norman Solomon, executive director of ExposeFacts.org, entitled, The Invisible Man: Jeffrey Sterling, CIA Whistleblower.


With seven spy prosecutions of officials and former officials who leaked to journalists, the administration has now indicted approximately double the number of leakers under the World War I-era law than all previous administrations combined, depending on whether the count begins with a World War II-era prosecution or, as most commentators calculate, with the prosecution of Vietnam War-era leaker Daniel Ellsberg. The difference, according to a Tampa Bay Times count, is 11 total prosecutions or 10, as reported here in CNN's Tapper: Obama has used Espionage Act more than all previous administrations

Shown below is a round-up of news coverage and commentary.

The Justice Integrity Project shall provide a more in-depth overview shortly. As a preview, readers should know that classified secrets are commonly leaked in Washington, but a double standard is applied in terms of prosecution and punishment. Those leakers who advance the goals of the powerful and their propaganda purposes tend to be rewarded via career advancement, whereas harsh punishments is imposed on others.
The Sterling defense, among others, pointed to the recent example of former CIA Director David Petraeus, an establishment favorite who received probation and a fine for sharing classified materials with his biographer and lover Paula Broadwell. The Obama administration had forced the resignation of Petraeus in November 2012, ostensibly because he had been caught in an affair.
In reality, Petraeus had been implicated in Benghazi-related duplicity in actions disloyal to the Obama administration, as we have previously reported, including in the book Presidential Puppetry.
Although conventional wisdom is that an intelligence agency has an obvious need for secrets a contrary view is that the secrecy has become excessive with growth of the agency's power as reflected in suspected secret wars, assassinations, coups, and propaganda campaigns in the United States and globally, including President Kennedy's 1963 assassination and obstruction of the murder investigations.
The hidden ties to the intelligence community of many elected politicians and other thought leaders help illustrate the tight controls over basic information needed by the public in a democracy. The secrecy and potential stakes were illustrated anew this week with publication by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh of a London Review of Books column, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, disputing the White House account of the 2011 raid that helped pave the way for President Obama's re-election in 2012. An analysis of the Hersh report is the subject of our next column here.
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Related News Coverage

Vimeo via Huffington Post, Finally -- CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Can Be Seen and Heard, Right here, Norman Solomon, May 12, 2015. For more than four years — ever since his indictment on Espionage Act charges — the public could not hear the voice of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. Until now: The Invisible Man: Jeffrey Sterling, CIA Whistleblower.

Jeffrey Sterling Consortium NewsWashington Post, Ex-CIA officer convicted in leak case gets 3½ years, Matt Zapotosky, May 11, 2014. Jeffrey Sterling (shown in a file photo) gave a journalist classified information about an effort to stem Iran’s nuclear ambitions. See also, First Look/Intercept, CIA’s Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to 42 Months for Leaking to New York Times Journalist, Peter Maass, May 11, 2015.

Washington Post, How judges have punished other leakers, Matt Zapotosky May 11, 2015. Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison Monday for leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter. Prosecutors asked that he face a severe penalty, while defense attorneys wanted his punishment to be in line with other recently convicted leakers. Here is a look at the sentences some of them have faced, and how their cases are similar to — or different from — Sterling’s.

Tampa Bay Times / PunditFact, CNN's Tapper: Obama has used Espionage Act more than all previous administrations, Jon Greenberg, Jan. 10, 2014. "The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists ... more than all previous administrations combined." — Jake Tapper on Jan. 2, 2014 in a broadcast of CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper." The federal criminal charges filed against National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden make it seven times that the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act against government workers who shared information with the press. In at least two instances, the government’s investigations have delved into the practices of reporters and news organizations and put reporters in legal jeopardy. This has raised red flags among defenders of the media. In a vigorous exchange on CNN’s The Lead, host Jake Tapper asserted to Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post that "the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists ... more than all previous administrations combined." On one level, a simple tally would address Tapper’s claim and -- spoiler alert -- the raw numbers back him up. But a scrupulous vetting of the record uncovers important ambiguities in the entire business of talking about leaks in Washington. The basic numbers: Most tallies, like the one by the investigative service ProPublica, begin with Daniel Ellsberg and the release of the Vietnam War era documents known as the Pentagon Papers. Including Ellsberg, the government has used the Espionage Act 10 times to prosecute government workers who shared classified information with journalists. If we push back to 1945, there is one more case. So of those 11, seven have taken place while Barack Obama has been president.

ExposeFacts, Sterling Verdict Another Measure of Declining Government Credibility on Secrets, Marcy Wheeler, May 12, 2015. Yesterday, Judge Leonie Brinkema sentenced Jeffrey Sterling to 42 months in prison for leaking information about a dubious CIA plot to deal nuclear blueprints to Iran to New York Times journalist James Risen. Given how circumstantial the case against Sterling was — consisting largely of metadata — not to mention the hand slap David Petraeus got weeks ago for leaking far more sensitive information and then lying about it to the FBI, that’s a tough sentence. But given the government’s call, in sentencing memoranda, that Sterling spend up to 24 years in prison, it was, as Government Accountability Project lawyer Jesselyn Raddack said, the least worst outcome. The sentence should also be seen as a rebuke to the government and its frenzied claims about secrecy, most notably the claim they made in this case that leaking information to a journalist is worse than leaking it directly to our adversaries. The sentencing “guidelines are too high,” Judge Brinkema told Sterling and his lawyers yesterday. She then proceeded to sentence Sterling along the same lines she did former CIA officer John Kiriakou — 3 years for leaking an officer or asset’s identity — plus 6 months in Sterling’s case because he did not admit guilt. In doing so, Brinkema treated this as one discrete leak and not the 7 incidences of espionage that the government charged it as.  Indeed, Brinkema’s sentence seemed to accept an argument Sterling’s lawyers had made in their own sentencing memorandum, that the Espionage Act was never meant to cover leaks to journalists. The government’s insistence that whistleblowing and accountability equate to spying is coming under increasing scrutiny, even mockery.

Wayne Madsen Report, The U.S. Espionage Act is only for the "little people," Wayne Madsen, May 13, 2015 (subscription required). The arcane U.S. Espionage Act, enacted in 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson, has been applied unevenly to two different social strata of America: the influential "haves" and the unimportant "have nots." In the latest example of the uneven application of the law that was crafted to threaten those who were opposed to America's imperialistic war against Germany in the First World War, former Central Intelligence Agency officer Jeffrey Sterling received a 42-month prison sentence for revealing classified information about Iran's nuclear program to the New York Times's Jim Risen. Risen was under a subpoena to testify in the Sterling trial in order to give up Sterling as his source for the story on the classified Operation Merlin, a potentially disastrous program that saw industrially-sabotaged nuclear components designed to derail Iran's nuclear program delivered to that nation.

FireDogLake, First Interview, CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Says Congressional Staffer Urged Him to Flee, Kevin Gosztola, May 12, 2015: Democracy Now, Interview with Norman Soloman, Amy Goodman, May 12, 2015 (58.56.min.). In his first interview since he was charged with leaking details of a botched CIA operation to New York Times reporter James Risen, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling says that he had a meeting with a staffer for Congressman William Lacy Clay and was urged to flee the United States. Sterling, who worked as an African American case officer, was found guilty by a jury of committing multiple Espionage Act offenses when he exposed information about “Operation Merlin,” which involved passing flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in order to get the country to work on building a nuclear weapon that would never function. He left the CIA in 2002 and brought a claim against the CIA alleging racial discrimination. He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 2005. However, the government successfully had the case thrown out by invoking the “state secrets” privilege. The government has maintained that he leaked details about Operation Merlin in revenge for his discrimination lawsuit being dismissed.

Washington Post, Attorneys ask judge to consider Petraeus in sentencing ex-CIA officer Sterling, Matt Zapotosky, April 24, 2015. Defense attorneys for the former CIA officer convicted of giving classified information to a New York Times reporter urged a federal judge on Friday to sentence their client in line with the terms faced by other so-called leakers — noting that not 24 hours prior, a retired general and ex-CIA director was given mere probation Paula Broadwell and book "All In"in a similar case. Defense attorneys for Jeffrey Sterling did not endorse a specific penalty, but they urged U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema to consider the impact of the case and be fair. The defense attorneys argued that in three other recent leak cases, those convicted received — at the most — 30 months in prison. On Thursday, retired general and former CIA chief David Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine. “In meting out justice,” defense attorneys wrote, “the Court cannot turn a blind eye to the positions the Government has taken in similar cases.” Sterling, 47, was convicted in January of nine criminal counts after jurors determined unanimously that he gave classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen about a sensitive operation to put faulty nuclear plans in the hands of Iranian officials. Federal prosecutors this week urged a judge to impose a “severe” sentence and said they felt the U.S. probation office had correctly calculated the range in the federal sentencing guidelines as 19 years 7 months on the low end and 24 years 5 months on the high end. Such a sentence would have few parallels: The closest might be the 35-year prison term imposed by a military judge on Chelsea Manning, who leaked the largest volume of classified documents in U.S. history. And Sterling’s defense attorneys argued that a prison term within the guidelines would be “plainly excessive,” essentially penalizing Sterling for not taking a plea deal.

Washington Post, Petraeus pleads guilty to mishandling classified material, will face probation, Adam Goldman, April 23, 2014. The former CIA chief won’t face prison time for providing information to his former mistress. David H. David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, NBC_TVPetraeus, a retired general considered one of the greatest military minds of his generation, pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials, ending a long-running legal saga that had threatened to send him to prison. Petraeus, who admitted he provided the materials to his former mistress and biographer, will instead face a two-year probationary period. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler also imposed a $100,000 fine — more than double the amount recommended by prosecutors — to reflect the “seriousness of the offense.” [The biographer Paula Broadwell, is shown in adjoining file photos, including one with Petraeus on one with her book, All In.] Before the sentencing, Keesler asked Petraeus whether he wanted to address the court. The former CIA director apologized to “those closest to me and others, including this court, for the pain my actions have caused.” See also, New York Times, Prosecutors Said To Recommend Charges Against Former Gen. David Petraeus, Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, Jan. 9, 2015.

London Review of Books, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, Seymour M. Hersh, May 10, dated May 21, 2015. Seymour Hersh, shown in a file photo, is writing an alternative history of the war on terror. It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals Seymour Hershassassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said. The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014.


Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Washington Post, NSA program on phone records is illegal, court says, Ellen Nakashima, May 7, 2015. The appellate court ruling, which finds the bulk collection of data is not authorized by the Patriot Act, comes as Congress NSA Official Logoweighs whether to allow the program to continue. A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records violates the Patriot Act, the first appeals court to weigh in on a controversial surveillance program that has divided Congress and ignited a national debate over the proper scope of the government’s spy powers. The NSA’s gathering of phone records for counterterrorism purposes — launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — was revealed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden in June 2013. The revelation sparked outrage but also steadfast assertions by the Obama administration that the program was authorized by statute and deemed legal by a series of federal surveillance court judges. But the judicial rulings had taken place in secret, until the Snowden leaks forced disclosure of once-classified opinions.

Jeb BushNew York Daily News, Jeb Bush, as Fla. gov, invested state's cash in porn: report, Adam Edelman, May 7, 2015. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush invested more than $1 million from the Florida state pension fund in pornography while he was governor, a new bombshell report alleges. The former Florida governor, while in office, invested $1.3 million from the fund into Movie Gallery, a publicly traded video rental giant that offered a wide selection of pornographic films along with mainstream movies, the International Business Times reported. Bush, who as governor was a trustee on the board overseeing the state's $149 billion pension system, purchased more than 47,000 shares in the company in 2005, the Times reported, citing emails it obtained from Bush's tenure in office.