Prosecution of CIA Whistleblower Sterling

For Immediate Release


Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Prosecution of CIA Whistleblower Sterling

WASHINGTON - ORMAN SOLOMON, solomonprogressive at, @xposefacts
Solomon is with, which will be providing daily in-depth coverage of the trail of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, with a team of journalists in the courtroom throughout the trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. On Monday, New York Times reporter James Risen testified at a pre-trial hearing.

Solomon just wrote the piece “Why Jeffrey Sterling Deserves Support as a CIA Whistleblower,” which states: “The trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, set to begin in mid-January, is shaping up as a major battle in the U.S. government’s siege against whistleblowing. With its use of the Espionage Act to intimidate and prosecute people for leaks in ‘national security’ realms, the Obama administration is determined to keep hiding important facts that the public has a vital right to know.

“After fleeting coverage of Sterling’s indictment four years ago, news media have done little to illuminate his case — while occasionally reporting on the refusal of New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about whether Sterling was a source for his 2006 book State of War.

“Risen’s unwavering stand for the confidentiality of sources is admirable. At the same time, Sterling — who faces 10 felony counts that include seven under the Espionage Act — is no less deserving of support.

“The relentless prosecution of Sterling targets potential whistleblowers with a key implicit message: Do not reveal any ‘national security’ secrets that make the U.S. government look seriously incompetent, vicious, mendacious or dangerous. Don’t even think about it. …

“With so much at stake, the new petition ‘Blowing the Whistle on Government Recklessness Is a Public Service, Not a Crime‘ has gained more than 30,000 signers in recent weeks, urging the government to drop all charges against Sterling. The initial sponsors include ExposeFacts, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Government Accountability Project, The Nation, The Progressive / Center for Media and Democracy, Reporters Without Borders and” Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction. See the petition here.

ExposeFacts is a project of IPA.

MARCY WHEELER, emptywheel at, @emptywheel
Wheeler writes widely about the legal aspects of the “war on terror” and its effects on civil liberties. She is the “Right to Know” journalist for ExposeFacts and blogs at She just wrote the piece “The Jeffrey Sterling Trial: A Preview,” which states: “The allegations consist of three charges (1-3) for which the government will have to prove this material was ‘defense information.’ They consist of four charges (4-7) for which the government will have to prove the information Sterling allegedly leaked had been protected by the CIA and that Sterling knew and intended the leak of it to hurt the U.S. They consist of two picayune charges (8 and 9) dealing with the distribution of Risen’s book. And they consist of one charge (10) premised on Sterling destroying an email that referenced past discussions about Iran, but which itself contained no classified information.

“The government has a great deal of what thus far appears to be circumstantial evidence — notably, lots of email and phone calls between the two — showing that Sterling spoke to Risen, and spoke to Risen about Iran’s nuclear abilities. The focus of the case will be on whether those communications offer enough evidence that Sterling is the person who provided Risen the most sensitive information that appeared in the chapter of his book. Given the course of Monday’s dry run of Risen’s testimony, Sterling’s lawyers will surely emphasize that Risen has discussed ‘sources,’ plural, and the government had previously represented to Judge Leonie Brinkema that they themselves believed they could not prove Sterling’s guilt unless Risen named his sources. That is, Sterling’s team will now try to use the government’s decision not to press Risen for testimony to attack their case. But the government only has to prove that Sterling leaked this stuff, not that he was the primary or only person to have leaked this stuff.

“In addition, the government will call a series of witnesses — including his former colleagues at the CIA, congressional staffers, and possibly even Sterling’s former civil attorney Mark Zaid — to lay out how Sterling responded negatively to his Equal Opportunity challenges between 2002 and 2003. They’ll do so to establish what they claim to be Sterling’s motive: to retaliate because CIA had successfully denied Sterling any compensation for what he claims was unequal treatment because he is African American. …

“The government may also call Condoleezza Rice, who — as National Security Adviser — successfully convinced the Times not to publish a Risen story on Operation Merlin in 2003 because it was too sensitive; the government maintains this would prove that the information was closely held national security information. The government had wanted to introduce the talking points she used to make that case, but Judge Brinkema ruled the government could only do so if they called Rice as a witness.”

For background, see article by Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler in The Nation, “The Government War Against Reporter James Risen” — which quotes Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg: “Sterling’s ordeal comes from a strategy to frighten potential whistleblowers, whether he was the source of this leak or not. The aim is to punish troublemakers with harassment, threats, indictments, years in court and likely prison — even if they’ve only gone through official channels to register accusations about their superiors and agency. That is, by the way, a practical warning to would-be whistleblowers who would prefer to ‘follow the rules.’ But in any case, whoever were the actual sources to the press of information about criminal violations of the Fourth Amendment, in the NSA case, or of reckless incompetence, in the CIA case, they did a great public service.”


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