Former CIA agent indicted after leaking classified information

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The seal of the CIA

Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, an ex-officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was taken into custody Thursday by federal agents in St. Louis, Missouri. He was indicted on six separate counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, as well as four additional charges: mail fraud, unlawfully keeping national defense information, obstruction of justice, and unauthorized conveyance of government property. Sterling, aged 43, had been employed by the CIA from May 1993 until he was fired in January 2002. During his arraignment, a judge declared that he would be held until a Monday hearing because the government called him a danger to the community.

Sterling, an African American lawyer who lives in O'Fallon, allegedly provided classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen, some of which was incorporated into Risen's 2006 State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Risen, who wrote about the CIA's involvement in Iran's nuclear program, has not named any of his sources even after being subpeonaed twice; Risen was not explicitly named in Sterling's indictment, but his involvement in the alleged leak is strongly supported by its contents, and a US government official confirmed the connection to NBC News.

The indictment stated that, for two years during his career with the CIA, Sterling had been involved in "a classified clandestine operational program designed to conduct intelligence activities related to the weapons capabilities of certain countries." An anonymous source close to the investigation said one of those countries was Iran. While managing CIA operations, Sterling also handled a "human asset," whose name he is also accused of releasing.

From 2000, Sterling had been engaged in various disputes with the agency. According to a story authored by Risen for The New York Times in March 2002, Sterling's supervisor during the Iran program said, "You kind of stick out as a big black guy." The comment was made after Sterling made requests for new assignments concerning Iran, requests declined because his appearance could interfere with the cases. Sterling, sued the CIA for racial discrimination shortly after being fired, but was unable to come to a settlement in February 2003, and allegedly began leaking the classified information soon after that. The indictment claimed the motive behind the leak was retaliation for the unsuccessful lawsuit.

Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a Virginia attorney for Sterling, said, "He has always maintained his innocence throughout the course of this entire investigation. We'll seek to prove that in court." MacMahon also said trial will be held at a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, as the case began in that state. Every charge against Sterling comes with the possibility of 10–20 years of jail time.

US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer made a statement, saying that "Sterling placed at risk our national security and the life of an individual working on a classified mission." A spokesperson for the CIA said, "Separate and apart from any specific instance, including this matter involving a former agency officer who left the CIA years ago, we take very seriously the unauthorized disclosure of classified information." The New York Times did not comment on the matter.

The Obama administration has already taken action in several similar leaks involving government officers. The administration has also initiated an investigation into Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, after the site's release of thousands of classified documents.