Author Archive | Norman Solomon

Would Jeffrey Sterling Be in Prison If He Were White?

Last week CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling went to prison. If he were white, he probably wouldn’t be there.

sterling family fund

Holly and Jeffrey Sterling. Contribute to Sterling Family Fund – click on photo.

 

Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American case officers, and he became the first to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency. That happened shortly before the CIA fired him in late 2001. The official in Langley who did the firing face-to-face was John Brennan, now the CIA’s director and a close adviser to President Obama.

Five months ago, in court, prosecutors kept claiming that Sterling’s pursuit of the racial-bias lawsuit showed a key “motive” for providing classified information to journalist James Risen. The government’s case at the highly problematic trial was built entirely on circumstantial evidence. Lacking anything more, the prosecution hammered on ostensible motives, telling the jury that Sterling’s “anger,” “bitterness” and “selfishness” had caused him to reveal CIA secrets.… Read the rest

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A Misleading Moment of Celebration for a New Surveillance Program

The morning after final passage of the USA Freedom Act, while some foes of mass surveillance were celebrating, Thomas Drake sounded decidedly glum. The new law, he told me, is “a new spy program.” It restarts some of the worst aspects of the Patriot Act and further codifies systematic violations of Fourth Amendment rights.

[Left to right]: Whistleblowers Kirk Wiebe (NSA), Coleen Rowley (FBI), Raymond McGovern (CIA), Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon), William Binney (NSA), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department), and Thomas Drake (NSA)

[Left to right]: Whistleblowers Kirk Wiebe (NSA), Coleen Rowley (FBI), Raymond McGovern (CIA), Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon), William Binney (NSA), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department), and Thomas Drake (NSA)

Later on Wednesday, here in Oslo as part of a “Stand Up For Truth” tour, Drake warned at a public forum that “national security” has become “the new state religion.” Meanwhile, his Twitter messages were calling the USA Freedom Act an “itty-bitty step” — and a “stop/restart kabuki shell game” that “starts w/ restarting bulk collection of phone records.”

That downbeat appraisal of the USA Freedom Act should give pause to its celebrants.… Read the rest

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Jeffrey Sterling vs. the CIA: An Untold Story of Race and Retribution

A dozen years before his recent sentencing to a 42-month prison term based on a jury’s conclusion that he gave classified information to a New York Times journalist, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was in the midst of a protracted and fruitless effort to find someone in Congress willing to look into his accusations about racial discrimination at the agency.

Jeffrey Sterling. Still from the film “The Invisible Man."

Jeffrey Sterling. Still from the film “The Invisible Man.”

 

ExposeFacts.org has obtained letters from Sterling to prominent members of Congress, beseeching them in 2003 and 2006 to hear him out about racial bias at the CIA. Sterling, who is expected to enter prison soon, provided the letters last week. They indicate that he believed the CIA was retaliating against him for daring to become the first-ever black case officer to sue the agency for racial discrimination.

As early as 2000, Sterling was reaching out toward Capitol Hill about his concerns.… Read the rest

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Don’t Grade Justice on a Warped Curve: Assessing the Case of Jeffrey Sterling

Yes, I saw the glum faces of prosecutors in the courtroom a few days ago, when the judge sentenced CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling to three and a half years in prison — far from the 19 to 24 years they’d suggested would be appropriate.

Yes, I get that there was a huge gap between the punishment the government sought and what it got — a gap that can be understood as a rebuke to the dominant hard-line elements at the Justice Department.

And yes, it was a positive step when a May 13 editorial by the New York Times finally criticized the extreme prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling.

But let’s be clear: The only fair sentence for Sterling would have been no sentence at all. Or, at most, something like the recent gentle wrist-slap, with no time behind bars, for former CIA director David Petraeus, who was sentenced for providing highly classified information to his journalist lover.… Read the rest

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CIA Evidence from Whistleblower Trial Could Tilt Iran Nuclear Talks

A month after former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on nine felony counts with circumstantial metadata, the zealous prosecution is now having potentially major consequences — casting doubt on the credibility of claims by the U.S. government that Iran has developed a nuclear weapons program.

With negotiations between Iran and the United States at a pivotal stage, fallout from the trial’s revelations about the CIA’s Operation Merlin is likely to cause the International Atomic Energy Agency to re-examine U.S. assertions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

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IAEA headquarters since 1979, Vienna, Austria.

 

In its zeal to prosecute Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information about Operation Merlin — which provided flawed nuclear weapon design information to Iran in 2000 — the U.S. government has damaged its own standing with the IAEA. The trial made public a treasure trove of information about the Merlin operation.

Last week Bloomberg News reported from Vienna, where the IAEA is headquartered, that the agency “will probably review intelligence they received about Iran as a result of the revelations, said the two diplomats who are familiar with the IAEA’s Iran file and asked not to be named because the details are confidential.”

The Bloomberg dispatch, which matter-of-factly referred to Merlin as a “sting” operation, quoted a former British envoy to the IAEA, Peter Jenkins, saying: “This story suggests a possibility that hostile intelligence agencies could decide to plant a ‘smoking gun’ in Iran for the IAEA to find.… Read the rest

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CIA Mission: Destroy the Whistleblower and Perfume the Stench of ‘Operation Merlin’

CIAThe 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.… Read the rest

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Why the CIA Is So Eager to Demolish Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling

Jeffrey Sterling

Jeffrey Sterling

Midway through the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, one comment stands out. “A criminal case,” defense attorney Edward MacMahon told the jury at the outset, “is not a place where the CIA goes to get its reputation back.” But that’s where the CIA went with this trial in its first week — sending to the witness stand a procession of officials who attested to the agency’s virtues and fervently decried anyone who might provide a journalist with classified information.

The CIA’s reputation certainly needs a lift. It has rolled downhill at an accelerating pace in the dozen years since telling President George W. Bush what he wanted the nation to hear about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. That huge bloody blot on the agency’s record has not healed since then, inflamed by such matters as drone strikes, rendition of prisoners to torture-happy regimes and resolute protection of its own torturers.… Read the rest

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Race, Leaks and Prosecution at the CIA

Condoleezza Rice made headlines when she testified Thursday at the leak trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling — underscoring that powerful people in the Bush administration went to great lengths a dozen years ago to prevent disclosure of a classified operation. But as The Associated Press noted, “While Rice’s testimony helped establish the importance of the classified program in question, her testimony did not implicate Sterling in any way as the leaker.”

Rice Transformational Diplomacy Speech.jpg

Few pixels and little ink went to the witness just before Rice — former CIA spokesman William Harlow — whose testimony stumbled into indicating why he thought of Sterling early on in connection with the leak, which ultimately resulted in a ten-count indictment.

Harlow, who ran the CIA press office, testified that Sterling came to mind soon after New York Times reporter James Risen first called him, on April 3, 2003, about the highly secret Operation Merlin, a CIA program that provided faulty nuclear weapon design information to Iran.… Read the rest

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The Revenge of the CIA: Scapegoating Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling

This week, in a federal courtroom, I’ve heard a series of government witnesses testify behind a screen while expounding on a central precept of the national security state: The CIA can do no wrong.

Those CIA employees and consultants are more than mere loyalists for an agency that soaks up $15 billion a year and continues to loosen the bonds of accountability. The docket says “United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling,” but a more discerning title would be “National Security State v. The Public’s Right to Know.”

For the first time in 30 years, a case has gone to trial in a civilian court under the Espionage Act with charges that the defendant gave classified information to news media. Not far from the CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia, legal jargon is flying around the courtroom, but the law has very little to do with this case.

Aerial view of CIA headquarters, langley, virginia 14760a

Aerial view of the CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia.

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Sterling Trial Opens in Security-State Matrix

Jeffrey Sterling

Jeffrey Sterling

When the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling got underway Tuesday in Northern Virginia, prospective jurors made routine references to “three-letter agencies” and alphabet-soup categories of security clearances. In an area where vast partnerships between intelligence agencies and private contractors saturate everyday life, the jury pool was bound to please the prosecution.

In a U.S. District Court that boasts a “rocket docket,” the selection of 14 jurors was swift, with the process lasting under three hours. Along the way, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema asked more than a dozen possible jurors whether their personal connections to the CIA or other intel agencies would interfere with her announced quest for an “absolutely open mind.”

From what I could tell, none of those with direct connections to intelligence agencies ended up in the jury box. But affinities with agencies like the CIA seemed implicit in the courtroom. Throughout the jury selection, there was scarcely a hint that activities of those agencies might merit disapproval.… Read the rest

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