Obama Prosecutes another Whistleblower to Senate for “Espionage”

By John Kiriakou | (Foreign Policy in Focus)

Jeffrey Sterling learned the hard way that the feds will throw the book at anyone who embarrasses them.

Jeffrey Sterling recently stood before a judge as his sentence was read. The former CIA officer, the judge declared, would spend 42 months — that’s three and half years — behind bars. The feds had convicted Sterling on nine felony charges, including seven counts of espionage.

He didn’t sell secrets to the Russians. He didn’t trade intelligence for personal gain. He made no attempt to disrupt the American way of life.

What did he do, then?

He reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the CIA had botched an operation to feed false information about nuclear technology to Iran — and may have actually helped Iran’s enrichment program instead.

Largely based on this, the government accused Sterling of leaking details about the program to journalist James Risen, who wrote about it in his book State of War.

Even worse, the feds claimed that Sterling, who is black, did it out of resentment over a failed racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency — in effect using Sterling’s willingness to stand up for his rights against him.

There was no actual proof, though, that Sterling was Risen’s source. The only evidence the prosecution had against Sterling was metadata that showed he had spoken to Risen by phone.

There were no recordings, no messages, and no snitches to testify against him. For all we know, Sterling and Risen were talking about the weather. Was this guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? I think not.

Whatever the case, the worst Sterling can be accused of is exposing government failure and indiscretion. In that sense, he easily meets the legal definition of a whistleblower. Whatever information he exposed, he did it in the public interest.

But the Obama administration has abused whistleblowers. I know a little something about that myself — I was charged with three counts of espionage for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program several years ago.

If I hadn’t taken a plea deal, I could’ve been locked up for the rest of my life. I still had to endure nearly two years in a federal prison, followed by a few months of house arrest.

Sterling is the latest victim in this war on whistleblowing.

The message is clear: If you go public with evidence of government malfeasance, you must prepare yourself for the worst. The Justice Department will spend millions of taxpayer dollars to ruin you financially, personally, and professionally — and to make an example of you in the media.

And if you have the nerve to deny the charges and go to trial, the punishment will be even worse.

Sterling believed that if he could get in front of a jury and explain his side of the story, they’d see how ridiculous the entire case really was. But the government exercises such tight control over these cases that most juries would, as the saying goes, convict a baloney sandwich.

In a small sense, Sterling was lucky to get a 42-month sentence. The government had sought up to 24 years. To the judge’s credit, she recognized what one expert witness described as the government’s “overwrought hyperbole.”

And she was surely aware of the sweetheart deal — 18 months unsupervised probation and a fine — General David Petraeus recently landed. The former CIA director had given classified information, including the names of covert agents, to his lover — and then lied about it to the FBI.

In short, the Justice Department is meting out very little “justice” to whistleblowers. But if you’re part of the White House “in” crowd, you’ll get a pass.

I’m glad Sterling’s not going away for 20 years or more.

But the proper action would have been for the judge to send Sterling home to be with his wife, and castigate the Justice Department for wasting the court’s time — and the taxpayers’ money — on wrongheadedly prosecuting another whistleblower.

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and OtherWords.

John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now!: “Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out Upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison”

5 Responses

  1. BMorgan

    if this is accurate it is not the type of “change” the Dems were hoping for. Power corrupts.

  2. I don’t disagree that the heavyhanded treatment of government employees who become whistleblowers is a bad thing.
    It is essential to have such insiders to keep the government honest.
    But isn’t it historically more typical for outsiders to expose abuses of government positional authority ?
    That seems to be the bailiwick of a functioning free press.
    WaPo now has a link on their front page for an anonymous drop box, hinting they want to return to the ranks of the functioning free press. Sure, they’d love to get stuff from insiders there, too, but potential insiders mostly already have thought about how to spill their beans without getting found out.
    And one thing those insiders know is to NOT go through official channels, or go through the Agency IG, or Agency criminal investigation organizations,
    where the institutional culture and values tell those who work there to “protect the boss” and “go along to get along,” rather than expose and correct wrongdoing.
    And for Heaven’s sake, don’t tell the GAO, where the culture informs those hard-nosed auditors to pull their punches, lest the agencies they “investigate” stop inviting them back for jet rides.
    There was a time when I would have recommended getting this sort of information that exposes wrongdoing by an Executive Agency to a Congressional staffer.
    But today those staffers are all ferociously partisan and exclusively devoted to tearing down the other Party.
    When I was a young soldier, I served with draftees. Back then, there was plenty of pushback against stupid orders that came down.
    But as the draft went away, so did most of the independent thinking. In 1972, I personally knew about dozen guys who had complained about one thing or another to their Congressman, some admittedly frivilous.
    Today, I can only think of 2 uniformed heroes in the entire DOD who have tried to report war crimes, Manning and Bergdahl.
    This same culture of shielding the boss from accountability is now pervasive throughout the federal government. And the ubiquitous surveillance that exists primarily to protect government institutions, rather than American people or values, exists largely to warn anyone who might be thinking about stepping out of line.
    Now more than ever, we need citizens to sue their government in Federal Courts. Until that branch is compromised by big money, that is our best avenue for protecting the Constitution.

  3. Obama is such a disappointment, on so many fronts. This business represents his absolute worst, lining up with the worst of the government goons- who do belong in Federal prison- against the true patriot heroes of our time. Of course the Bushies are “worse”, in terms of policy- but not in terms of morality: Obama’s betrayal of so much he supposedly stood for will be a permanent stain on his name and his Presidency. That NSA metadata was used to go after Sterling proves the complete and utter moral corruption of the Obama administration, with its willingness to twist and pervert “anti-terror” resources for political ends.

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