Jeffrey Alexander Sterling

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Jeffrey Alexander Sterling is an American former CIA employee who was indicted, arrested, and charged with violating the Espionage Act for allegedly revealing details about Operation Merlin to journalist James Risen.[1]


Sterling earned a political science degree at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, in 1989. In 1992, he graduated from the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis.[2]

CIA employment[edit]

Sterling joined the CIA on 14 May 1993. In 1995, he became operations officer in the Iran task force of the CIA's Near East and South Asia division. He held a top secret security clearance and had access to sensitive compartmented information, including classified cables, CIA informants, and operations.

After training in Persian in 1997, he was sent first to Bonn, Germany, and two years later to New York City to recruit Iranian nationals as agents for the CIA as part of a secret intelligence operation involving Iran's weapons capabilities.[3] In April 2000, Sterling filed a complaint with the CIA's Equal Employment Office about management's alleged racial discrimination practices. The CIA subsequently revoked Sterling's authorization to receive or possess classified documents concerning the secret operation and placed him on administrative leave in March 2001.[4][5]

After the failure of two settlement attempts, his contract with the CIA was terminated on 31 January 2002.[6]

Equal Employment law suit[edit]

Sterling's lawsuit accusing CIA officials of racial discrimination was dismissed by the judge after the government successfully argued the state secrets privilege by alleging the litigation would require disclosure of classified information. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, ruling in 2005 that “there is no way for Sterling to prove employment discrimination without exposing at least some classified details of the covert employment that gives context to his claim.”[7][8][9][10]

Indictment and arrest under the Espionage Act[edit]

Between 2002 and 2004 the U.S. federal government intercepted several interstate emails to and from Sterling, which were "(...) routed through a server located in the Eastern District of Virginia (...)". The authorities also traced telephone calls between Sterling and—according to a senior government official[1]—the journalist and book author James Risen. In the intercepted communications Sterling allegedly revealed national defense information to an unauthorized person.[6]

On 22 Dec 2010, U.S. attorney Neil H. MacBride filed an indictment against Jeffrey Alexander Sterling on the Unlawful Retention and Unauthorized Disclosure of National Defense Information, Mail Fraud, Unauthorized Conveyance of Government Property, and Obstruction of Justice. Sterling was arrested on 6 January 2011.[6] Sterling became the fifth individual in the history of the United States who has been charged under the Espionage Act with mishandling national defense information.[2][11][12][13]

In a hearing at the U.S. District Court on 14 Jan 2011, Sterling's defense attorney Edward MacMahon entered a not guilty plea.[14][15] MacMahon reported to the court that he was still waiting for clearance to discuss the case in detail with his client.[16] Rather than relying exclusively on records of electronic communications to legally establish that Sterling exchanged information with Risen,[17] the prosecution has subpoenaed Risen to testify and reveal his journalistic sources,[18] an effort which Risen and his attorneys are contesting.[19][20]


Sterling earned a national 2010 Anti-Fraud Award from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association for helping break up a Medicare fraud ring, leading to estimated recoveries and savings of US$ 32 million.[2][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Isikoff, Michael (2011-01-06). "Ex-CIA Officer Charged with Leak to Reporter". NBC New York. Retrieved 2011-01-07. 
  2. ^ a b c Todd C. Frankel (23 January 2011). "Life away from CIA still tangled, lonely for indicted ex-spy". 
  3. ^ Risen, James (2002-03-02). "Fired by C.I.A., He Says Agency Practiced Bias". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  4. ^ Fields-Meyer, Thomas (2002-05-20). "Out in the Cold: Agent Jeffrey Sterling Charges the CIA with Racial Discrimination". People (Magazine). Retrieved 2011-01-11. 
  5. ^ "Former CIA Officer Arrested for Alleged Unauthorized Disclosure of National Defense Information and Obstruction of Justice". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2011-01-06. Retrieved 2011-01-08. 
  6. ^ a b c MacBride, Neil H. (2010-12-22). "United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, Defendant". In the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. Retrieved 2011-01-07. 
  7. ^ Northam, Jackie (2005-09-09). "Administration Employing State Secrets Privilege at Quick Clip". NPR. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  8. ^ "Supreme Court bars appeal of ex-CIA agent: African American former covert officer charged agency with bias". MSNBC. 2006-01-09. Retrieved 2011-01-11. 
  9. ^ "The CIA and control of 'insider tales'". ABC Radio National. 2006-04-25. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  10. ^ Taylor Jr., Stuart (2008-04-12). "Reforming the State Secrets Privilege". National Journal. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  11. ^ Shane, Scott (2010-04-16). "Former N.S.A. Official Is Charged in Leaks Case". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  12. ^ Scott Shane (11 June 2010). "Obama Takes a Hard Line Against Leaks to Press". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ "US war on whistleblowers grows". PressTV. 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2011-01-19. 
  14. ^ Cratty, Carol (2011-01-14). "Ex-CIA officer pleads not guilty in classified info case". CNN. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  15. ^ Isikoff, Michael (2011-02-25). "DOJ gets reporter's phone, credit card records in leak probe". MSNBC. 
  16. ^ "Ex-CIA officer pleads not guilty to leaking info". Forbes. 2011-01-14. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  17. ^ Liptak, Adam (February 11, 2012). "A High-Tech War on Leaks". New York Times. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  18. ^ Savage, Charlie (April 28, 2010). "U.S. Subpoenas Times Reporter Over Book on C.I.A.". New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2013. 
  19. ^ Aftergood, Steven (February 29, 2012). "There is No Reporter’s Privilege, Leak Prosecutors Insist". Federation of American Scientists Secrecy news. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  20. ^ Affidavit of James Risen, June 21, 2011 (with exhibits and attachments), Federation of American Scientsts, Sterling case files
  21. ^ Byron Hollis, Esq, CFE, AHFI (2010). "2010 Anti-Fraud Awards - Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia - Winning program: Medicare Advantage Private Fee for Service Fraud Scheme". BlueCross BlueShield Association. 

External links[edit]