Jeffrey Alexander Sterling
|Jeffrey A. Sterling|
|Born||Cape Girardeau, Missouri|
|Alma mater||Washington University School of Law, 1992
Millikin University, 1989
|Occupation||Fraud investigator (2004--his arrest in 2011)
Former undercover CIA officer (May 14, 1993--January 31, 2002)
Jeffrey Alexander Sterling is an American lawyer and former CIA employee who was arrested, charged, and convicted of violating the Espionage Act for revealing details about Operation Merlin to journalist James Risen. In May 2015, Sterling was sentenced to 3½ years in prison.
Early life and education
Sterling was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Sterling earned a political science degree at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, in 1989. In 1992, he graduated from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri as a Juris Doctor.
Sterling joined the CIA on May 14, 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. From early 1998 to May 2000, Sterling assumed responsibility as case officer for a Russian emigre with an engineering background in nuclear physics and production, whom the CIA employed as a carrier to pass flawed design plans to the Iranians.
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.
After the failure of two settlement attempts, his contract with the CIA was terminated on January 31, 2002.
Equal Employment lawsuit
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.”
Conviction under the Espionage Act
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—the journalist and book author James Risen. In the intercepted communications, Sterling allegedly revealed national defense information to an unauthorized person. In March 2003 Sterling also raised concerns with the Senate Intelligence Committee about a "poorly executed and dangerous Operation Merlin."
On December 22, 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 January 6, 2011. 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.
In a hearing at the U.S. District Court on January 14, 2011, Sterling's defense attorney, Edward MacMahon, entered a not guilty plea. MacMahon reported to the court that he was still waiting for clearance to discuss the case in detail with his client. Rather than relying exclusively on records of electronic communications to legally establish that Sterling exchanged information with Risen, the prosecution has subpoenaed Risen to testify and reveal his journalistic sources, an effort which Risen and his attorneys are contesting.
Sterling was convicted of espionage charges on January 26, 2015. Sentencing was originally scheduled for April 24, but after learning of the sentence of no more than two years’ probation plus a fine given one day earlier to David Petraeus for the felony of providing classified information to an unauthorized person, Sterling's lawyers submitted a plea that Sterling "not receive a different form of justice" than Petraeus, asking for a similarly lenient sentence instead of the 19 to 24 years imprisonment sought by the federal prosecutors. On May 11, 2015, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema sentenced Sterling to 3½ years in prison. Judge Brinkema said there was "no more critical secret" than revealing the identity of a man working with the CIA, and that Sterling deserved a harsher penalty than other recent leakers because he had not pleaded guilty or admitted wrongdoing. The judge said she was moved by his accomplishments but needed to send a message to others: "If you do knowingly reveal these secrets, there's going to be a price to be paid."
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.
- Nuclear program of Iran
- Thomas Andrews Drake (NSA whistleblower prosecuted under Espionage Act, 2010)
- Stephen Jin-Woo Kim (State Department contractor prosecuted under Espionage Act, 2010)
- Chilling effect
- Special to the Beacon (June 7, 2013). "Ex-CIA agent insists on innocence while his national security case is stuck in limbo". St. Louis Beacon. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
Jeffrey Sterling, born into a family of seven in Cape Girardeau, seemed to have made it. A top graduate of Millikin University and Washington University Law School, he then went to work as one of the few African-American CIA agents.
- Chad Garrison (January 7, 2011). "Jeffrey Sterling: Indictment States Ex-Spy in Missouri Had Grudge with CIA, Leaked Secrets". The Riverfront Times blog. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
Jeffrey Sterling, a 43-year-old resident of O'Fallon, Missouri, who now works as a fraud investigator with the health benefits company WellPoint, was arraigned yesterday in federal court in St. Louis accused of leaking state secrets to the media.
- Todd C. Frankel (January 23, 2011). "Life away from CIA still tangled, lonely for indicted ex-spy". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
- Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler (October 8, 2014). "The Government War Against Reporter James Risen". The Nation. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
In 2000, Sterling filed a discrimination complaint within the agency, asserting that he had been denied certain assignments because of his race. (Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American officers.)
- "Defendant's Opposition to Government's Motion for Pretrial Detention" (PDF). Politico. January 21, 2011. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
He has no criminal record whatsoever and is married to his wife Holly, who is a social worker. He lives modestly outside of Saint Louis, Missouri in O’Fallon. He owns his own home with his wife though it is mortgaged. Mr. Sterling is a graduate of Washington University in Saint Louis earning his JD in 1992.
- Isikoff, Michael (2011-01-06). "Ex-CIA Officer Charged with Leak to Reporter". NBC New York. Retrieved 2011-01-07.
- Matt Zapotosky (May 11, 2015). "Ex-CIA officer convicted in leak case sentenced to 3½ years in prison". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
- Todd C. Frankel (23 January 2011). "Life away from CIA still tangled, lonely for indicted ex-spy". stltoday.com.
- Risen, James (2002-03-02). "Fired by C.I.A., He Says Agency Practiced Bias". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- "USA v. Sterling 10 CIA Exhibits on Merlin Ruse" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 2015-01-14. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
- 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.
- "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.
- MacBride, Neil H. (2010-12-22). "United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, Defendant" (PDF). In the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. Retrieved 2011-01-07.
- Northam, Jackie (2005-09-09). "Administration Employing State Secrets Privilege at Quick Clip". NPR. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
- "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.
- "The CIA and control of 'insider tales'". ABC Radio National. 2006-04-25. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
- Taylor Jr., Stuart (2008-04-12). "Reforming the State Secrets Privilege". National Journal. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
- Solomon, Norman (2015-01-27). "The Invisible Man: Jeffrey Sterling, CIA Whistleblower". ExposeFacts.org. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
- Shane, Scott (2010-04-16). "Former N.S.A. Official Is Charged in Leaks Case". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
- Scott Shane (11 June 2010). "Obama Takes a Hard Line Against Leaks to Press". The New York Times.
- "US war on whistleblowers grows". PressTV. 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
- Cratty, Carol (2011-01-14). "Ex-CIA officer pleads not guilty in classified info case". CNN. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
- Isikoff, Michael (2011-02-25). "DOJ gets reporter's phone, credit card records in leak probe". MSNBC.
- "Ex-CIA officer pleads not guilty to leaking info". Forbes. 2011-01-14. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
- Liptak, Adam (February 11, 2012). "A High-Tech War on Leaks". New York Times. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
- Savage, Charlie (April 28, 2010). "U.S. Subpoenas Times Reporter Over Book on C.I.A.". New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- Aftergood, Steven (February 29, 2012). "There is No Reporter’s Privilege, Leak Prosecutors Insist". Federation of American Scientists Secrecy news. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
- Affidavit of James Risen, June 21, 2011 (with exhibits and attachments), Federation of American Scientsts, Sterling case files
- Apuzzo, Matt (January 26, 2015). "C.I.A. Officer in Leak Case, Jeffrey Sterling, Is Convicted of Espionage". The New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- Peter Maass (April 24, 2015). "Petraeus Gets Leniency for Leaking — and Risen’s CIA Source should too, his Lawyers say". The Intercept. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
- 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" (PDF). BlueCross BlueShield Association.
- Jeffrey Alexander Sterling at The Huffington Post
- CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison at Democracy Now!
- Sterling vs. Tenet, CIA, United States District Court, Southern District of New York, 2001
- Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. George Tenet, Director, Central Intelligence Agency, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, 2005
- Defendant’s Opposition to Government’s Motion for Pretrial Detention Case 1:10-cr-00485-LMB Document 17 Filed 01/21/11
- USA v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling: Selected Case Files fas.org