For 7 Years, FBI Defied Law for Seeking a Person’s Records Under Patriot Act

Screen shot 2015-05-21 at 1.34.18 PM

A Justice Department inspector general’s report shows that for seven years the Federal Bureau of Investigation violated statutory law designed to restrict the agency’s surveillance power. During this period, the agency sought individuals’ records under the business records provision of the PATRIOT Act without adopting proper “minimization procedures” to protect privacy of US persons.

The FBI’s use of orders under Section 215 between 2007 and 2009 was examined by the inspector general. Whether the FBI complied with recommendations the inspector general made back in March 2008.

Section 215 makes it possible for the government to obtain “any tangible things,” such as books, records and other items from a business, organization or entity. They are supposed to be “relevant” to an “authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a US person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” But the standard for relevance is very low.

The Section 215 provision is set to expire on June 1, and, as Senator Rand Paul comprehensively outlined while he held the Senate floor for over ten hours, there are many reasons to not reauthorize the provision. This report, which was completed eleven months ago but is dated May 2015, adds substantially to those reasons.

Under the PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, the law required that certain “minimization procedures” be adopted to ensure the handling of US persons’ data was done appropriately. It was not until March 7, 2013, that the Attorney General and the Justice Department officially incorporated these procedures into requests for records. (Marcy Wheeler points out the Justice Department did not actually fully comply with legally required procedures until after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed information.)

“The Attorney General’s and the [Justice] Department’s actions came 7 years after such procedures were required by the Reauthorization Act and 5 years after we concluded the interim procedures in 2006 were deficient,” the inspector general’s report [PDF] indicates.

In an understatement, the inspector general declares that the Justice Department “should have met its statutory obligation considerably earlier than March 2013.”

The report suggests that FBI personnel have made “strategic use of the legislative and technological changes by broadening the scope of materials sought in applications. Section 215 authority is not limited to requesting information related to the known subjects of specific underlying investigations. The authority is also used in investigations of groups comprised of unknown members and to obtain information in bulk concerning persons who are not the subjects of or associated with any FBI investigation.”

That seems hugely significant. FBI personnel are permitted to request records of persons who are not subjects of underlying investigations. The FBI uses the PATRIOT Act to request records on people when they do not even have an FBI investigation into those individuals.

FBI personnel with authorized access are apparently permitted to engage in some action involving records, which the Justice Department believes must keep secret. This action is used to determine whether records “reasonably appear to be foreign intelligence information, necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime.”

National Security Division attorneys in the Justice Department and FBI case agents provided the inspector general with a “range of examples of material that would qualify under this criteria.” It is impossible for the public to know what this means because the Justice Department had it censored in the report.

Another term the FBI has conjured to expand its surveillance powers is “investigative value.” This is a term the inspector general discovered the FBI had introduced for allowing case agents “unconnected with the underlying investigation access to material received in response” to a Section 215 order. However, what “investigative value” means to the FBI and just how it stretches the boundaries of what the agency is authorized to do is anyone’s guess because, again, the agency’s definition is censored in the released report.

The “type of information that is categorized as metadata will likely continue to evolve and expand,” the report acknowledges. The FBI is obtaining “large collections of metadata,” which is data about the records but not the exact content from the records themselves. “Electronic communication transaction information” and two other types of data, which the FBI does not want the public to know about, are being sought through this provision of the PATRIOT Act. (more…)

Obama Signed Bill to Help Protect Police From Threats, However, Police Are Not Under Attack in America

Obama signs "Blue Alert" system bill

President Barack Obama signed legislation that creates a “Blue Alert” system for law enforcement in the United States. It establishes a network for alerting police expeditiously when there are “active threats” against police. However, police are not under attack and have not been under attack in the US, despite recent tragic deaths of officers.

The passage of this legislation is the product of the continued exploitation of the deaths of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were killed by a mentally ill black man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, on December 20. It provided a sensational example of an ambush killing that local and national police associations could seize upon to undercut the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which has been drawing attention to police violence directed at black Americans.

It also is one of the first recommended “action items” by Obama’s appointed police “task force” to be implemented. In contrast to many of the policy suggestions, this does nothing to reform police but rather reinforces the false presumption that police face some kind of threat because of increased opposition to police conduct.

“Leveraging the current Amber Alert program used to locate abducted children, the Blue Alert would enlist the help of the public in finding suspects after a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty,” the report recently released by the “task force” indicates. “Some similar state systems do exist, but there are large gaps, a national system is needed. In addition to aiding the apprehension of suspects, it would send a message about the importance of protecting law enforcement from undue harm.”

Except, there is no debate in the United States. Just about all citizens agree that law enforcement should not face “undue harm.” Far fewer, unfortunately, agree that strong measures should be taken to protect people of color from “undue harm” from law enforcement.

The bipartisan legislation, named after Ramos and Liu, establishes that a system will send out alerts when an officer is seriously injured or killed. The system will send out an alert when an officer is missing. “At the time of receipt of death,” the suspect should be “wanted by a law enforcement agency.” The suspect should not have already been apprehended. There should be “sufficient descriptive information of the suspect involved and any relevant vehicle and tag numbers.”

More problematic is the fact that an alert will go out when there is an “imminent and credible threat” that “an individual intends to cause the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer.”

The criteria for sending out this type of “blue alert” includes “confirmation” that a threat is “imminent and credible.” How threats are to be confirmed is not outlined in the legislation.

Ashley Yates, co-founder of Millennial Activists United and an activist who was part of protests in the immediately after Mike Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, declared, “I am absolutely disheartened and honestly terrified,” by the “Blue Alert” bill President Obama signed. Yates worries it could be used by police to suppress protest.

She fears that the system will “encourage vigilantes and place possibly innocent ‘suspects’ in serious danger” because “you only need to be suspected to get blasted out via this system. There is a grave potential for mistaken identity and false accusations.” (Yates shared this harrowing story of 23-year-old Cornell McKay, who was falsely accused by St. Louis police of being involved in a robbery that ended in a murder. Authorities insisted he was responsible, even as it became evident there was evidence McKay was never involved in the robbery.)

The “Amber Alert” system is now capable of sending alerts to millions of cell phone users. It has a page on Facebook, which makes it possible for users to share alerts about missing children. Will the “Blue Alert” system harness technology in this same manner? And what information about suspects will be in any public alerts?

How will citizens be certain that this system will not be manipulated to undermine protests explicitly directed at police departments by hyping threats (as happened in Baltimore when police wrongly attributed violence to a flier urging teens to take part in a “purge”).

What if someone sends an angry tweet that police construe as a “threat” against police? How might that be put into the “Blue Alert” system and what might the effect on freedom of expression be?

More significantly, as writer Ryan Dalton stated, “Police are not being systematically targeted and murdered in America. Black people are.”

No statistics come close to supporting the notion that police are under attack and in need of urgent protection. (more…)

Government Seeks ‘Emergency Stay’ of Decision Ordering Release of Thousands of Torture Photos

The United States government requested an “emergency stay” of a federal court decision, which ordered thousands of photographs of detainee abuse and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan to be released.

In March, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court of the Southern District of New York was no longer willing to tolerate the government’s secrecy arguments or the government’s refusal to individually review each photo and explain why each photo would pose a national security risk if made public.

The judge immediately issued a temporary stay and gave the government 60 days to file an appeal.

With that 60-day period about to elapse, the government abruptly announced it would appeal on May 15 and filed a motion requesting a stay.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has pursued the release of records related to detainee treatment and “the death of prisoners in United States custody and abroad after September 11, 2001,” since October 2003, objected in a letter to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals [PDF].

“The government simply does not explain why it could not have made its decision long before the eve of the expiration of the stay granted by the district court,” the ACLU declares. “Its last minute decision to do so is abusive of both the court and counsel and should not be rewarded by the routine grant of this kind of motion which the government expressly seeks.”

Back in August, when Hellerstein ruled that the Secretary of Defense’s certification for keeping the photos secret was “inadequate,” the government was instructed to individually review the photographs and inform the court of why each photograph could not be released. Government attorneys rebuffed his request.

In October and February, the court reminded the government that the Secretary of Defense had to certify each picture “in terms of its likelihood or not to endanger American lives.” It explained again afterward that the government could not certify a mass of photographs as a risk to national security. The government never complied, which led to the judge’s decision in March.

The Protected National Security Documents Act (PNSDA) was passed in October 2009 to amend the Freedom of Information Act. It was the prime measure supported by President Barack Obama to ensure torture photographs remained secret.

The law established that “photographs could be made exempt from disclosure for a three-year certification by the Secretary of Defense to the effect that publication would endanger American lives.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked President Barack Obama not to release photographs of detainees abuse, for “fear of the consequences.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates filed a certification to prevent the release of photographs and the court upheld that certification.

Three years later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta renewed the certification, even though US troops had withdrawn and the war in Iraq had been declared over. (Military operations against ISIS were not ongoing at the time.)

The ACLU points out in the letter to the judge, “PNSDA did not strip courts of the power to review the basis for the secretary’s suppression of otherwise public documents.” The Secretary of Defense “must provided some basis to believe that he reviewed each photograph and evaluated its individual risk in advance of certification.”

Only a “sample of photographs” were ever reviewed by the government for this lawsuit, and the ACLU argues an “emergency stay” should not be granted because the government is not likely to succeed in its appeal.

The government maintains in its motion that an “emergency stay” will cause minimal harm to the ACLU. On the other hand, no stay will mean the photographs are released and the “status quo” is destroyed. It will harm the ability of the government to appeal.

“The absence of a stay will cause the disclosure of records that the Secretary of Defense has certified to be exempt from disclosure under the PNSDA, a statute that was enacted by Congress in order to protect U.S. citizens, members of the US Armed Services, and US government employees from harm while overseas,” the government argues. (more…)

Obama Task Force Recommends Array of Measures to Curb Warrior Mindset Among Police

Screen shot 2015-05-18 at 4.36.54 PM

A task force on policing setup by President Barack Obama issued its report and a number of the recommendations appear to be geared toward reducing the warrior mindset adopted by officers in police departments throughout the United States.

Obama appointed a task force to review police practices in December after demonstrations against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, spread throughout the nation. It was his administration’s attempt to tamp down some of the outrage toward police and channel it into some kind of constructive change in government policies, despite the reality that police who killed unarmed black men were still escaping prosecution.

Charles Ramsey, former Philadelphia police commissioner and chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, and former assistant attorney general Laurie Robinson chaired the task force. The task force heard from law enforcement, community activists and young people when they were conducting the review.

The task force report [PDF] recommends that law enforcement take multiple noteworthy actions, which have led multiple media organizations to report that this is Obama’s push to demilitarize police departments.

Police are urged to develop procedures for responses to “mass demonstrations that prioritize de-escalation and a guardian mindset.” The federal government is urged to “create a mechanism” to investigate complaints and issue sanctions when equipment and tactics are “inappropriately” used during “mass demonstrations.”

Remarkably, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) and the US government just reached a $2.2. million settlement that includes reforms, which the US Park Police will follow when handling demonstrations.

The settlement stems from an incident on September 27, 2022, where nearly 400 protesters, tourists, bystanders, legal observers and passers-by” were arrested, according to PCJF. DC Metropolitan Police and the US Park Police “encircled Pershing Park, refused to let anyone leave, and then mass arrested everyone who happened to be present and trapped by law enforcement in the park. Many were held bound wrist to ankle in stress-and-duress positions on a police gym floor for upwards of 24 hours.” (Charles Ramsey, who chaired the task force, was in command.)

Police adopted policies to prohibit “the use of police lines to encircle protesters and demonstrations.” Officers must have “probable cause” for a protester to be arrested. At least three warnings to disperse must be given prior to “any lawful arrests.” They are not to engage in “group sweeps” anymore. Exits for protesters should be identified by police so that protesters can comply with dispersal orders if they do not want to be arrested. Warnings to disperse must be at least two minutes apart and “audible throughout the crowd.”

These policies are very similar to the policies for “mass demonstrations” recommended by the task force.

Professor Edward Maguire, who is in the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology at American University, submitted written testimony, “When officers line up in a military formation while wearing full protective gear, their visual appearance may have a dramatic influence on how the crowd perceives them and how the event ends.” His statement was incorporated into the task force report along with a recommendation to “remove riot gear as soon as practical.”

The federal government will no longer provide “armored vehicles that run on a tracked system instead of wheels, weaponized aircraft or vehicles, firearms or ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, grenade launchers, bayonets or camouflage uniforms,” according to the Chicago Tribune.” It will, however, permit the continued use of armored “Humvees, manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets, and shields”—but with more controls.

The task force recommends that police “embrace a culture of transparency.” Department polices should be public and departments should “regularly post on the department’s website information about stops, summonses, arrests, reported crime, and other law enforcement data aggregated by demographics.” (more…)

Podcast: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling & the Government’s Campaign to Silence Him

Screen shot 2015-05-17 at 10.22.11 AMFormer CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for leaking to a journalist. It was the longest sentenced issued under President Barack Obama’s administration by a federal court as punishment for a leak.

During a trial in January, he was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses. The government convinced a jury, with largely circumstantial evidence, that Sterling had leaked information about a top secret CIA operation in Iran called “Operation Merlin” to New York Times reporter James Risen, who later published details on the operation in a chapter of his book, State of War. (“Operation Merlin” involved the passage of flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in order to get them to work on building a nuclear weapon that would never function.)

The government pushed hard for Sterling to be sentenced to prison as long as 19 to 24 years.

This week on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast Jesselyn Radack is the show’s guest. Radack is the director of the National Security and Human Rights Division of the Government Accountability Project. She has represented a number of prominent whistleblowers, such as Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, and, currently, Edward Snowden. She is also a Justice Department whistleblower.

During the interview, Radack discusses Sterling’s sentence and compares his case to recent leak prosecutions. She highlights how he is a whistleblower and highlights the personal toll that a prosecution like this can take on a person. She reacts to some notable statements Sterling made in his first interview, which was produced by the advocacy organization, Expose Facts. In the final portion of the interview, Radack reacts to the ridiculous letter to the Times from former CIA directors, including some who leaked the names of covert agents. They lecture the Times on the need to protect the names of CIA officials involved in the drone program.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

The episode can also be heard by clicking “play” on the below player:

(more…)

Preemptive Prosecution: Iraqi American Arrested by FBI for Allegedly Lying About ‘Pledging Allegiance’ to ISIS Leader

J. Edgar Hoover Building - FBI Headquarters

An Iraqi-born US citizen in Mesquite, Texas, was arrested by the FBI for allegedly lying to agents about whether he had pledged allegiance to the “self-proclaimed” leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A federal judge ruled a day later that he is a “danger to the community” and must remain in jail.

One CNN report suggests this is an example of the government adopting a new and more aggressive stance in the aftermath of an attack on the Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. Agents are taking “possible threats off the streets, instead of waiting longer to monitor and build an investigation against suspects.”

Yet, as in most FBI cases involving alleged terrorism suspects, this again seems like a preemptive prosecution, where an individual has been targeted because of his beliefs, ideology or religious affiliations that raise concerns for the government. It is a law enforcement practice that resembles practices that were relied upon by the FBI during the days of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO.

There is absolutely no evidence presented in a filed criminal complaint to suggest that Bilal Abood was plotting a terrorist attack. He is not accused of having weapons. The complaint lacks any evidence to suggest he was communicating with anyone in the Islamic State. However, he has been criminalized as if he is a terrorist.

The FBI appears to have started to spy on Abood as early as March 2013.

On March 29 of that year, the FBI claims he attempted to board a flight to join the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the Free Syrian Army. He was not allowed to travel, and, when FBI agents questioned him, he allegedly told agents he had only planned to visit family in Iraq.

What reasonable suspicion existed to stop Abood? That is not included in the criminal complaint.

On April 29, the FBI did not stop him when he traveled through Mexico and various other countries to get to Turkey.

Abood returned to the US on September 15. The FBI questioned him again. He allegedly admitted he traveled to Syria through Turkey and stated he had gone to Syria to fight with the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in a Free Syrian Army camp. But he denied that he had provided any “financial support” to the al-Nusrah Front or the Islamic State.

The FBI had his computer seized months later. Agents reviewed the contents on July 9, 2014. It allegedly revealed that he had “pledged an oath” to al-Baghdadi and viewed videos of Islamic State “atrocities such as beheadings” on the internet, according to the complaint.

Abood also allegedly used his Twitter account to “tweet and retweet information on al-Baghdadi.”

“I pledge obedience to the Caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Here we renew our pledge to the Caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi come on supporter where is the pledger,” Abood allegedly tweeted on June 19, 2014

FBI agents arrived at his home on April 14, 2015, nearly nine months after a review of his computer was conducted. The agents allegedly asked Abood if he knew it was a crime to lie to an FBI agent. Abood answered yes. Abood was then asked if he had pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Abood denied ever pledging allegiance and, since agents have a tweet suggesting he has pledged allegiance, the agents knew they had managed to get Abood to commit a crime.

But what made Abood an FBI target in the first place?

About the time that the FBI was spying on Abood’s movements the CIA was reportedly sending shipments of arms to Syrian rebel groups, like the Free Syrian Army. It seems preposterous for the US government to criminalize someone for showing interest in a foreign militant group backed by the US government.

The complaint indicates there was an informant involved. The informant allegedly reported that Abood was watching “al Qaeda videos on social media, along with videos about the creation of [the Islamic State].” He allegedly wanted to “help build the Islamic State.”

How was Abood planning to do that from a small city in Texas?

There are clear implications for freedom of expression if these statements are going to be enough in this country to criminalize and prosecute someone like they are a terrorist.

Abood’s girlfriend, Barbara Strebeck, has spoken out since the FBI arrested him. She claims the FBI retaliated against him because they requested he become a “spy” for them when he was planning to travel to Syria. He refused to be their informant.

She told a local CBS affiliate that Abood traveled to Syria because he was “curious about what was going on.” She defended him saying she has been with him for five years and he loves her and her kids and grandkids.

Strebeck insists the FBI setup Abood and that the “laptops federal authorities seized were only used to play video games, not to recruit” for the Islamic State.

What Strebeck and the FBI might agree upon is that of the active “cases” the FBI file, Abood was one of the best cases available to get a quick arrest and make it seem like the FBI was being appropriately vigilant in the aftermath of the attempted attack in Garland.

The public has no exact quotes said by Abood during any of the encounters with FBI agents; just a summary included in the criminal complaint.

Although there is still much to be learned about Abood’s case and how he came to be an FBI target, it fits a pattern where Muslim Americans are asked to be government informants and if they refuse they are coerced by being put on the watchlists, like the No Fly List. They become surveillance targets and eventually may even become the target of a sting operation, where they are induced to plan a terrorist attack so the FBI can claim they are keeping Americans safe from terrorism.

Creative Commons Licensed Photo from Flickr by cliff1066

Amidst Media Backlash, Key Part of Seymour Hersh’s Report on bin Laden Killing Corroborated

3593316910_306c41586f_o

A media backlash against investigative journalist Seymour Hersh for his report on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has fueled a perception that it has been wholly discredited. Yet, a key part of Hersh’s report has been corroborated by the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, a Pakistan newspaper, and partly by NBC News.

Hersh reported a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, who was the CIA station chief in the US embassy, and offered to provide information on where bin Laden was located in return for reward money offered in 2001. The CIA did not find bin Laden by spying on his couriers but uncovered his whereabouts because Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, had him essentially on house arrest since 2006.

Gall writes, “Hersh appears to have succeeded in getting both American and Pakistani sources to corroborate it. His sources remain anonymous, but other outlets such as NBC News have since come forward with similar accounts. Finally, the Pakistani daily newspaper The News reported Tuesday that Pakistani intelligence officials have conceded that it was indeed a walk-in who provided the information on Bin Laden. The newspaper names the officer as Brigadier Usman Khalid; the reporter is sufficiently well connected that he should be taken seriously.” Khalid was promised reward money as well as “US citizenship with a new identity.”

“It is the strongest indication to date that the Pakistani military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts and that it was complicit in hiding a man charged with international terrorism and on the United Nations sanctions list,” Gall concludes.

Gall, whose previous reporting on bin Laden is referenced in the beginning of Hersh’s story, shares, “When I was researching my book, I learned from a high-level member of the Pakistani intelligence service that the ISI had been hiding bin Laden and ran a desk specifically to handle him as an intelligence asset. After the book came out, I learned more: that it was indeed a Pakistani Army brigadier — all the senior officers of the ISI are in the military — who told the CIA where bin Laden was hiding, and that bin Laden was living there with the knowledge and protection of the ISI.”

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto followed up after NBC News published their report. He asked sources if the US ever paid out a $25 million reward for bin Laden’s capture. Sciutto’s sources told him that some “small payments” were made to Pakistanis, “who helped track the SUV to bin Laden’s courier.” No source told Sciutto that anyone received a $25 million reward.

This does not disprove the main aspects of the story. It is possible he never was paid $25 million and received a smaller reward. Hersh says he was paid in “various chunks.” And, significantly, NBC News’ sources said an asset was paid reward money by the CIA. (more…)

In First Interview, CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Says Congressional Staffer Urged Him to Flee

In his first interview since he was charged with leaking details of a botched CIA operation to New York Times reporter James Risen, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling says that he had a meeting with a staffer for Congressman William Lacy Clay and was urged to flee the United States.

Sterling, who worked as an African American case officer, was found guilty by a jury of committing multiple Espionage Act offenses when he exposed information about “Operation Merlin,” which involved passing flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in order to get the country to work on building a nuclear weapon that would never function.

He left the CIA in 2002 and brought a claim against the CIA alleging racial discrimination. He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 2005. However, the government successfully had the case thrown out by invoking the “state secrets” privilege. The government has maintained that he leaked details about Operation Merlin in revenge for his discrimination lawsuit being dismissed.

Sterling was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on May 11. It is the longest sentence issued by a federal court during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Expose Facts, an advocacy organization that has mobilized support for Sterling, conducted an interview with Sterling, which aired on “Democracy Now!”.

Sterling recalls receiving information that there was a “possible leak of information” and “everyone” was “pointing a finger” at him. He needed to find some help.

He went to a local congressman, Clay, and one of his staff members looked at him and told him he should “just leave the country.” That hurt Sterling because the staff member was a black man working for a black representative and they were telling him not to stand up for his civil rights.

“You don’t run away. You stand up for yourself,” Sterling declares.

Sterling and his wife, Holly, describe what happened after Risen published details about “Operation Merlin” in a chapter of his book, State of War, in 2006. FBI agents came to their door.

“They flew me out to Virginia, and I went to FBI headquarters and was interrogated for seven hours,” Holly recalls. “And then, the next day they surrounded the home actually. They just went methodically through the home. They went to my family. They went to my employer. It’s incredibly intrusive and incredibly disturbing. You’re whole sense of security in your home and privacy was violated.”

Jeffrey mentions that he thought he would be arrested. He was not, and it was not until more than four years later that he was charged on January 6, 2011. At that point, he was arrested.

The trial started very soon after and was delayed as the government sought testimony from Risen. Sterling expresses how it bothered him that he was the defendant being prosecuted and the press transformed the case into the “Risen case,” which meant there was little discussion about how the government was going after him.

Sterling says that he is still “in shock” about the fact that he was found guilty by a jury. He adds that the government shut him up with his discrimination case, and “they’ve closed the door with the criminal case.” (more…)

Former CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Jail for Leaking to Journalist

Jeffrey Sterling (Photo by Institute for Public Accuracy)

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for leaking information to a journalist. It was the longest sentence issued by a federal court during President Barack Obama’s administration.

During a trial in January, the government convinced a jury, with largely circumstantial evidence, that Sterling leaked information about a top secret CIA operation in Iran called “Operation Merlin” to New York Times reporter James Risen, who published details on the operation in a chapter of his book, State of War. “Operation Merlin” involved the passage of flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in order to get them to work on building a nuclear weapon that would never function.

He was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses. The government had argued a sentence ranging from 19.5 to 24 years in prison would be reasonable.

Judge Leonie Brinkema, according to Times reporter Matt Apuzzo, said Sterling had “jeopardized the safety of a CIA informant.” And, “Of all the types of secrets kept by American intelligence officers, she said, ‘This is the most critical secret.’”

“If you knowingly reveal these secrets, there’s going to be a price to be paid,” Brinkema added. Sterling had to be punished in order to send a message to other officials, who might consider revealing these kinds of secrets.

Still, Brinkema did not issue a sentence that advocates for Sterling had feared might be issued against him.

“This is the least worst outcome,” Jesselyn Radack, director of the Government Accountability Project’s National Security and Human Rights division, declared. “I expected it to be worse given the huge amount of time that the government was requesting. That said, in my opinion, any jail time is excessive in light of the sweetheart plea deal that [David] Petraeus received for leaking classified information to his mistress.”

Sterling’s defense had argued [PDF] that the court could not “turn a blind eye to the positions the government has taken in similar cases.”

The government agreed to sentence Petraeus to two years of probation and a fine of $40,000 (which the judge hearing the case increased to $100,000). It was lenient considering the fact that Petraeus leaked “Black Books” containing the names of covert officers, war strategy notes, discussions from high level National Security Council meetings and notes from his meetings with President Barack Obama. He also lied to the FBI but was not charged with perjury or obstruction of justice. And the government allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation instead of a violation of the Espionage Act.

“Sterling should not receive a different form of justice than General Petraeus,” Edward MacMahon Jr. suggested. (more…)

Hersh Tells CNN’s Chris Cuomo ‘Not Out on Limb’ with bin Laden Story

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh appeared on CNN’s “New Day” this morning and host Chris Cuomo had Hersh defend his major story in the London Review of Books on lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Hersh told Cuomo he was not “out on a limb” with this one. That is just what Cuomo thinks.

“Look, I’m sorry this goes against the grain. I’ve been doing this all my life. All I can tell you is I understand the consequences. I’ve been a reporter for fifty years in this town. I have a lot of good stories,” Hersh explained.

Cuomo asked, “What is the main reason why this would be a lie? Why would it be covered up if it was really just a cooperative agreement with Pakistan? Where’s the motive?”

“Motive is very simple,” Hersh replied. A “walk-in,” an officer from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, wanted the $25 million reward money the CIA offered for information leading to the whereabouts of bin Laden. He was willing to betray his country for the reward.

The alternative to this story, Hersh suggested, is that you believe “what I call a Lewis Carroll fairy tale, that bin Laden, the most hunted man since 2002 in the wolrd, decided a safe place to live is in a compound forty miles from the main capital of Pakistan.”

On this point, Cuomo agreed that this had always been a “point of intrigue.”

Cuomo claimed on air that Hersh had leaned heavily on one anonymous source. Hersh took issue with that characterization.

On sources for his story, he argued, “It’s very tough for guys still inside to get quoted extensively. And there are other people—America uses an awful lot of retired CIA people, military people in the War on Terror. And there are other people, who have retired with a great deal of information. So, it’s much easier to quote some of them than somebody on active duty.”

Hersh’s interview happened before the White House described the claims in his investigative story as “baseless assertions.”

For more on media reaction to Hersh’s bin Laden story, go here.