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.

US Establishment Press Dismiss, Shrug Off Seymour Hersh’s Story on Killing of bin Laden

(update below)

Most distressing about investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s story on the lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden is the general reaction of the United States establishment press.

Hersh is an award-winning journalist best known for exposing the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War. It earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He also did stellar reporting on the abuse and torture of detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, most establishment press seem to be shrugging at Hersh’s latest 10,000-word feature story published by the London Review of Books or they are snidely dismissing it altogether.

Is it because most in the US press wholly accept the narrative put forward by the Obama administration around the raid that killed bin Laden? Is it because they have moved on and no longer find it worthy to investigate what really happened? Is it because they do not want to believe what Hersh is alleging because it amounts to a major international espionage conspiracy if it all happens to be true?

Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger already went to the trouble to list off each allegation against the Obama administration that is made in Hersh’s story. So, courtesy of Frizzelle:

• Pakistani officials knew about the raid and even helped the US pull it off.

• There never was a firefight, neither in the yard outside the house nor once the Seals got inside.

• The story of the courier whom the reportedly CIA traced, leading them to bin Laden, was a fabrication.

• The story of the courier dying in the firefight was a cover-up “because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him,” a retired senior intelligence official told Hersh.

• The way the CIA actually found out where bin Laden was is that a “Pakistani walk-in” who wanted the $25 million reward came in and told the CIA about it.

• Osama bin Laden was not armed, contrary to reports that he had a machine gun and was killed in a firefight, and he was not killed with just one or two bullets but “obliterated.”

• “Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen,” that same retired senior intelligence official said.

• “Despite all the talk” about what the Seals collected on site, the retired official said there were “no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks.”

• The story about bin Laden’s sea burial may be a fabrication.

• The retired official told Hersh that bin Laden’s “remains, including his head… were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains—or so the Seals claimed.”

• Obama was going to wait a week until after bin Laden’s death to announce it, and he was going to tell the American people that bin Laden had been killed by a drone, but after the Seals had to blow up their malfunctioning helicopter onsite, attracting attention locally, everything changed.

• The story about the vaccination program carried out locally in an attempt to get bin Laden’s DNA—a story that “led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying”—wasn’t true.

• Retired official again: “It’s a great hoax.”

What are Hersh’s sources for these claims against the Obama administration?

Hersh relies on a “major US source” who is not named in the story. The person is described as a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” He also sources his claims to two additional unnamed US sources, “who had access to corroborating information” and have been “longtime consults to the Special Operations Command.”

He writes that he received information from “inside Pakistan” that indicates “senior ISI and military leadership” were upset with Obama’s decision to immediately go public with the news that bin Laden was killed. He also quotes Asad Durrani, who was the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, in the 1990s.

One of the key criticisms of Hersh’s story is that it relies on anonymous sources. However, should this criticism be allowed to invalidate the claims put forward by Hersh? (more…)

Podcast: Omar Khadr’s Newfound Freedom Amidst ‘Sea of Demonization’ in Canada

Janice Williamson
Janice Williamson
Omar Khadr, who was once one of the youngest prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, was released on bail in Canada on Thursday. He said of his newfound freedom that what he was experiencing was “much better” than he had thought it would be.

On this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” episode, Janice Williamson, editor of the book, Omar Khadr: Oh Canada, and a professor at the University of Alberta, joins the show to talk about the release of Khadr from Canadian jail. She reflects on his past history, from his experiences as one of the youngest people imprisoned at Guantanamo to his newfound freedom as the man he is now. She also highlights the “sea of demonization” fueled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has pushed counterterrorism measures in government that are inspired by anti-Muslim racism.

Khadr suffered torture at the hands of the United States military, which captured him on the battlefield in Afghanistan. He was willing to plead guilty to anything in order to get out of Guantanamo and confessed in 2010 that he threw a grenade, which killed an American soldier, so he would be transferred to Canada.

In 2012, Khadr was brought to Canada where he was jailed to serve his sentence for pleading guilty to committing this war crime. It set a dangerous precedent because he was a child on a battlefield and numerous advocates for child soldiers condemned the fact that the US sought to hold Khadr accountable.

Khadr’s lawyers have appealed his conviction in the US. Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government intends to fight to put Khadr back in jail, he is expected to remain free during his appeal.

During the discussion portion, the show’s hosts, Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola, talk about a reparations ordinance that passed in Chicago for police torture survivors, Israel’s parliament becoming even more virulently right-wing and openly supportive of violence, and two federal appeals court decisions of significance. One involves three activists having their Sabotage Act convictions reversed, and the other involves the NSA phone records collection surveillance program being ruled unlawful.

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:

Federal Appeals Court Reverses Nun & Army Veterans’ Sabotage Act Convictions

Transform Now Three (Photo from Transform Now Plowshares)

A federal appeals court has reversed convictions in the case of an 85-year-old nun and two Army veterans, who broke into a United States government facility holding weapons-grade uranium, and called for nuclear weapons to be transformed into “real life-giving alternatives to build true peace.”

The activists’ sentences were vacated, and the appeals court ordered a lower court to re-sentence them.

On June 28, 2012, Megan Rice, a nun, and Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, both veterans, cut through multiple fences around the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The activists were able to get to a Department of Energy building with enriched uranium. “There the trio spray-painted antiwar slogans, hung crime tape and banners with biblical phrases, splashed blood, and sang hymns,” according to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision [PDF].

The activists struck the building with small hammers, and their action effectively delayed a shipment that was supposed to arrive that afternoon.

Initially, the government charged the activists with trespassing and “injuring government property. When they refused to plead guilty, prosecutors essentially made a vindictive move and charged them with “violating the peacetime provision of the Sabotage Act,” which “Congress enacted during World War II.”

“That provision applies only if the defendant acted ‘with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense,’ and authorizes a sentence of up to 20 years,” the appeals court explained. “A jury convicted the defendants on the sabotage count and the injury-to-property count.”

The activists argued that they had no intent to violate the Sabotage Act and could not have violated this law. The federal appeals court agreed.

By using the Sabotage Act to prosecute a nun and two Army veterans who dared to engage in an act of nonviolent resistance against nuclear weapons, the government sought to accuse them of planning to interfere with the ability of the government to maintain national security.

“No rational jury could find that the defendants had that intent when they cut the fences; they did not cut them to allow al Qaeda to slip in behind,” the appeals court declared. “Nor could a rational jury find that the defendants had that intent when they engaged in their protest activities outside the [Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility].”

True, their ultimate goal in engaging in those activities was to advance the cause of disarmament, by persuading Y-12’s employees to abandon their pursuits there. But “the ultimate end” that “compel[s] the defendant to act . . . is more properly labeled a ‘motive.’” Kabat, 797 F.2d at 587. And the defendants’ immediate purpose in hanging the banners themselves, and in otherwise erecting their shrine outside the HEUMF, was simply to protest.

Such a conclusion is a huge victory for activists, because it means the government cannot stand in court and equate an act of protest with sabotage without evidence of motive.

The appeals court also rejected the idea that the defendants meant to interfere with the national defense by creating “bad publicity” for the facility.

“First Amendment issues aside, it takes more than bad publicity to injure the national defense,” the appeals court concisely declared. (more…)

US Government’s Legal Theory for Dragnet Surveillance Programs Invalidated by Federal Appeals Court Decision

ACLU graphic created to celebrate the Second Circuit appeals court’s decision

When a federal appeals court ruled that the United States government’s telephone metadata program was illegal, it did not only call attention to how Congress had not authorized the massive surveillance program exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It also acknowledged that the legal theory the government relied upon to defend the program is significantly flawed. In doing so, it invalidated the government’s rationale for maintaining any and all of its dragnet surveillance programs in the “war on terrorism.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the government after it was revealed that the government operated a surveillance program under the PATRIOT Act, where the phone records of millions of Americans are collected and stored by the NSA. It argued that the “blanket seizure of the ACLU’s phone records compromises the organization’s ability to carry out its work and to engage in legitimate communications with clients, journalists, advocacy partners, whistleblowers and others.”

In December 2013, a federal judge defended the secrecy shrouding the surveillance program and ruled it was “lawful.” The Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Southern District Court of New York’s decision.

The appeals court recognized that the government asked the court to adopt a rationale for its surveillance program that had no “limiting” principles. If all telephone records of Americans could be said to be “relevant” to any and all counter-terrorism investigations, then what would stop the government collecting and storing other sets of records because they claimed they were “relevant” too?

“If the government is correct, it could use § 215 to collect and store in bulk any other existing metadata available anywhere in the private sector, including metadata associated with financial records, medical records, and electronic communications (including e?mail and social media information) relating to all Americans,” the court declared [PDF]. “Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans.”

The appeals court accepted the possibility that Congress might want such a “contraction” to protect “national security” from “domestic and international terrorism,” however, the court would expect such a “momentous decision” would be “preceded by substantial debate” before being allowed.

In other words, because of the substantial issues of privacy, including constitutional issues, the government should not be permitted to operate a dragnet surveillance program in total secrecy without the Congress having some kind of public debate, which in this case never happened prior to the government collecting and storing millions of Americans’ phone records.

Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s legal director and a lead counsel in this lawsuit, reacted, “This ruling focuses on the phone-records program, but it has far broader significance, because the same defective legal theory that underlies this program underlies many of the government’s other mass surveillance programs.”

“The ruling warrants a reconsideration of all of those programs, and it underscores once again the need for truly systemic reform,” Jaffer added.

The appeals court focused on the government’s extraordinarily broad definition of “relevance,” which virtually redefines the word. It noted that the government’s position is that metadata collected is “relevant” because it “may allow the NSA, at some unknown time in the future, utilizing its ability to sift through the trove of irrelevant data it has collected up to that point, to identify information that is relevant.” It called this an “unprecedented and unwarranted” concept of the word “relevance.”

Even more significantly, the appeals court demolished the government’s argument that this “relevance” standard is nearly identical to the standard used for “grand jury and administrative subpoenas.”

“Search warrants and document subpoenas typically seek the records of a particular individual or corporation under investigation, and cover particular time periods when the events under investigation occurred. The orders at issue here contain no such limits,” the appeals court determined. (more…)

US Government’s Legal Theory for Dragnet Surveillance Programs Invalidated by Federal Appeals Court Decision

ACLU graphic created to celebrate the Second Circuit appeals court’s decision

When a federal appeals court ruled that the United States government’s telephone metadata program was illegal, it did not only call attention to how Congress had not authorized the massive surveillance program exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It also acknowledged that the legal theory the government relied upon to defend the program is significantly flawed. In doing so, it invalidated the government’s rationale for maintaining any and all of its dragnet surveillance programs in the “war on terrorism.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the government after it was revealed that the government operated a surveillance program under the PATRIOT Act, where the phone records of millions of Americans are collected and stored by the NSA. It argued that the “blanket seizure of the ACLU’s phone records compromises the organization’s ability to carry out its work and to engage in legitimate communications with clients, journalists, advocacy partners, whistleblowers and others.”

In December 2013, a federal judge defended the secrecy shrouding the surveillance program and ruled it was “lawful.” The Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Southern District Court of New York’s decision.

The appeals court recognized that the government asked the court to adopt a rationale for its surveillance program that had no “limiting” principles. If all telephone records of Americans could be said to be “relevant” to any and all counter-terrorism investigations, then what would stop the government collecting and storing other sets of records because they claimed they were “relevant” too?

“If the government is correct, it could use § 215 to collect and store in bulk any other existing metadata available anywhere in the private sector, including metadata associated with financial records, medical records, and electronic communications (including e?mail and social media information) relating to all Americans,” the court declared [PDF]. “Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans.”

The appeals court accepted the possibility that Congress might want such a “contraction” to protect “national security” from “domestic and international terrorism,” however, the court would expect such a “momentous decision” would be “preceded by substantial debate” before being allowed.

In other words, because of the substantial issues of privacy, including constitutional issues, the government should not be permitted to operate a dragnet surveillance program in total secrecy without the Congress having some kind of public debate, which in this case never happened prior to the government collecting and storing millions of Americans’ phone records.

Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s legal director and a lead counsel in this lawsuit, reacted, “This ruling focuses on the phone-records program, but it has far broader significance, because the same defective legal theory that underlies this program underlies many of the government’s other mass surveillance programs.”

“The ruling warrants a reconsideration of all of those programs, and it underscores once again the need for truly systemic reform,” Jaffer added.

The appeals court focused on the government’s extraordinarily broad definition of “relevance,” which virtually redefines the word. It noted that the government’s position is that metadata collected is “relevant” because it “may allow the NSA, at some unknown time in the future, utilizing its ability to sift through the trove of irrelevant data it has collected up to that point, to identify information that is relevant.” It called this an “unprecedented and unwarranted” concept of the word “relevance.”

Even more significantly, the appeals court demolished the government’s argument that this “relevance” standard is nearly identical to the standard used for “grand jury and administrative subpoenas.”

“Search warrants and document subpoenas typically seek the records of a particular individual or corporation under investigation, and cover particular time periods when the events under investigation occurred. The orders at issue here contain no such limits,” the appeals court determined. (more…)