Bureau of Prisons Puts CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling in Prison Around 900 Miles from Wife & Family

Jeffrey Sterling
Jeffrey Sterling

CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling was notified at the end of last week that he will serve his prison sentence of three and a half years at Federal Correctional Institution Englewood, a medium-security facility in Littleton, Colorado, that is around 900 miles away from where his wife and family live in St. Louis. That is at least a 12-hour drive.

Sterling was convicted of committing Espionage Act violations and other offenses after the government convinced a jury, through largely circumstantial evidence, that he had leaked information on a top secret CIA operation to New York Times reporter James Risen. He begins his sentence on June 16.

“I am certainly devastated beyond belief that I won’t be near my wife and family,” Sterling stated. “My wife, family, and friends have been an important support system for me and being so far away is like a wedge being driven between me and those who continue to love, support, and believe in me.”

“The government likes to isolate whistleblowers from their natural allies, and now the Bureau of Prisons is trying to isolate them from their families,” declared Jesselyn Radack, the director of the Government Accountability Project’s National Security and Human Rights Division. “Once again, the Bureau of Prisons proves that ‘rehabilitation’ is not their priority or else they’d place prisoners near their families.”

Sterling and his wife, Holly, are already economically devastated from the prosecution. Now, Holly will have to spend hundreds of dollars on air travel each time she wants to see him, a factor that may greatly limit how frequently she visits her husband in prison.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has a very weak policy when it comes to keeping inmates close to their “release residence” or homes. It “attempts to designate inmates to facilities commensurate with their security and program needs within a 500-mile radius of their release residence.”

“If an inmate is placed at an institution that is more than 500 miles from his/her release residence, generally, it is due to specific security, programming, or population concerns.” However, there are next to no mechanisms for an inmate to hold BOP accountable for improperly designating or placing them in an inappropriate facility.

There are no low security facilities close to St. Louis, but there are four low security facilities, which are closer to St. Louis than FCI Englewood:

FCI Forrest City – Forrest City, Arkansas – 4 hr 32 min – 313 miles
FCI Ashland – Ashland, Kentucky – 6 hr 35 min – 453 miles
FCI Waseca – Waseca, Minnesota – 7 hr 36 min – 500 miles
FCI Sandstone – Sandstone, Minnesota – 9 hr 34 min – 618 miles

Any of those facilities are closer to his family than FCI Englewood, and three of them arguably would fall within BOP’s 500-mile policy.

How does Sterling’s incarceration compare to previous cases of people prosecuted for leaks? (more…)

Senate Effort to Renew NSA Spying Powers Contains Provision to Stop Next Edward Snowden

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Senator Dianne Feinstein has proposed legislation to protect the National Security Agency from losing dragnet surveillance powers when Patriot Act provisions expire. But her bill would not only save spying powers but also codify into law a provision that would expressly enable the government to criminalize any national security whistleblower who may choose to follow the footsteps of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

As first reported by journalist Marcy Wheeler, the provision in Feinstein’s bill [PDF] is modeled after the Espionage Act, which President Barack Obama’s administration has aggressively relied upon to prosecute a record number of whistleblowers. (Snowden was indicted under the Espionage Act.)

The provision would prohibit “unauthorized disclosures” by an “officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States” or any “recipient of an order” issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), who “knowingly comes into possession of classified information or documents or materials containing classified information” of the US.

A person could be criminalized if they disclosed any information connected to an application to the FISA Court, an order approved by the court or information acquired under a directive issued by the court.

Knowingly communicating, transmitting and making available information to an “unauthorized person,” such as a journalist, would be criminal. Someone who “knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location,” as Snowden did before providing documents to journalists, would be violating the law as well.

Making information available to a reporter could potentially result in someone going to jail for ten years. Retaining documents at an unauthorized location could potentially result in a one-year prison sentence.

A similar provision was included in a bill introduced by Senator Richard Burr over the weekend. The bill was also drafted to protect dragnet surveillance powers.

Both Burr, a Republican who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, and Feinstein, a Democrat and former chair of the Senate intelligence committee, are powerful senators who have traditionally supported anti-leaks measures, which Senator Ron Wyden blocked in 2012.

Feinstein accused Snowden in June 2013 of “violating” his oath to defend the Constitution. She unequivocally stated, “He violated the law. It’s treason.” When Burr found about what Snowden revealed on mass surveillance, he was not concerned about the programs but rather about how a contractor like Snowden had access to so much material.

Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who has represented a number of whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, and currently represents Snowden, reacted, “Feinstein is the latest member of Congress to offer a non-compromise ‘compromise’ to replace the already-compromised USA Freedom Act. Her bill would essentially retain Richard Burr’s odious Section 215 mini-Espionage Act, imposing 10-year penalties on people like my NSA whistleblower clients Edward Snowden, William Binney and Thomas Drake, who told us what the intelligence community was really doing with the call records program.”

“The most disturbing aspect is the prospect of Congress codifying the Justice Department’s draconian use of the century-old Espionage Act into law when there’s a lot of validity that the Department has unconstitutionally applied the Espionage Act to whistleblowers.”

The provision contains no clear and present danger standard, which means it would not matter if a person knew the disclosure of information would result in no harm. The government would be under no obligation to present any evidence that a release of information caused grave damage or harmed anyone during prosecution. This would likely violate the First Amendment. (more…)