Jeffrey Sterling & the CIA
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Does discrimination happen in even the highest agencies within the federal government? According to Jeffrey Sterling, the answer is a resounding YES. Does the CIA discourage whistleblowing? See for yourself.
Jeffrey Sterling’s wife is asking President Obama to pardon her husband, who is currently serving jail time for sharing classified information about nuclear activity involving Iran. Holly Sterling continues to insist that her husband is innocent, despite his 42-month prison sentence for violating the Espionage Act. This sentence has resulted in a grim loss of faith in the US justice system.
Fast facts about Sterling and the CIA:
- Jeffrey Sterling worked for the CIA from 1993 until 2002.
- He filed a complaint in 2000 with the department’s Equal Employment Office for racial discrimination. His access to classified information was quickly revoked.
- Sterling was involved in two separate lawsuits for discrimination within the CIA, but was unable to settle.
- On January 31, 2002, Jeffrey Sterling’s contract with the CIA was terminated.
- Between 2002 and 2004, after Sterling’s termination, emails were intercepted between him and James Risen, journalist and author of State of War.
- Sterling was arrested on January 6, 2011, for mishandling national defense information.
- On January 26, 2015, Jeffrey Sterling was convicted of violating the Espionage Act.
- Sterling is currently serving 3.5 years in prison.
During his decade-long stint with the CIA, Sterling was involved in a project called “Operation Merlin.” This project was created under the Clinton Administration to mislead Iranian officials about nuclear weapons. The CIA brought in a Russian nuclear scientist to give intentionally flawed blueprints of nuclear weapons to Iranian officials. However, the operation failed because the Russian scientist noticed the flaws in the blueprints and informed the Iranian officials about them. Rather than derailing Iranian nuclear creations, Operation Merlin may have actually helped the Iranians.
After Sterling was terminated in 2002, following his attempts to take legal action against the CIA for racial discrimination, he began correspondence with James Risen. In 2003, Sterling attempted to come forward to the Senate Intelligence Committee about Operation Merlin, calling it “dangerous” and “poorly executed.” However, this did not result in any action or accountability. The information that he gave to James Risen was used in Risen’s 2006 book, State of War.
Sterling came under scrutiny within a few years. His emails and phone calls with Risen had been intercepted and a federal target was placed on his back. After accusations of racial discrimination and revealing classified information to a journalist, Jeffrey Sterling rose to the top spot on the CIA’s reputation hit list. He was indicted in 2010 and arrested in early 2011 for spreading information to James Risen.
In this process, James Risen was subpoenaed to testify against Jeffrey Sterling. Essentially, the federal government was forcing Risen to reveal his journalistic source. Risen is still contesting the subpoena.
Fast-forward to 2015. Jeffrey Sterling was convicted of violating the Espionage Act, one of the more controversial laws in the United States, due to its blatant disregard for the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment.
Jeffrey Sterling was let go from his position in the CIA before he began corresponding with James Risen. If his firing did not have to do entirely with Operation Merlin, what did it have to do with? Is it possible that his termination and the subsequent witch hunt that followed him years after he’d left the CIA really had to do with the accusations he made before he lost his job?
In the public eye, Jeffrey Sterling has been portrayed as a “disgruntled employee” and made to seem unreliable. Is this true? Strictly speaking about the facts, Jeffrey Sterling felt that he was facing mistreatment as a black man in the CIA. He filed complaints and eventually took legal action. He lost. Then, soon after, his position was terminated. He waited to communicate information about Operation Merlin, which he outwardly disagreed with, until after he’d quit working at the CIA. Is this an entirely unethical action?
Here’s a hunch: Jeffrey Sterling may have called out some very real problems within the CIA while he worked there. The second he began stirring up trouble about discrimination, he painted a target on his back. Not to mention, he was aiding in a project he did not agree with for a slew of reasons. He spoke out and got himself fired. Jaded by the entire CIA establishment in terms of inequality and lack of ethics, Sterling shared his knowledge about what was going on behind closed doors in the CIA with James Risen to essentially blow the whistle on the CIA. Where did his efforts land him? In a jail cell.
Holly Sterling, ever the supporting wife, persists that her husband was only trying to do the right thing and should not be spending his years in prison. She feels that James Risen has a responsibility to help her husband get out of prison. Jeffrey Sterling has gone on record stating that he does not hold anything against James Risen for his part in everything. Holly continues to ask for the public’s support in her husband’s case.