The Obama administration took a step back into the dark ages this week when CIA whistle blower Jeffrey Sterling found himself convicted of nine criminal counts under the thick umbrella of the Espionage Act.
In a statement Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said the verdict was a “just and appropriate outcome . . . The disclosures placed lives at risk. . . and they constituted an egregious breach of the public trust by someone who had sworn to uphold it.”
It is a huge victory for the prosecution and the current presidential administration. President Obama has vigorously pursued those who leak information to the press. It is speculated the current presidential administration has been more aggressive in pursuing leaks than all of the presidents before the current administration combined.
Sterling, who faced charges under the Espionage Act, was first accused in 2010 of giving classified information to New York Times reporter and author James Risen for his 2006 book, “State of War.” According to The Washington Post, prosecutors alleged — and jurors apparently agreed — that Sterling was trying to get revenge on the CIA when he talked to Risen about an operation meant to deter Iran’s nuclear program.
Sterling, one of the very few African American case officers in the CIA, according to journalist Norman Solomon, was fired in the early 2000s and had sued the agency over alleged discrimination. He became a whistleblower by virtue of going through channels to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003 to inform staffers about the CIA’s ill-conceived, poorly executed and dangerous Operation Merlin, which had given a flawed design for a nuclear weapons component to Iran back in 2000.
The administration’s description of Sterling as bitter and vengeful, a “disgruntled” worker with an axe to grind is specious at best and the result of this trial sends chills throughout the few of us dedicated to transparency and the preservation of investigative reporting.
Those who are opposed to providing useful information to the public have run into a stone wall of opposition by those who support the First Amendment. True, stone walls can and are eroded and our First Amendment rights today are nothing more than a thin whisper of what they were meant to be. However, those who support secrets in government have found another way to kill the cat. They are not only attacking the conduits of the information – the Fourth Estate – but those who use the conduits – the whistleblowers.
Truth is they are the most vulnerable in the link to providing information to the public. The individual reporter can summon up some help when tossed into court and turned upside down to find out how information was provided.
Those who actually provide us with that information are at a far greater risk. “Whistleblower Acts” are not very protective of these brave people who see injustice and come forward to provide the rest of us with information they believe to be vital to the preservation of justice.
Of course there are always those who will come forward out of bitterness or a sense of vengeance. But that also misses the point. If the information they provide us isn’t of interest, then who cares? It is the information itself which is the currency and the only thing of interest to a reporter.
Personal motives are of a certain interest, but the overriding interest when I speak to a whistleblower is the information accurate and worthy of inclusion in my investigation. Do personal motives taint the information? If that is the case then I seek further corroboration of the facts presented.
In Sterling’s case, as presented in The Post and by Solomon, the 47-year-old Missouri man faced his fate stoically. Solomon described him as standing with dignity. The Post said he “stared emotionless” at the jurors who decided his fate. His wife sobbed.
Solomon said the mainstream media has all-but-ignored Sterling during his four years of court struggles and instead focused on James Risen, the New York Times reporter he is accused of leaking information to in such a vindictive manner. Risen has steadfastly refused to name his confidential sources, a move I wholeheartedly support for obvious reasons.
The scary state of our national government has never been seen in more stark terms than in the Sterling case.
Secrecy versus openness. Appearance versus reality. Dissent, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness versus secrecy, arrests and jail. Take your pick and make your choice well. Welcome to the precipice.