A former CIA officer was convicted in federal court in Virginia on Monday of leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter about a failed US effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Jeffrey Sterling was found guilty of nine counts of unauthorised disclosure of national defence information that prosecutors said put lives at risk and compromised US efforts to deter Iran’s nuclear plans.
Sterling revealed a US operation to New York Times reporter James Risen in which “a former Russian scientist provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics,” according to the Times. Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, was subpoenaed to testify in Sterling’s trial but refused, potential prison time.
The conviction is yet another instance of the Obama-era justice department taking a firm line on its interpretation of whistleblower statutes.
In a series of other prosecutions, including against former NSA analyst Thomas Drake and CIA operative John Kariakou, the administration has shown that it will go after government employees who reveal information that the Justice Department does not believe to have proved any violation of US law — even if that information is still in the public interest.
In other instances, as with the ongoing investigation of former general David Petraeus for leaking classified information to his biographer and mistress, or with the investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen over a major North Korea scoop, the administration has shown itself willing to go after even high-profile leakers of classified information to media figures.
Because the information that Sterling leaked does not prove that the CIA violated any US domestic law or otherwise reveal fraud or government waste, he was not deemed eligible for Whistleblower protection, despite the questionable value of the operation.
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