Former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling charged in leak probe
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 10:52 PM
A former CIA officer involved in spying efforts against Iran was arrested Thursday on charges of leaking classified information to a reporter, continuing the Obama administration's unprecedented crackdown on the flow of government secrets to the media.
Jeffrey A. Sterling, 43, of O'Fallon, Mo., was charged with 10 felony counts, including obstruction of justice and unauthorized disclosure of national defense information. A federal indictment made public Thursday in the Eastern District of Virginia accuses Sterling of leaking secrets after he was fired from the CIA and the agency refused to settle a racial discrimination claim he made.
The intensified campaign against leaks comes as the U.S. government is confronting a potent new threat to its ability to keep secrets from public view. Over the past year, the WikiLeaks Web site has posted and shared with multiple media organizations thousands of classified U.S. military records and State Department cables.
The indictment, returned under seal last month, does not identify the alleged recipient of the classified information. But former U.S. intelligence officials and lawyers familiar with the case said the journalist is New York Times reporter James Risen.
The officials said Sterling has long been suspected within the agency of providing Risen with extensive information about CIA efforts to sabotage Iran's nuclear program, material that is believed to have formed the basis for a prominent chapter in Risen's 2006 book, "State of War."
Edward B. MacMahon Jr., Sterling's attorney, denied the allegations, saying: "He has always maintained his innocence throughout the course of this entire investigation. We'll seek to prove that in court."
Risen's attorney, David N. Kelley, said he had not reviewed the indictment but stressed that his client "did not testify, did not provide any information and did not cooperate with the government."
The indictment is the latest in a series of cases the Justice Department has brought against alleged leakers of government secrets since President Obama took office.
Steven Aftergood, an expert on government classification issues at the Federation of American Scientists, said the five leaks cases brought so far during the Obama administration exceed the total for all previous administrations.
He said the intense focus has "cast a chill on relations between national security officials and members of the public."
Other cases brought during the Obama administration include the indictment in April last year of Thomas A. Drake, a former executive at the National Security Agency accused of leaking information to the Baltimore Sun; as well as a State Department contractor indicted in August on charges of leaking information to Fox News.
The latest indictment includes details about dozens of phone calls and e-mails exchanged between Sterling and a journalist identified in the document only as Author A, beginning in 2002.