WASHINGTON – A former CIA officer was arrested Thursday on charges of illegally disclosing classified material and obstructing justice when he allegedly assisted a newspaper reporter and book author with information about highly classified covert operations.
Jeffrey A. Sterling, who was terminated by the CIA after nearly nine years there and then sued charging racial discrimination, was arrested in St. Louis after a federal grand jury indictment was unsealed in Alexandria, Va., charging him with 10 counts, including the “unlawful disclosure of national defense information.”
He appeared briefly in federal court in St. Louis, and then was taken to jail pending a detention hearing for Monday. He did not enter a plea to the charges.
Although the indictment does not identify the reporter/author, the details and dates of the allegations match closely with the work of James Risen, who co-wrote a series of New York Times stories about intelligence operations in late 2005, and then in January 2006 published the book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”
The disclosures in the newspaper series and book rocked the Bush administration, particularly over allegations that the National Security Agency, with little or no judicial or congressional oversight, had eavesdropped on the phone calls and e-mails of hundreds of Americans, and that the CIA had passed phony nuclear blueprints to Iran in an attempt to confuse that country.
Federal officials, in explaining the indictment, alleged that Sterling leaked the information “in connection with a possible newspaper story to be written by an author employed by a national newspaper … and, later, in connection with a book published by the author in January 2006.”
The Sterling indictment is the latest in a series of Obama administration moves to hold government officials accountable for leaks. Last year, a former high official at the NSA was charged with illegally possessing classified information that wound up with a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. The administration also has charged a U.S. soldier for passing reams of classified cables and other documents to WikiLeaks, and is further exploring the possibility of charging the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.
Sterling, 43, faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted. He allegedly disclosed the information in retaliation for being discharged from the agency. He was employed by the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002.