Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was a whistleblower who was then targeted by the U.S. legal system for retaliation, which now includes a 42-month prison sentence. His real “crime” was going to the Senate Intelligence Committee to report on a dubious and dangerous covert operation that involved giving doctored nuclear-bomb blueprints to Iran.
Though Sterling’s action was “within proper channels,” the move made Sterling a dead duck inside the CIA, which doesn’t want any of its employees to do that – and it appears neither do the members of the congressional “overlook” committees who would prefer not to know such things. So, when the account of the Iran scam appeared in James Risen’s 2006 book, State of War, the CIA and the Justice Department went after Sterling although the leak might well have come from someone on the Senate committee or elsewhere, not Sterling.
The CIA was especially outraged because Risen’s account made the spy agency look like a bunch of clowns. Someone was going to have to pay for causing the embarrassment and that person became Sterling, who was convicted in what amounted to an entirely circumstantial case under the 1917 Espionage Act, which was meant to apply to spies giving information to foreign governments, not to U.S. government officials providing facts to American journalists to share with the American people.
There were signs that Judge Leonie Brinkema may have had some pangs of conscience over what she had allowed to happen in her courtroom where Sterling was convicted. She had scheduled Sterling’s sentencing for April 24, but that was just a day after retired Gen. (and former CIA Director) David Petraeus received probation and no jail time for divulging highly classified material to his biographer/lover and then lying about it to the FBI.
Instead of sentencing Sterling the next day, when the Petraeus wrist slap was on everyone’s mind, Judge Brinkema postponed the announcement of Sterling’s fate to Monday. My guess is that she wanted to put at least two weeks – the proverbial ”decent interval” – between Petraeus’s sweetheart deal and the 3 ½ years in prison that she gave Sterling.