Blog Archive - 2015

Cultural Shift Needed on Police Militarization

by Peter Kraska

It is certainly a positive development that the White House has taken such a keen interest in this problem. And the executive order appears to include some important changes — including making it more difficult to obtain that most extreme military armament available to our local police.

However, police militarization is a 25 year long trend that has only grown in momentum over time. The restrictions on militaristic gear directed by the White House while important symbolically, will certainly not substantively impact this trend in and of itself. Police militarization at this point is as much a cultural problem as it is a material one, and reversing the cultural trend toward police militarization will require more far reaching efforts.

There are signs the Obama administration understands this to some extent, given the re-emphasis that would like to place on community policing reform efforts. But we have to remain aware that the federal government attempted to steer the police institution for the last 25 years in a community policing direction; the result: police militarization.

Peter Kraska, whose books include Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and the Police, was consulted by the White House and has testified on this same issue in front of the U.S. Senate. 

Watch the Short Documentary “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling”

Released May 12, 2015

Background: 

CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Prison: The Latest Blow in the Government’s War on Journalism
Published by The Nation – May 12, 2015
Norman Solomon

The sentencing of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling on May 11 for espionage ends one phase of a long ordeal and begins another. At age 47, he has received a prison term of 42 months—three and a half years—after a series of ever more improbable milestones.

The youngest of six children raised by a single mother, Sterling was the only member of his family to go to college. He graduated from law school in 1993, worked briefly at a public defender’s office, and then entered the CIA, where he became one of the agency’s only African-American case officers. In August 2001, Sterling became the first one ever to file a lawsuit against the CIA for racial discrimination. (His suit, claiming that he was denied certain assignments because of his race, was ultimately tossed out of court on grounds that a trial would jeopardize government secrets.) Soon afterward, the agency fired him.

Sterling returned to his home state of Missouri and restarted his life. After struggling, he found a professional job and fell in love. But the good times were short-lived. One day in 2006, the FBI swooped in for a raid, seizing computers and papers at the small home that Sterling and his fiancée shared in a suburb of St. Louis. Slowly, during the next four years, without further action from the government, the menacing legal cloud seemed to disperse. But suddenly, a few days into 2011, Sterling was arrested for the first time in his life—charged with betraying his country.

The indictment included seven counts under the Espionage Act, the 1917 law that President Obama’s Justice Department has used to prosecute more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. The key charges accused Sterling of “unauthorized disclosure of national defense information,” alleging that he gave details of a secret CIA operation to a journalist while falsely characterizing it in negative terms. The government contended that Sterling should remain in custody until trial because—with “underlying selfish and vindictive motivations”—he would try to “retaliate in the same deliberate, methodical, vindictive manner.” A judge rejected that argument and released him on bond. But Sterling’s arrest had triggered his immediate firing by Anthem Healthcare (where his work as a medical fraud investigator won a national award for uncovering $32 million in bogus charges), and suddenly even low-wage employment was out of reach. As a breadwinner, Sterling was toast. His wife, Holly, a social worker, continued to bring in a modest income as they waited for the trial.

The wait lasted four years. Most of the pre-trial legal maneuvers had to do with James Risen, the New York Times reporter whose 2006 book, State of War, had spurred the FBI leak investigation that ended with Sterling’s arrest. The book included a chapter with classified information about Operation Merlin, a CIA program that in 2000 provided Iran with flawed design information for a nuclear weapon component. Despite subpoenas and jail threats, Risen kept refusing to identify any confidential source. The government prevailed on appeal with its claim that journalists have no right to such a refusal, but—after growing pushback from press-freedom advocates and worsening optics in the court of public opinion—the Justice Department finally gave up on forcing Risen to cooperate. (For background, see Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler, “The Government War Against Reporter James Risen,” October 8, 2014.)

The federal courtroom in northern Virginia where Holly and Jeffrey Sterling returned for the sentencing on May 11 was the scene of a disturbing, though scantly reported, simulation of justice in late January. At the outset, covering the trial, I noted that “prospective jurors made routine references to ‘three-letter agencies’ and alphabet-soup categories of security clearances.” Steeped in a local atmosphere of deference to mega-employers like the CIA and Pentagon along with numerous big contracting firms nearby, “the jury pool was bound to please the prosecution.”

To read more click here.

On Jeffrey Sterling: From the Filmmaker of “Invisible Man”

by Judith Ehrlich

This is a story with shocking elements. While most of us don’t quite understand what metadata is exactly, this case reminds us it’s time to get a grip on that. In fact Jeffrey Sterling was convicted in large part on the basis of metadata — not the content of his communication. That is, they don’t have to know what he said, just that he talked to or emailed  the New York Times reporter who leaked news of Operation Merlin to which Jeffrey was assigned while a CIA case officer. And that metadata, the where, when and whom is not protected as the conversation might be.

The most shocking element of this story is that  Jeffrey Sterling seems to be punished because he “pulled on Superman’s cape” first with a racial discrimination suit they were able to squash and then by reporting what he considered a dangerous CIA operation to the proper government channels for hearing such a concern.

I wanted to make a film that captured this couple’s deep commitment and belief in one another in the face of a decade of Kafkaesque uncertainty at the hands of the CIA. Ellsberg followed the same initial trajectory as Sterling, going to Congress with his concerns about the Vietnam War and being ignored by the oversight committees. CIA veteran Ray McGovern calls them “overlook committees.”

I was thrilled to collaborate with Norman Solomon and Expose Facts to reach an audience with this story that exposes deep problems in our justice system.

Judith Ehrlich is director of the just-released short doc “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling.” Her past films include “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.”

News Conference: Whistleblowers Weigh In on Policy

April 27, 2015 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

William Binney (NSA), Thomas Drake (NSA), Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), Raymond McGovern (CIA), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department), Coleen Rowley (FBI) and Kirk Wiebe (NSA) spoke at this news conference, sponsored by ExposeFacts.org, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

See: “Whistleblowers vs. ‘Fear-Mongering’.”