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Classified Politics: A System and a Clinton in Disrepute

by Diane Roark
    The system for classifying intelligence and other national security documents is broken in major respects. Increasingly, it is also manipulated to punish perceived critics or to protect agency reputations and high officials, both from adverse publicity and in the courts. Hillary Clinton’s use of a private rather than State Department email service illustrates many of these issues. Her experience stands in stark contrast to treatment of national security whistleblowers, as illustrated in particular by variance in NSA (National Security Agency) communications intelligence policies.
    Culpability. Mrs. Clinton clearly and knowingly mishandled classified information. Security clearances were required for her membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee from 2003 to 2009. Therefore, she knew the rules for handling classified information before she decided, at the outset when she became Secretary of State in early 2009, to use personal rather than secure email.
    Hillary and Bill Clinton had suffered many political and public relations crises. She had already run for the presidency and likely would do so again. Rules for handling classified information were ignored, the effect being to hide records that could be used against her in a second presidential run.
    It simply could never be argued plausibly that for four years, a person in the highest U.S. foreign policy slot had no classified or sensitive information in any business emails that she wrote or received – over 30,000 of them. This defies the definition of the job. The State Department is a primary user and a significant generator of classified information, that bears on the great majority of issues coming before the Secretary. The State Department is also a profligate designator of “Sensitive But Unclassified” information.
    Overclassification. It is widely admitted that the intelligence classification system suffers from systemic over-­classification. President Obama has acknowledged the problem, and one review group even stated that almost every item now labeled Confidential should be Unclassified. There is no penalty for playing it safe – or playing it political – by classifying at too high a level, but there are potentially severe repercussions for an individual who mistakenly classifies at too low a level, or who is known to mishandle or publicly reveal classified information.
    It is most unlikely, however, that Hillary Clinton will fall victim to accusations that rely on improper over-­classification. The State Department and White House, including President Obama himself, sought to protect her and to minimize the effects of her behavior. The case is extremely high­-profile, Democrats in Congress would attack any borderline classification, and a host of well-­paid lawyers would rise to her defense. Improperly classified items or those deemed Sensitive but Unclassified may be redacted from publicly released documents, but it is hard to imagine that Mrs. Clinton would be falsely accused of felonies.
    Whistleblowers suffer a quite different fate. Intelligence agencies easily and repeatedly retaliate for the airing of their dirty laundry by accusing the whistleblower of improperly handling or revealing allegedly classified information. The Obama administration then prosecutes them under the Espionage Act, under which altruistic motivation is irrelevant and may not even be raised in court.
    John Kiriakou revealed on television that post ­9/11 torture was official U.S. policy, not just attributable to a few rogue agents. The CIA seethed, but the Justice Department would not prosecute. Unfortunately, Kiriakou erred in giving a reporter the business card of a man he thought had retired from CIA but was still an agent under cover. The agent’s name was not published, but CIA got its revenge when Kiriakou was indicted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981. Left penniless with over $700,000 in legal bills even before trial, Kiriakou finally accepted a felony plea bargain and went to jail.
    Thomas Drake and this author went through proper official channels in 2001­2002 to protest NSA’s surveillance of U.S. citizens. Along with colleagues Kirk Wiebe, Bill Binney and Edward Loomis, they also reported to the Defense Department Inspector General the waste of money on NSA modernization. After domestic surveillance leaked to the New York Times four years later, the five became primary suspects, partly because the IG improperly offered their names to the FBI. All were raided, but no evidence was found because, as the reporter later stated publicly, he had not then met or communicated with any of the five.
    Nonetheless, Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for possessing five Unclassified NSA papers that NSA retroactively classified. He was threatened with 35 years in prison unless he pled guilty, but heroically resisted. Pre­trial hearings proved all the information in the documents had been declassified by NSA. After a years-­old interview record was orally falsified, this author was asked to plead guilty to felony perjury, but also refused.
    Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13526 governing classification stipulates that no information may be classified to conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error; to prevent embarrassment; to restrain competition; or to prevent or delay release of information not requiring protection. This section is observed in the breach, as political considerations dictate. For all the above proscribed reasons, unclassified parts of the NSA IG audit we requested are still withheld by NSA ten years after the audit was first published. Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou showed that illegal and unconstitutional activities were hidden from American citizens and others behind the veil of classification. For revealing material that never should have been classified in the first place, they are paying a very high price. In Snowden’s case, many revelations about domestic surveillance still are treated as classified to keep them from U.S. voters, although every terrorist and every intelligence agency in the world has access to the documents and almost no ordinary person in any country of interest to the US can function efficiently whilst avoiding NSA surveillance.
    Sensitive but Unclassified Material. Individual agencies claim an unsupervised right to withhold admittedly Unclassified information according to any criteria they see fit and for as long as they choose. In the Clinton email case, it is quite striking that not a word has been breathed about such Unclassified but Sensitive material. Her free pass in this respect is is the envy of whistleblowers.
    In our case, NSA initially refused to return any materials seized in the raids. When sued, NSA claimed that if a computer contained even one admittedly Unclassified document with material that had not been officially released by NSA, the Agency could retain and destroy the entire computer content. Courts eventually allowed NSA to keep such individual documents in their entirety and at their sole discretion, but required that others be copied and returned.
    With ordinary citizens or lower­-level whistleblowers, Sensitive but Unclassified material is wielded as yet another weapon in the Executive’s arsenal of punishments. Even high­-level intelligence officials have had difficulty publishing their memoirs, partly because pre-­publication review agreements routinely allow an agency to withhold unclassified information.
    Since the 1950s, most judges refuse to review allegedly classified or sensitive material even to determine that it does not fall under the common-­sense prohibitions of Section 1.7 of the Executive Order on classification. The executive branch has also been famously successful in promulgating a “state secrets” doctrine to avoid or indefinitely delay court scrutiny of important civil liberties issues such as domestic surveillance. It is now known, however, that the original state secrets precedent wrongly invoked intelligence sources and methods to cover up Air Force culpability for a plane crash.
    In the author’s case, even NSA’s grossly inconsistent classifications got a free pass. A document that was released to Kirk Wiebe as Unclassified was branded Top Secret Compartmented when found on the author’s computer. Confronted with this vast discrepancy, NSA alleged that it could neither confirm nor deny that the document had previously been released. It keeps no records of prior declassifications. Even in a related court case. Nor is it interested in an available system to compile and compare such records. But the judge let the classification stand.
Diane Roark retired in 2002 after 17 years on the professional staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and prior service on the National Security Council Staff, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and in the Intelligence section of the International division of the Department of Energy.

Video of Sterling News Conference

Please enjoy the full video of Holly Sterling’s news conference, which was her first such appearance since her husband’s trial and imprisonment. The news conference also featured Thomas Drake, Delphine Halgand, Ray McGovern, and Jesselyn Radack.

Open Letter to President Obama from Holly Sterling

Image by Noel St. John

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500

October 15, 2015

Dear Mr. President, I am writing you on behalf of my innocent husband Mr. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling. You know Mr. Sterling as the former “disgruntled” CIA Officer that your administration indicted and prosecuted, resulting in conviction on nine felony counts, seven of them under the antiquated Espionage Act, with a sentence of three and a half years in prison. I would like to introduce you to the real Jeffrey Sterling who is my best friend and husband for the past 11 years.

Jeffrey Sterling was born and raised in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He is the youngest of six boys, and his parents divorced at a very early age. Jeffrey was a very inquisitive, bright, and driven child. He once took apart his mother’s radio just to see the interior working mechanisms and as a challenge to be able to reassemble it in working order. As a young boy, he would spend every Friday evening with his maternal grandmother visiting, watching their beloved Cardinals baseball team, or assisting her around her home.

Even at a young age, Jeffrey had a very strong moral code of ethics. Jeffrey’s cousin, Darian Martin, fondly recollects Jeffrey as “always being like a big brother to me. I always looked up to Jeff because he was extremely talented. He was an artist, musician, a writer, and was also an outstanding athlete to name a few of his qualities. Jeff also spent time with me and 2 our other cousins and instilled discipline in our lives. He is truly a role model and one of the most successful members of our family. Jeff has always been an honest person and has always made excellent decisions. Jeff gave me hope that I could grow up and be someone, and that is exactly what I have done by walking in his footsteps.”

Jeffrey enjoyed and excelled at academics and knew from an early age he would attend college; as it turned out he was the only one of his siblings to do so. After graduating from high school, Jeffrey attended Millikin University and pursued a political science degree. During his schooling, he became a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity where he met and befriended current Commander William Roth of the United States Navy Reserve Component. Mr. Roth describes Jeffrey “as selfless, he regularly put the needs and wants of others ahead of his own.” Mr. Roth recalled a Sunday morning when he caught a young African American teenager who had broken into the fraternity house attempting to break into the soda machine coin box. Mr. Roth was holding the young man by one hand and reaching for the telephone with the other when Jeffrey asked him to wait. Jeffrey talked with the youngster, asked him what he was doing, and stated he was going down a bad road. Jeffrey talked Mr. Roth into letting the boy go and giving him another chance, which he did.

After graduation, Jeffrey continued his studies at Washington University in St. Louis, to obtain his Juris Doctorate. One day while in his third year of law school, he noticed an employment advertisement that caught his eye. It was advertising operational officer positions with the Central Intelligence Agency. The ad depicted a man looking over a canal and the caption described serving the country and seeing the world in a unique opportunity. Jeffrey was immediately intrigued. Growing up he always wanted to see the world and serve his country, as three of his older brothers had done in the military. He recalls it being a great opportunity, as 3 “how many times do you come across something that may give you the opportunity of a dream you had for so long; that was all of it wrapped into one. I was excited to see if I could join and be a part of that organization. I felt special about the ad and the opportunity and rushed home that day and started the process.”

Jeffrey’s dream came true as he joined the CIA in May of 1993, training to be a case officer. After completing training, he was assigned to the Iran Task Force and was taught to speak Farsi. In 1997, Jeffrey was finalizing arrangements for his first overseas post in Germany, when he was informed by his supervisor that the job role had been assigned to another individual. It was at that moment, his supervisor stated, “we are concerned you would stick out as a big black guy speaking Farsi.” With shock and dismay, Jeffrey replied: “When did you realize I was black?”

It was then that Jeffrey began to realize his dream was beginning to unravel, as after securing a different overseas assignment he was ordered to Germany to take the original assignment as the appointed individual had quit the agency. Jeffrey recalls not having a choice in the matter, as he was told “you either go where we want or you’re going nowhere.” He agreed and decided he was going to prove to them he was a great case officer. However, without a proper cover or supports it made it impossible for Jeffrey to be successful and he soon returned to the United States. Jeffrey was assigned to the counter-proliferation division and reported to New York, where he was again confronted with the realities of disparate treatment and unrealistic performance expectations. Thus, Jeffrey decided to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint based on racial discrimination. Subsequently, the agency reported no findings of racial discrimination and Jeffrey was fired on January 31, 2002. Soon after, he was the first black officer to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the CIA. The case was 4 ultimately dismissed on August 3, 2005, based on State Secrets Privilege. The judge noted, “We recognize that our decision places, on behalf of the entire country, a burden on Sterling that he alone must bear.” One New York Times reporter, James Risen, published an article about Jeffrey’s discrimination suit in 2002.

In 2003, Jeffrey went to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to voice concerns he had regarding “Operation Merlin,” which he worked on while at the agency. He had grave concerns about mismanagement of the program and potential harm to our country. This was a legal and proper channel for agency employees to voice any such concerns.

Since his termination from the agency, Jeffrey was unable to secure employment due to the stigma of suing the CIA and was in dire financial straits. He sold his possessions, gave his beloved cats to a neighbor and spent nights sleeping in his car as he made his way back to St. Louis. With no other options, Jeffrey moved in with friends and provided childcare to their newborn daughter in exchange for room and board. He recalls “it was very humbling to go from being a case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency to now I’m a manny.”

Finally, in the summer of 2004 Jeffrey caught a break and secured employment as a Senior Fraud Investigator for WellPoint, Inc. His spirits were lifted and he once again had an optimistic view he would be able to recover from the devastation of his fallout with the CIA. It was on July 29, 2004, that I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffrey for the first time, and our relationship flourished immediately. Jeffrey’s life as he knew it was once again full of promise. He thoroughly enjoyed his work and was able to utilize some of the skills he was taught by the agency to aid in the discovery of healthcare fraud. Jeffrey quickly became a very notable employee. Ms. Tammy Tait, a former Pharmacy Compliance Officer, describes Jeffrey as “a 5 motivated and dedicated employee who demonstrated at all times a professional and ethical attitude towards his work and his clients.”

Jeffrey felt secure that his life was moving forward in a positive direction and he was once again a productive member of society, that is until the FBI came knocking on our door in the summer of 2006, with a grand jury subpoena stating that Jeffrey was the target of an investigation regarding the disclosure of classified information. Approximately two months later, the FBI issued a grand jury subpoena to myself. In October, I endured seven hours of interrogation by Special Agent Ashley Hunt and her associate at FBI Headquarters, and the following day testified for three hours before a grand jury. Upon returning home, I immediately received a call from my attorney stating he was on his way to our home as the FBI was en route with a search warrant. My attorney told me that the FBI agents “had nothing” on Jeffrey because never before in any of his prior client’s cases did he receive a call from the FBI prior to a search. Minutes later, our home was surrounded and infiltrated by at least a dozen FBI agents confiscating our personal belongings. The sanctity of our home was violated and I had a complete meltdown. I attempted to go to work the next day, only to be completely emotionally overwhelmed and was sent home by my employer who stated that I needed to leave because she thought I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Jeffrey and I slowly recovered from the traumatic events of October 5, 2006, and focused on our life together although there was always an uneasy feeling of what was to come next and when. However, as time passed those feelings lessened. Jeffrey and I were married in June of 2007, and he continued to excel in his career receiving many accolades. In 2010, Jeffrey was awarded Investigation of the Year Award, Honorable Mention, after identifying Medicare fraud in Florida totaling more than 32 million dollars in false claims. His investigation led to the 6 conviction of those responsible for the fraudulent theft. During the hearing, the judge personally acknowledged Jeffrey, stating that his victim impact statement illustrated the grave implications of Medicare fraud on society. Jeffrey was also appointed as the Ambassador of Giving for WellPoint’s Annual United Way Giving Campaign. It was reported by several coworkers and friends that Jeffrey exemplified honesty, integrity, and humility; the exact characteristics of the true nature of the campaign. Jeffrey also personally took the time to individually thank each employee who donated to the campaign. In the fall of 2010, Jeffrey received a call from his lawyer stating he thought the FBI investigation was winding down as there had been no activity since our home was searched. Jeffrey and I began to feel a sense of relief and that the heavy burden was being lifted.

That sense of relief and security would be short lived. On January 6, 2011, Jeffrey was asked to attend a meeting at work despite being on medical leave after having total knee replacement surgery. Jeffrey obliged, and walking with the assistance of a cane, reported to his office. Shortly after his arrival, he was arrested by the FBI. WellPoint, which had just honored him months prior, assisted in the orchestration of the false meeting and arrest. Jeffrey was arrested on allegations of providing classified information to the reporter, James Risen, because he was apparently “disgruntled” after being fired by the CIA and having his discrimination case dismissed per the prosecutor.

Jeffrey was transferred to a jail in Alexandria, Virginia. During the hearing Judge Leonie Brinkema denied a request to return home, and ordered him to stay with local friends or remain in jail. Jeffrey remained in Virginia until the latter part of April when he was allowed to return to our home awaiting a trial date.

Three days after Jeffrey’s arrest he was terminated from WellPoint. However, in my 7 discussions with the head of human resources, they reported Jeffrey technically resigned as he did not report for duty for three consecutive days, as was their policy. I argued that Jeffrey’s legal counsel and I had immediately called and informed WellPoint of the situation. During my initial call, I requested that Jeffrey be placed on temporary administrative leave without pay due to the unusual circumstances, as I was certain he would be released and able to return to work, also noting that Jeffrey was in good standing with his employer. Tragically, Jeffrey was never again to be employed. His release conditions made it impossible to obtain employment as he was ordered to inform prospective employers of being under indictment and the charges involved. He also was subjected to random substance screenings despite never having any history of substance abuse issues. We also suffered the loss of friendships, as those individuals the government deemed as potential witnesses were precluded from having any contact with us.

Jeffrey and I would travel to Virginia, at our expense, to be present for every pretrial hearing. We made a commitment to attend every hearing, no matter the cost, as we were fighting for Jeffrey’s life. I would often work weekends, per an agreement I made with my employer, to be able to attend the hearings as I had continually exhausted all accrued vacation and sick time. On the Friday prior to the October 17, 2011 trial date, it was determined the government could not go forward with the trial, and Jeffrey and I returned home and waited.

What exactly were we waiting for? The government was attempting to subpoena journalist James Risen to testify that Jeffrey Sterling was his source for the leak of classified information. A lengthy battle ensued between the government and Mr. Risen’s attorneys, all the while forgetting Jeffrey. During oral arguments on May 18, 2012, the government referred to Jeffrey as “one of the most dangerous men in our country.” Jeffrey’s counsel, Mr. Edward MacMahon, Jr., stated for the record, “Mr. Sterling, one of the most dangerous men in our 8 country is present today.” The entire courtroom erupted into laughter, except for Jeffrey, myself, and his attorney, who found no humor in the statement. Our life was not a comedy, but had become very much a tragedy.

Time marched on as we continued to endure the excruciating burden of the pending trial, wanting desperately to return to our former life. Although Jeffrey was determined and persisted to obtain employment, he continued to be rejected time and time again. As time continued to fade away, so did our dreams and monetary resources. Although I was employed as a social worker, it was not enough to adequately pay our bills and pay for all the expenses related to traveling back and forth to Virginia for countless hearings. In the winter of 2014, I became unemployed for six months. We had no health insurance, were receiving food stamps, and facing foreclosure on our home. Our life had taken a severe turn for the worse and we had nowhere to turn. We had to rely on the goodwill of family and friends, taking monetary loans to keep afloat, and selling my 1998 Toyota Camry in desperate need of repairs beyond its value. Finally, I obtained a new job and at the final hour of losing our home, the bank was willing to grant a loan modification. The new day had shed some light, but the darkness continued to loom as we awaited a new trial date.

In October of 2014, we learned the trial was scheduled for January 12, 2015. I had just begun my new job approximately one month prior and had to bare my soul to my employer and hope they would not dismiss me due to the extreme circumstances and time required to attend the trial. Thankfully my employer was understanding and supportive. For the first time ever, Jeffrey attended pretrial hearings without me, as I was saving my vacation time for the trial. We spent the next months mentally preparing for what lay ahead and spent countless hours engrossed in planning for the absolute worst outcome yet maintaining constant faith that his innocence would 9 prevail.

In late December, tragedy struck as we learned that Jeffrey’s second-oldest brother, Steve, was diagnosed with cancer. Jeffrey and I went to visit him immediately, but that would be the last visit. Steve died on January 5th while Jeffrey was in Virginia for pretrial hearings. I garnered strength and called Jeffrey. Immediately, he knew by the tone in my voice as I did not even say the words, and he began to sob. My heart ached as I was unable to physically console him. All I could do was tell him how much I loved him. I spent the evening calling Jeffrey’s lawyers to inform them and discuss our options as Steven’s funeral was being held on January 12, the first day of the trial. The lawyers filed a motion requesting a delay for Jeffrey to attend Steven’s funeral. Judge Brinkema granted the motion with a delay of only one day. Next was figuring out how Jeffrey would return home as we had absolutely no money and were living paycheck to paycheck. Graciously, the Simons family purchased an airplane ticket for Jeffrey to return home on Friday evening January 9th. We spent the weekend grieving and once again examining our limited options of returning to Virginia in time for the trial. We decided we would have to drive straight through after Steven’s funeral as we did not have money to afford airplane tickets. Sunday afternoon came, and friends arrived at our home to pay their respects and visit with Jeffrey as that possibly could be the last time they would see him. Concerned for our mental health and safety driving such a long distance, they presented two airplane tickets for us to fly to Virginia. We attended Steve’s funeral but could not accompany our family to the cemetery as we had a three-hour drive back to St. Louis. Due to the trial, Jeffrey and his family were cheated out of being able to grieve their loss together.

As the jury selection began, it was very evident this was clearly not a “jury of Jeffrey’s peers,” as out of approximately 110 jurors in the jury pool only 7 were African American and all 10 of them were struck. The prosecution had no direct evidence to support their allegations that Jeffrey committed the alleged acts. In fact, during cross examination of Special Agent Ashley Hunt, she said she had no proof that Jeffrey and Mr. Risen ever talked about the classified operation in the emails or phone calls. Additionally, Agent Hunt testified to never obtaining the telephone and email records of other potential leak sources. Agent Hunt stated she merely “suspected” Jeffrey Sterling was the individual who leaked the information. Defense counsel Mr. Barry Pollack also ascertained from a current CIA manager that over 90 individuals were briefed on the classified operation. How can the government explain that Jeffrey was their only suspect when over 90 additional individuals had opportunity and motive to divulge classified information? Another disturbing part of the trial was when the jury foreman reported they could not reach a decision. It was at that moment when Judge Brinkema was once again responsible for executing the proper instructions. Instead of stating to the jury that it was acceptable to not conclude a unanimous decision, she told the jury to return and deliberate. After a forty-five minute lunch break, the jury found Jeffrey guilty on all nine counts. Completely in utter shock and despair, Jeffrey and I returned to our home. Once again not having the financial resources, two plane tickets were donated to us.

As we gravely awaited the sentencing hearing scheduled for April 24, 2015, we spent every waking moment together and reviewed the decisions we previously made prior to the trial. We spent many hours just sitting together in silence as we could not comprehend how a jury convicted Jeffrey, and we were terrified of the possibility of Jeffrey living the rest of his life in prison. Shortly before the sentencing hearing, Jeffrey received a call from his attorney stating the date of the sentencing hearing was being moved up to our utter shock. Jeffrey was too despondent to speak so I discussed the matter with the attorneys stating we had already 11 purchased plane tickets and could not afford the extra $1,000 it would cost to rebook. Not to mention, no reason was given as to the purpose of having to reschedule the hearing. After many days of telephone calls and emails, the new sentencing hearing was scheduled for May 11, 2015. The day came with much trepidation as we knew the government was seeking the maximum sentence. During the proceedings, Jeffrey addressed the court thanking them for the delay of the trial to attend his brother’s funeral and for the respect they had shown him for the last five years. Judge Brinkema expressed the view that the sentencing guidelines were too high, however, she said that the offenses of John Kiriakou and Jeffrey were similar, but that Jeffrey should get a slightly longer sentence because Mr. Kiriakou admitted his guilt in a plea bargain, while Jeffrey admitted no wrongdoing and went to trial. Since when is it permissible to punish someone for exercising their constitutional right to assert their innocence?

In a similar case involving Mr. Thomas Drake, it was apparent that Judge Richard Bennett clearly saw through the murky arguments of the government when he questioned the prosecutor, Mr. Welch, who was also the presiding prosecutor in Jeffrey’s first scheduled trial that never commenced. Judge Bennett requested to know how many defendants waited over two and a half years after their home was searched before an indictment is to be returned. He reported that is an “extraordinary period of delay” and that the average American citizen is “entitled to an answer.” Our home was searched on October 5, 2006 and Jeffrey was indicted on December 22, 2010. That is more than a four year delay. Judge Bennett stated, “I think at some point in time that the average citizen when their home is searched, which is a pretty, as you and I both know, Mr. Welch, is a pretty extreme experience for those who have experienced it, to have someone arrive at the crack of dawn and knock on the door and come through and inventory all the items in your home. I would think the average American after two years is entitled to know 12 what the status of the case is.” Judge Bennett further pressed Mr. Welch about the extraordinary time frame and when he was not provided a response he concluded “that if the executive branch of government doesn’t provide an explanation, at least it’s up to the judicial branch to note the impropriety of it. It was not proper. It doesn’t pass the smell test.” How is it Judge Bennett was clearly cognizant of the improprieties regarding Mr. Drake’s case, yet Judge Brinkema failed to recognize the similarly improper treatment of Jeffrey?

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Brinkema stated that Jeffrey should be placed in a prison near our home. It is apparent yet again that Jeffrey has been stripped of his rights, as he was placed in a Colorado prison nearly 900 miles away from his home in St. Louis. Jeffrey began serving his three and a half year sentence on June 16, 2015.

Mr. President, I ask you to explain how this unfathomable sequence of events has been allowed to continue for over a decade. Does the government have no shame in destroying one man’s life and wasting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to punish a man who had the audacity to do two things: Stand up for his constitutional rights and utilize proper channels provided to him to express concern for the citizens of our country? I am deeply saddened by our lives’ events that Jeffrey and I have suffered and endured. You publicly committed to a transparent government led by your administration, yet it has been shrouded in mistruth and secrecy. Since you have started your push this summer to commute prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, will you not extend the same courtesy to an innocent man in prison?

As your presidential election was a historical moment in this country, and most had high hopes of actually achieving the dream that all men and women are created equal despite the pigmentation in one’s skin, it appears the reverse has actually happened. How do you explain the obvious disparate treatment of General Petraeus? If one strips away the race, financial status, 13 and political clout of Jeffrey and Mr. Petraeus and solely reviewed the alleged crimes of Jeffrey and those pled by the general, it is glaringly obvious this was selective prosecution and sentencing. Mr. Petraeus pled to far more egregious acts than Jeffrey was convicted of, yet Jeffrey is rotting in a prison cell while Mr. Petraeus continues to live his life as he so chooses. How was it that Mr. Petraeus was allowed to blatantly lie to the FBI, which is a felony, yet this is not reflected on his criminal record? The treatment of Mr. Petraeus solidified the reprehensible belief in this country that the white man is presumed to be innocent and can do no wrong, and at worst is apt to only receive a slight slap on the wrist, while the black man is guilty until proven innocent and belongs behind bars.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in a letter to Judge Brinkema this spring: “Equality under the law as a cornerstone of justice, is significantly at stake in the sentencing of Mr. Sterling. While I realize that no two cases are identical, the fact remains that charges akin to those for which Mr. Sterling was convicted have in recent years resulted in extremely disparate penalties.”

Not only has Jeffrey suffered but so have his family, friends, community and society. And now an intelligent, strong, ethical, and productive member of our world feels as though he ceases to exist while in prison. Dr. Chad Holloway, a dear friend and former colleague of Jeffrey, shares: “it has been very painful for me, his other friends, and his family to observe the ruin of Jeffrey’s life, with the allegations and now conviction. But, even in time of crisis throughout this process, he has been a better friend to me than I to him. Even with the heaviness of his situation, he always asks about the things important to me and supports me.”

Mr. President, I ask you what do you want your legacy as president to be? Is it one in which you are remembered for prosecuting more whistleblowers than any other previous 14 administration combined, or rather, in the words of Pope Francis, “Let us remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Mr. President, you would be remiss not to consider what you have learned in this letter about the true Jeffrey Sterling, as he is not the “disgruntled man who hated the CIA and wanted to settle a score” as federal prosecutor Eric G. Olshan described him. Jeffrey deserves so much better than what he has been the recipient of.

Mr. President, this is your opportunity to show Jeffrey, our country, and the world what it means to be a true leader by acknowledging a grave injustice has been done and making amends. This can only be accomplished by granting Jeffrey Alexander Sterling an immediate pardon.

Most respectfully,

Mrs. Holly Sterling

Unprecedented News Conference: Wife of Imprisoned CIA Whistleblower to Speak Out

Media Advisory

Unprecedented News Conference: Wife of Imprisoned CIA Whistleblower to Speak Out

October 15 at 9:30 a.m. – National Press Club, Washington

What:  News Conference with Holly Sterling, wife of imprisoned CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, plus whistleblowers from government agencies

When:  Thursday, October 15 at 9:30 a.m.

Where:  National Press Club (Zenger Room), 13th Floor, National Press Building, Washington, D.C.

Cosponsors: ExposeFacts, Reporters Without Borders,


Jeffrey Sterling was convicted under the Espionage Act as a source for New York Times reporter James Risen’s book State of War. He began serving his three-and-a-half year prison sentence in June. His wife’s news conference will be the first time the spouse of a CIA whistleblower has made such an appearance.

National Press Club President John Hughes will give opening remarks.

Additional speakers include:
*  Thomas Drake
*  Delphine Halgand
*  Ray McGovern
*  Jesselyn Radack

Background on News Conference Speakers:

Thomas Drake is a former senior executive at the National Security Agency where he blew the whistle on massive multi-billion dollar fraud, waste and the widespread violations of the rights of citizens through secret mass surveillance programs after 9/11. As retaliation and reprisal, the Obama Administration indicted Drake in 2010 as the first whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg was charged with espionage, and Drake faced 35 years in prison, turning him into an Enemy of the State for his oath to defend the Constitution. In 2011, the government’s case against him collapsed and he went free in a plea deal. He is the recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Truth Telling Prize, and a joint recipient with Jesselyn Radack of the 2011 Sam Adams Associates Integrity in Intelligence Award and the 2012 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. He is now dedicated to the defense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Delphine Halgand has been working as the Director of the US office for Reporters Without Borders since December 2011. She runs activities for the organization in the country and advocates for journalists, bloggers and media rights worldwide. Acting as RSF’s spokesperson in the US, Halgand regularly appears on American (CNN, Fox News, PBS, Democracy Now…) and foreign media (BBC World TV, Al Jazeera, NTN24…) and lectures at conferences in US universities (Harvard, UCLA, Yale, Columbia…) on press freedom violation issues. She previously served as Press attaché in charge of outreach at the French Embassy to the US. Since graduating from Sciences Po Paris with an M.A. in Journalism, Halgand has worked as an economics correspondent for various French media (Le Monde, Les Echos, L’Express…), focusing mainly on international politics and macroeconomic issues.

Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst turned political activist and speaker, chaired the National Intelligence Estimates in the 1980s. He prepared the daily briefs for presidents from John F. Kennedy to George H.W. Bush. For his CIA service he received the Intelligence Commendation Medal, which he returned in 2006 in protest of the CIA’s involvement in torture. In 2003, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, an organization committed to analyzing and criticizing the use of intelligence. McGovern was one of four American whistleblowers who met with Edward Snowden in Russia in 2013 to present Snowden with an award for integrity in intelligence for providing NSA documents to the press.

Jesselyn Radack 
heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts. As National Security and Human Rights Director of WHISPeR, her work focuses on the issues of secrecy, surveillance, torture and drone attacks, where she has been at the forefront of challenging the government’s unprecedented “war on whistleblowers,” which has become a war on online activists, journalists and information. Among her clients are seven national security and intelligence community employees who have been investigated, charged, or prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling classified information, including Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and John Kiriakou. She also represents clients bringing whistleblower retaliation complains in federal court and other administrative bodies. Previously, she served for seven years as National Security and Human Rights Director at the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization, on the DC Bar Legal Ethics Committee and worked at the Justice Department for seven years, first as a trial attorney and later as a legal ethics advisor.

Cosponsoring the news conference are ExposeFacts, Reporters Without Borders and

ExposeFacts is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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


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, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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

Netanyahu Victory Opens Door for One-State Solution

Netanyahu Victory Opens Door for One-State Solution
by Francis Boyle

Just before the election, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu ruled out the creation of a Palestinian State, which means that he repudiated the two-state solution to the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This has been the pronounced objective of American foreign policy since the Madrid Conference and the Middle East Peace Negotiations in 1991 held under the auspices of the United States government and with the full support of the international community.

If implemented, Netanyahu’s decision will leave the Palestinians no alternative but to pursue the creation of one-state of Palestine that will include what is known today as Palestine, Israel and Jerusalem and where a majority of its citizens will be Palestinians.

Before the Palestinian Declaration of Independence of 15 November 1988, the position of the Palestine National Council and the Palestine Liberation Organization was that there should be only one, democratic and secular state for the entire mandate for Palestine, which would include Israel within it.

It was PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat himself who encouraged the Palestine National Council to accept the two-state solution in the Palestinian Declaration of Independence of 15 November 1988. After 27 years of fruitlessly trying to pursue a two-state solution, it is now time for the Palestine National Council and the PLO to reconsider their options.

Professor Francis A. Boyle, University of Illinois College of Law, served as Legal Adviser to the PLO and Chairman Yasser Arafat on the 15 November 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence and as legal adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations and its chair Dr. Haidar Abdul Shaffi from 1991 to 1993. His books include Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law (2003) and The Palestinian Right of Return under International Law (2011).

Media Advisory: Whistleblowers to Speak About Surveillance and Cyber Issues

[Note: A news conference organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy and on surveillance that had been scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 17 with NSA whistleblowers William Binney J. Kirk Wiebe has been cancelled on account of anticipated weather conditions.]

Reuters is reporting today: “President Barack Obama is set to sign an executive order on Friday aimed at encouraging companies to share more information about cybersecurity threats with the government and each other, a response to attacks like that on Sony Entertainment. … Obama will sign the order at a day-long conference on cybersecurity at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley.” will be holding a news conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday featuring two prominent National Security Agency whistleblowers — William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe — who will discuss the administration’s record on surveillance and cyber issues.

Details on the news conference:

10:00 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17
Murrow Room, National Press Club, Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Eric Holder will be speaking at the National Press Club later that day.

William Binney is a former high-level National Security Agency intelligence official who, after his 2001 retirement after 30 years, blew the whistle on NSA surveillance programs. His outspoken criticism of the NSA during the George W. Bush administration made him the subject of FBI investigations that included a raid on his home in 2007. Even before Edward Snowden’s NSA whistleblowing, Binney publicly revealed that NSA had access to telecommunications companies’ domestic and international billing records, and that since 9/11 the agency has intercepted some 15 to 20 trillion communications. The Snowden disclosures confirmed many of the surveillance dangers Binney — without the benefit of documents — had been warning about under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Binney has been singled out for praise by Snowden, who told the Wall Street Journal: “I have tremendous respect for Binney, who did everything he could according to the rules. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for highlighting how the Intelligence Community punishes reporting abuses within the system.”

J. Kirk Wiebe is a retired National Security Agency whistleblower who worked at the agency for 36 years. Wiebe’s colleague William Binney developed the ThinThread information processing system that, arguably, could have detected and prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks. NSA officials, though, ignored the program in favor of Trailblazer, a program that ended in total failure with costs of billions of dollars. Wiebe and Binney blew the whistle internally on Trailblazer, but to no avail. Post 9/11, the NSA used ThinThread to illegally spy on U.S. citizens’ communications. Unable to stay at NSA any longer in good conscience, Wiebe retired in October 2001. Since retiring, Wiebe andBinney made several key public disclosures regarding NSA’s massive surveillance program.

Binney and Wiebe are on the advisory board. is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.