Secrecy News

Another Indictment in a Leak Case

The Obama Administration yesterday announced an unprecedented fifth prosecution in a case involving unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

Former Central Intelligence Agency officer Jeffrey A. Sterling was arrested on charges of disclosing classified intelligence information concerning a foreign nuclear weapons program to an unnamed author.  From the context, it is evident that the alleged recipient [referred to as Author A] is New York Times reporter James Risen and the foreign nuclear program is that of Iran.

A copy of the indictment, dated December 22, 2010 and unsealed January 6, 2011, is here (pdf).

Aside from the intrinsic interest of the allegations, the indictment includes numerous incidental details worthy of note.  For example:

**  “In or about early May 2003, senior management from Author A’s employer informed a senior United States government official that the newspaper article would not be published.”  That is, the New York Times decided not to publish the classified information at issue after the U.S. government argued that its revelation would damage national security.  But Mr. Risen reached a different conclusion and went on to write about the material in his 2006 book State of War.  In a contest of this sort, the party that is willing to publish naturally determines the outcome.

**  “Between on or about February 9, 2004, and on or about April 24, 2004, Author A placed fourteen interstate telephone calls from Author A’s personal residence to the temporary residence of defendant STERLING and sent one interstate email.”  This indicates that Mr. Risen or Mr. Sterling or both were under close surveillance at that time.

**  The indictment shows some prosecutorial creativity in adding charges such as “mail fraud,” along with alleged violations of the espionage statutes.  This is based on the allegation that Mr. Sterling “did knowingly cause to be delivered by the United States Postal Service … a shipment of Author A’s published books for sale at a commercial retail bookstore,” thereby somehow defrauding the CIA.  Also citing the distribution of Mr. Risen’s book, the indictment additionally charges Mr. Sterling with “unauthorized conveyance of government property.”

The record number of leak prosecutions in the Obama Administration now include Mr. Sterling, former FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz, former NSA official Thomas A. Drake, Army private Bradley Manning, and former State Department contractor Stephen Kim.

See further coverage in Former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling charged in leak probe by Greg Miller, Washington Post, January 7, and Ex-C.I.A. Officer Named in Disclosure Indictment by Charlie Savage, New York Times,” January 7.