Sterling Seeks to Subpoena Senate Intel Staffers Over Leaks

07.13.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling, who is suspected of leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen, this week asked a court to issue subpoenas (pdf) for staff and records of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  The move is part of a defense strategy to show that it was Senate staffers rather than Mr. Sterling who leaked the classified information in question.

“Mr. Sterling is charged with unlawfully disclosing classified information to a third party [i.e., Mr. Risen] not authorized to receive the information,” Sterling’s July 11 motion explained. “An obvious defense at trial will be that any disclosure to the third party was done by another person or by multiple individuals — and not by Mr. Sterling.”

“Specifically, Mr. Sterling spoke to staff members of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2003 about the Classified Program underlying the charges in the Indictment. These conversations were all lawful. Discovery in this case has revealed that Mr. Sterling spoke to two Committee staff members, Donald Stone and Vicky Divoll, and that they briefed a third Committee staff member, Lorenzo Goco. Less than a month after Mr. Sterling’s conversation with the Senate staffers, Mr. Risen contacted the C.I.A. requesting comments for an article on Classified Program No. 1. The timing is highly suggestive that it was one of the staff members and not Mr. Sterling who unlawfully disclosed classified information.”

The subpoenas were first reported by Josh Gerstein in Politico (“Alleged CIA leaker wants to subpoena Senate and intel panel aides,” July 11).

Proposing a potential alternative source for the unauthorized disclosure, while a sensible tactic for the defense, might have the unintended consequence of increasing the pressure for Mr. Risen to testify.  Prosecutors are already urging the court to grant a subpoena for Risen to clarify the facts of the matter.  Even if he is not compelled to identify his source, he might still be pressed to confirm who was not his source.