A former US CIA officer has been arrested on charges of illegally disclosing national defence information about Iran to a New York Times reporter who wrote a book. The US Justice Department said Jeffrey Sterling, 43, was charged with six counts of unauthorised disclosure of national defence information and one count of unlawfully keeping national defence information, mail fraud, unauthorised conveyance of government property and obstructing justice.
The arrest marked the latest case brought by the Obama administration charging current or former US officials with leaking classified information to the news media. It also has been investigating the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, for leaking hundreds of classified US diplomatic cables that have embarrassed the White House. Sterling, a lawyer who worked at the CIA from 1993 to 2002, was arrested in St. Louis near where he lives.
From 1998 through mid-2000, he was assigned to a classified clandestine programme that conducted intelligence activities about the weapons capabilities of certain countries, the Justice Department said in announcing the indictment against Sterling. A legal source familiar with the case said one of the countries involved was Iran. In the same time period, Sterling also was an operations officer who handled a human asset associated with that program, according to the indictment.
Beginning in mid-2000, Sterling complained of employment-related racial discrimination at the CIA and challenging CIA decisions about his efforts to publish his memoirs. The indictment alleged that Sterling, retaliating for the CIA’s refusal to settle on favourable terms his discrimination claims, disclosed information about the programme. It said he discussed the information with the reporter in early 2003 and later in connection with a book published in January 2006. The Justice Department did not identify the reporter.
But the dates and other details in the indictment make clear it involved New York Times reporter James Risen, whose 2006 book “State of War” revealed details of the CIA’s intelligence activities involving Iran. The source familiar with the case confirmed that the reporter in the indictment was Risen. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 or 20 years in prison.
In other cases, Stephen Kim, a foreign policy analyst who worked at the US State Department, was charged in August with leaking a top-secret intelligence report to a news reporter last year. Also last year, a former high-ranking official at the National Security Agency was charged with illegally possessing classified information that he allegedly gave to a reporter at the Baltimore Sun newspaper.