Ex-CIA Agent Jeffrey Sterling Arrested, Accused of Leaking to Reporter as Revenge

Ex-CIA agent tried to publish memoirs, was rejected by agency.

Jan. 6, 2011 — -- Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was arrested today on charges that he leaked national defense information to the media and revealed the identity of a "human asset."

Sterling, 43, worked for the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002, and for two years was assigned to "a classified clandestine operational program designed to conduct intelligence activities related to the weapons capabilities of certain countries," according to the indictment. During that time, he also was handling a "human asset" associated with that program.

Sterling is charged with leaking information about that classified program and the human asset. The Justice Department said the leaks went to James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, in early 2003 and, later, surfaced in connection with a book Risen published in 2006.

Sterling's defense attorney Edward B. MacMahon Jr. said in a statement to ABC News, "He has always maintained his innocence throughout the course of this entire investigation. We'll seek to prove that in court."

According to the indictment, on Feb. 12, 2003, the CIA rejected Sterling's third offer to settle his discrimination lawsuit, which was ultimately dismissed by the court. The indictment alleges that beginning a few weeks later, Sterling started providing the reporter with classified information.

Specifically, the indictment charges Sterling with six counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, and one count each of unlawful retention of national defense information, mail fraud, unauthorized conveyance of government property and obstruction of justice.

He will be held at least until a detention hearing on Jan. 10 at 2 p.m.

Asked about the arrest, Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman, said, "The CIA deplores the unauthorized disclosure of classified information."

The New York Times declined to comment on the indictment of Sterling or about Risen's involvement. A message on Risen's phone extension at the Times' Washington bureau indicated that his voice mailbox was full.