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

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

ByABC News
January 6, 2011, 3:05 PM

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."

The motive, according to the Justice Department, was revenge.

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.

The Associated Press reported that from the dates and other details, it is clear that case centers on leaks to Risen for his 2006 book, "State of War." The book revealed details about the CIA's covert spy war with Iran. The AP reported that the Justice Department twice subpoenaed Risen to force him to reveal his sources, but he refused.

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."

Sterling has been in a dispute with the CIA since 2000, focused on alleged racial discrimination and the agency's refusal to allow him to publish his memoirs.

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.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said, "The indictment unsealed today alleges that Jeffrey Sterling violated his oath to protect classified information and then obstructed an investigation into his actions. Through his alleged actions, Sterling placed at risk our national security and the life of an individual working on a classified mission."

Sterling was arrested today in St. Louis and was expected to make his initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry I. Adelman in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

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.