Unequal Justice in America?: General Petraeus Gets a Slap on the Wrist for Leaking Classified Information…While Former CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Gets 42 Months in Prison (VIDEO)

Jeffrey Sterling

Jeffrey Sterling

By Elaine Magliaro

On Monday, Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to 42 months in prison. Sterling is the former CIA officer who was convicted of “leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen about a failed U.S. effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.” Risen exposed how “Operation Merlin” could have actually aided the Iranian nuclear program. The US government claimed that Sterling had violated the Espionage Act by revealing details about that covert operation during the Clinton Administration, which “was to provide Iran with flawed designs for nuclear weapons components, ostensibly to delay the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, or frame Iran.”

Xeni Jardin (BoingBoing):

With Sterling as a source, Risen wrote about Operation Merlin operation in his 2006 book, “State of War.” Risen described it as a botched mission which may have ended up advancing, rather than deterring, Iran’s nuclear program.

I wrote about Sterling in two posts in February:

According to Peter Maass (The Intercept), Sterling’s lawyers asked the judge “not to abide by sentencing guidelines calling for 19 to 24 years behind bars.” They argued that the former CIA officer “should be treated with the same leniency shown to former Gen. David Petraeus.” Petraeus was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. He avoided prison time after he admitted “to leaking classified information to his biographer and then-girlfriend, Paula Broadwell.”


Sterling’s lawyers also pointed to the case of former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who was recently released from jail after a 30-month sentence for disclosing the name of a covert agent to a reporter, and to the 13-month-sentence handed down to Stephen Kim, who pleaded guilty to talking about a classified document with a Fox News reporter.

After the sentencing, Barry Pollack—one of Sterling’s lawyers—said, “We think (the jury) got it wrong. That said, the judge today got it right. She looked at all of the good work Jeffrey Sterling had done throughout his life and gave him a fair sentence under the circumstances. Today closes a sad chapter in a long saga.”


The sentence, while one of the longest for a leaker in the Obama era, was far lower than some people had expected. Jesselyn Radack, director of National Security and Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project, told The Intercept that she had expected “a lot worse” than 42 months. “Any jail time is excessive in light of what Gen. Petraeus got, but in light of what the government was seeking, between 19 and 24 years, this is the least worst outcome,” she said. Radack noted, however, that the offense for which Brinkema sent Kiriakou and Sterling to prison was also committed by Petraeus, because the information he shared with Broadwell included the identities of covert agents.

Former CIA Director General David Petraeus

Former CIA Director General David Petraeus

Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out Upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison (Democracy Now!)


NEWSFLASH: Disgraced General David Petraeus Remains a Trusted White House Advisor (Flowers for Socrates)


Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out Upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison (Democracy Now!)

Ex-CIA Jeffrey Sterling gets 42 months for leaking to NYT. David Petraeus remains free. (BoingBoing)

CIA’s Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to 42 Months for Leaking to New York Times Journalist (The Intercept)

This entry was posted in Barack Obama, CIA, Courts, Crime, Democracy, DOJ, Free Speech, Government, Hypocrisy, Iran, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law Enforcement, Presidents, United States and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Unequal Justice in America?: General Petraeus Gets a Slap on the Wrist for Leaking Classified Information…While Former CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Gets 42 Months in Prison (VIDEO)

  1. rafflaw says:

    Sterling should have received the same leniency that the General received. Unequal treatment indeed!

  2. po says:

    Yep, Petraeus, Panetta, John Brennan…all leakers, one out of three got a slap on the wrist.
    What fascinates me is the blatant manner with which they do what they want. There is no longer any semblance of fairness or justice. They can build any case they want and bury anyone they want..and there is nothing that can be done about it.

  3. blouise17 says:

    On the other hand, Petraeus did it for love so …..

  4. Elaine M. says:


    Love? Is that what he did it for? C’mon, blouise, you know better than that.


  5. pete says:

    Mrs. General Petraeus would be happy knowing that.

  6. bigfatmike says:

    Does anyone know if Sterling was offered a plea deal and if so what that would have been?

  7. Elaine M. says:

    Punishing Another Whistleblower, Jeffrey Sterling
    By Ray McGovern

    Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was a whistleblower who was then targeted by the U.S. legal system for retaliation, which now includes a 42-month prison sentence. His real “crime” was going to the Senate Intelligence Committee to report on a dubious and dangerous covert operation that involved giving doctored nuclear-bomb blueprints to Iran.

    Though Sterling’s action was “within proper channels,” the move made Sterling a dead duck inside the CIA, which doesn’t want any of its employees to do that – and it appears neither do the members of the congressional “overlook” committees who would prefer not to know such things. So, when the account of the Iran scam appeared in James Risen’s 2006 book, State of War, the CIA and the Justice Department went after Sterling although the leak might well have come from someone on the Senate committee or elsewhere, not Sterling.

    The CIA was especially outraged because Risen’s account made the spy agency look like a bunch of clowns. Someone was going to have to pay for causing the embarrassment and that person became Sterling, who was convicted in what amounted to an entirely circumstantial case under the 1917 Espionage Act, which was meant to apply to spies giving information to foreign governments, not to U.S. government officials providing facts to American journalists to share with the American people.

    There were signs that Judge Leonie Brinkema may have had some pangs of conscience over what she had allowed to happen in her courtroom where Sterling was convicted. She had scheduled Sterling’s sentencing for April 24, but that was just a day after retired Gen. (and former CIA Director) David Petraeus received probation and no jail time for divulging highly classified material to his biographer/lover and then lying about it to the FBI.

    Instead of sentencing Sterling the next day, when the Petraeus wrist slap was on everyone’s mind, Judge Brinkema postponed the announcement of Sterling’s fate to Monday. My guess is that she wanted to put at least two weeks – the proverbial ”decent interval” – between Petraeus’s sweetheart deal and the 3 ½ years in prison that she gave Sterling.

    It was painfully instructive witnessing the sentencing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria – a jurisdiction that is widely regarded as a prosecutor’s dream. Judge Brinkema began on an oddly defensive note, in what seemed to be a rather transparent attempt to deflect charges that the prosecution, the jury and she had succeeded in convicting Sterling solely on circumstantial evidence – evidence that, in the view from my seat at the trial in January, did not and does not bear close scrutiny.


    NOTE: Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publication arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served at CIA from the administrations of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush, and was one of five CIA “alumni” who created Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003.

  8. blouise says:

    Well pete and Elaine, all this sympathy for Petraeus from prosecutors, judges, congressmen/women, military personnel, CIA officials, presidents, etc leads me to believe that they are all a bit too understanding of adulterers who pass on top secret information while in the throws of illicit passion.

    It is my experience that such sympathy usually comes from “there but for the grace of God goes my little adulterous ass” expertise. I would say that Mrs. General Petraeus has quite a number of betrayed spouses who belong to her club. She and Hillary should invite them all to tea …

  9. pete says:

    Ex-Mrs. Gingrich 1&2 may attend, also Mrs. Vitter has a lovely new leopard print to show off. Mrs. Craig had to bow out, something about tap dancing lessons.

  10. Elaine M. says:

    CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Prison: The Latest Blow in the Government’s War on Journalism
    It’s a warning shot—not only against whistleblowing but against basic communication with journalists by government employees.
    Norman Solomon
    May 12, 2015

    The successful prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling has given more leverage to the information clampdown that the Obama administration continues to implement. With a multi-count Espionage Act conviction, it serves as yet another warning shot—not only against whistleblowing and disclosure of classified information, but also against basic communication with journalists by government employees and contractors.

    Over decades, while interviewing sources with security clearances, hundreds of journalists have had the experience of asking questions and receiving a reply along the lines of: I can’t tell you the answer because it’s classified, but I can tell you (fill in the blank). Such responses mean that sources can be helpful to a reporter’s investigative process without disclosing any classified information. But one of the evident aims of the Sterling prosecution was to strengthen government efforts to choke off such communications. The not-so-subtle gist: Telling a journalist anything that might lead to coverage of classified information could be a basis for prosecution and conviction. The Sterling case stands as a calculated warning to government employees that Espionage Act charges could result from assisting any journalist for a story that might wind up reporting classified information.

    Such legal constructions fit tongue-in-groove with the agenda of the intelligence hierarchy under Obama. For years now, the administration’s “Insider Threat” program has formally encouraged millions of government employees to monitor each other for—and report on—signs of ideological or attitudinal deviance. An order from National Intelligence Director James Clapper warned employees of all intelligence agencies not to give any journalist non-classified information without first getting authorization. Such measures are part of a calculated progression that aims—via bureaucratic edicts as well as legal harassment and criminal prosecutions—to normalize an atmosphere of fear and reflexive self-constraint, blocking the unauthorized delivery of information to the public.

  11. Elaine M. says:

    Overkill on a C.I.A. Leak Case
    MAY 13, 2015

    Mr. Sterling, who maintains his innocence and may appeal his conviction, is only the latest target of the Obama administration, which has charged more public servants with leaks to journalists than all previous administrations combined. He joins at least three other C.I.A. officers and contractors in receiving prison time for leaking classified information.

    In light of these prosecutions, it is worth considering the degree to which this White House seems to value secrecy over accountability.

    It fixates on certain leakers, and the reporters they work with, even as it neglects to prosecute anyone for, say, the torture of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere, or for the intentional destruction of videotapes documenting that torture.

    It pleads with newspapers not to print the name of a senior officer behind the C.I.A.’s interrogation and targeted-killing programs, even as it allowed David Petraeus, the former C.I.A. chief, to plead to a misdemeanor for giving his biographer (and lover) classified information, including the names of covert officers. Mr. Petraeus got probation and a fine.

    Of course, we already know that torture and drone strikes pose a profound threat to America’s national security and the safety of its citizens abroad. After all, the murderers of the Islamic State did not dress their victims in orange jumpsuits for no reason; they did it to evoke the horrors of the Guantánamo prison camp.

  12. bettykath says:

    One difference that I see between Petreaus and Sterling is what each might know that would embarrass tptb.

  13. blouise says:


    Yep … and …. if one was willing to betray one’s wife and country for sex, who would one be willing to betray for revenge?

  14. Elaine M. says:

    Don’t Grade Justice on a Warped Curve: Assessing the Case of Jeffrey Sterling
    Sunday, 17 May 2015
    By Norman Solomon

    Yes, I saw the glum faces of prosecutors in the courtroom a few days ago, when the judge sentenced CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling to three and a half years in prison — far from the 19 to 24 years they’d suggested would be appropriate.

    Yes, I get that there was a huge gap between the punishment the government sought and what it got — a gap that can be understood as a rebuke to the dominant hard-line elements at the Justice Department.

    And yes, it was a positive step when a May 13 editorial by the New York Times finally criticized the extreme prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling.

    But let’s be clear: The only fair sentence for Sterling would have been no sentence at all. Or, at most, something like the recent gentle wrist-slap, with no time behind bars, for former CIA director David Petraeus, who was sentenced for providing highly classified information to his journalist lover.

    Jeffrey Sterling has already suffered enormously since indictment in December 2010 on numerous felony counts, including seven under the Espionage Act. And for what?

    The government’s righteous charge has been that Sterling provided information to New York Times reporter James Risen that went into a chapter of his 2006 book “State of War” — about the CIA’s Operation Merlin, which in 2000 provided Iran with flawed design information for a nuclear weapon component.

    As Marcy Wheeler and I wrote last fall: “If the government’s indictment is accurate in its claim that Sterling divulged classified information, then he took a great risk to inform the public about an action that, in Risen’s words, ‘may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.’ If the indictment is false, then Sterling is guilty of nothing more than charging the agency with racial bias and going through channels to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee of extremely dangerous CIA actions.”

    Whether “guilty” or “innocent” of doing the right thing, Sterling has already been through a protracted hell. And now — after he has been unemployable for more than four years while enduring a legal process that threatened to send him to prison for decades — perhaps it takes a bit of numbness for anyone to think of the sentence he just received as anything less than an outrage.

  15. rafflaw says:

    Sterling should go through the same “Hell” Gen. Petraeus went through! I guess rank has its privileges.

  16. pete says:


    Yeah, but what about Hillary? 😈

  17. Pingback: Norman Solomon Writes about Jeffrey Sterling and the CIA: “An Untold Story of Race and Retribution” | Flowers For Socrates

Comments are closed.