An ex-CIA agent was convicted in federal court on Monday for leaking classified information about a top-secret operation to thwart Iran’s nuclear program to a reporter from the New York Times.
According to Reuters, jurors found Jeffrey Sterling, 47, guilty of the nine counts charged against him, including six counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information after allegedly providing top-secret information to reporter James Risen.
Sterling’s conviction is deemed a victory for the Justice Department, which, under the Obama administration, has prosecuted a large number of cases involving unauthorized leaks from government employees.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement saying the guilty verdict against the former CIA agent was the right one, the New York Times reports.
“This is a just and appropriate outcome. The defendant’s unauthorized disclosures of classified information compromised operations undertaken in defense of America’s national security. The disclosures placed lives at risk. And they constituted an egregious breach of the public trust by someone who had sworn to uphold it. As this verdict proves, it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”
According to CNN, FBI Director James Comey also weighed in after the verdict, describing Sterling’s actions as a betrayal to the United States.
“[Sterling] violated his sworn duty to protect our nation’s secrets and he betrayed our country. The FBI will continue to pursue these cases vigorously.”
Although evidence was circumstantial, prosecutors argued the former agent was the only person who had the opportunity, means, and motive to leak the classified information of the program, which Risen describes in his book, State of War. Sterling’s attorneys argued during the two-week trial that the information in the book was just as likely to have come from White House staffers and pieced together from other sources at the Central Intelligence Agency. Defense attorneys did admit there was a relationship between Sterling and Risen, but the two only talked about the former CIA agent’s discrimination lawsuit against the agency.
The Washington Post reports Jeffrey Sterling, who faced charges under the Espionage Act, was first accused of providing the classified information to James Risen in 2010. The case took years to go to court because the reporter refused to reveal his sources. The Justice Department declined to subpoena James Risen to testify as he vowed to go to jail to protect his sources.
The ex-CIA agent, who now resides in Missouri, remains free until his sentencing hearing on April 24.
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