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Feds Seek Stiff Sentence For CIA Leak On EPIC BOTCH In Iran

Federal prosecutors are looking to throw the book at former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling for leaking sensitive information about an operation to foil Iranian nuclear developments.

In January, 47-year-old Sterling was convicted of espionage for sending classified information over to New York Times journalist James Risen about Operation Merlin, a CIA plan apparently gone horribly wrong that the Clinton and Bush administrations tried to keep silent, Politico reports.

Operation Merlin began in the 1990s as an attempt to use a Russian nuclear scientist for the purposes of delivering crucially flawed plans to the Iranians, in order to foil the country’s nuclear ambitions.

As written by James Risen in his book, State of War, the idea was for the scientist to portray himself as unemployed and greedy, hoping it would function as an effective cover to lure the Iranians into paying for the plans.

During the mission briefing, the Russian scientist noticed there were flaws in the blueprint. That wasn’t part of the CIA’s plan, but other agents in the room tactfully avoided his concerns. Training for the mission continued, but the error never left the Russian’s mind.

Although he was given specific instructions not to open the sealed enveloped he was to give to the Iranians, he not only opened up the envelope, but he also wrote a personal letter detailing the flaws in the design and handed the information over to the Iranians. The delivery was completed on March 3, 2000. Risen argues that the botched operation actually accelerated nuclear development in Iran.

As Risen put it, the Russian was hedging his bets, afraid that the Iranians might not want to deal with him again if he gave them incorrect information.

The public might have been blissfully unaware of the disaster, save for Jeffrey Sterling, who allegedly was the key source for Risen’s book.

According to federal prosecutors, this is a clear-cut case of leaking, not whistleblowing, and instead of revealing the details of the operation to just one country, in effect, “every intelligence service in the world knew what we did and how we did it,” prosecutors noted. “The potential damage is uncontrollable and potentially limitless.”

While prosecutors didn’t suggest the length of the prison sentence, they did tell U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema that the court needs to come down hard to provide an example to other would-be leakers, who hold grudges. One explanation advanced by prosecutors is that Sterling’s leak to Risen was an attempt to get back at the CIA for firing him.

“A substantial sentence in this case would send an appropriate and much needed message to all persons entrusted with the handling of classified information, i.e., that intentional breaches of the laws governing the safeguarding of national defense information will be pursued aggressively, and those who violate the law in this manner will be tried, convicted, and punished accordingly,” prosecutors argued.

Sterling will receive the sentence on May 11.

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

 

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