News Release

Journalist and Whistleblower in DOJ Crosshairs: Full Story of Risen and Sterling Published Today


The Nation magazine today published a major story that documents the Obama administration’s extraordinary pursuit of New York Times investigative reporter James Risen and its parallel moves against former CIA undercover agent Jeffrey Sterling. The article says that “the standard media narratives about Risen and Sterling have skipped over deep patterns of government retaliation against recalcitrant journalists and whistleblowers. Those patterns are undermining press freedom, precluding the informed consent of the governed and hiding crucial aspects of U.S. foreign policy.”

Scrutinizing what the New York Times has called “the most serious confrontation between the government and the press in recent history,” the in-depth article inThe Nation sifts through the protracted and ongoing efforts by the U.S. government targeting Risen and Sterling.

“Under Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s Justice Department took up where the Bush DOJ left off,” the article reports, assessing the legal maneuvers of both administrations. A vendetta against Risen goes back at least a decade at the CIA, “where officials have loathed his way of flipping over their rocks,” the article says.

Top officials at the agency fired Sterling after he filed a complaint alleging racial discrimination. Sterling also broke ranks with the CIA hierarchy by going through channels to tell staffers at the Senate Intelligence Committee about a reckless and dangerous CIA operation, which involved providing flawed nuclear-weapons design information to Iran.

Risen has faced a series of subpoenas and legal threats from the Justice Department for almost seven years, and could be imprisoned or subjected to harsh fines for refusing to identify a confidential source for the chapter about that CIA operation in his 2006 book State of War. Meanwhile, Sterling is facing an imminent trial on 10 felony counts, which include seven under the Espionage Act.

The separate yet intertwined legal actions against Risen and Sterling have the strong odor of retaliation from high places in the Obama administration, The Nation reports: “John Brennan — President Obama’s former counterterrorism czar and now CIA director — has been at notable cross-purposes with both Risen and Sterling for more than a decade. Brennan was a senior CIA official when the agency rolled out its torture program under Bush, which came under intense public scrutiny after the use of waterboarding was revealed in a May 13, 2004, front-page Times story with Risen as the lead reporter. And Brennan played a key role in the illegal wiretap program, overseeing the production of what personnel in the program called the ‘scary memos’ intended to justify the domestic spying exposed by Risen.”

The Nation article was written by Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler, who are journalists with, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

“In the end, whether Risen goes to jail for contempt or not, the last seven years of his battling subpoenas are well-designed to intimidate other investigative reporters,” Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg told The Nation. “Likewise, Sterling’s ordeal comes from a strategy to frighten potential whistleblowers, whether he was the source of this leak or not. The aim is to punish troublemakers with harassment, threats, indictments, years in court and likely prison—even if they’ve only gone through official channels to register accusations about their superiors and agency. That is, by the way, a practical warning to would-be whistleblowers who would prefer to ‘follow the rules.’ But in any case, whoever were the actual sources to the press of information about criminal violations of the Fourth Amendment, in the NSA case, or of reckless incompetence, in the CIA case, they did a great public service.”

The article concludes: “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. Either way, Jeffrey Sterling is now facing dire consequences as a whistleblower in the Obama era.”

The article is posted on The Nation’s website. See here.


The writers of the article are available for interviews:

NORMAN SOLOMON, solomonprogressive at
Solomon is the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and a co-founder of

MARCY WHEELER, emptywheel at
Wheeler writes widely about the legal aspects of the “war on terror” and its effects on civil liberties. She blogs at and writes the “Right to Know” column for