News Release

New Prominence: CIA Whistleblower Case


The Washington Post reports in an in-depth piece today on the front page: “Locked away in federal prison, Jeffrey Sterling is struggling to keep his demons at bay. The former CIA officer whose case came to signify the Obama administration’s crackdown on leakers spends his days reading, tutoring fellow inmates and finishing a memoir, which he says he has to write by hand and mail home so his wife can type it. …

“Sterling discussed his case and his life with a Washington Post reporter in a months-long back-and-forth over the prison’s electronic messaging system. Prison officials also allowed him an hour-long telephone interview with the reporter but denied an in-person visit. …

“Holly, who met Sterling on in 2004 and married him three years later, has been her husband’s biggest booster. On Wednesday, she spoke at a news conference in the District sponsored by ExposeFacts, Reporters Without Borders and, urging people to sign a petition that asks President Obama to pardon her husband.

“Later, a group of supporters — which included prominent professor and activist Cornel West and another former CIA officer convicted in a leak case, John Kiriakou — walked to the White House carrying reams of paper containing what they said was just short of 150,000 signatures.

“‘It is wrong, and you have the power, and you need to do what is right,’ Holly said, directing her remarks at Obama.”

HOLLY STERLING, via Sam Husseini, sam at
Holly Sterling is the wife of Jeffrey Sterling. She, Kiriakou and Solomon (below) were among the speakers at the news conference. See video.

JOHN KIRIAKOU, jkiriakou at
Kiriakou is a CIA whistleblower and former agency case officer; he spent 30 months in jail after revealing information about U.S. government torture practices. He said today: “The President has a unique opportunity to do the right thing and to respond positively to more than 150,000 people urging a pardon for Jeffrey Sterling. And by pardoning Jeffrey Sterling he can ensure that his legacy is not one of waging war on whistleblowers.” Kiriakou spoke at the news conference, particularly about how the government was able to convict Sterling by stacking up charges and shopping for venue.

NORMAN SOLOMON, solomonprogressive at
Solomon is quoted in today’s Washington Post piece. In a recent Columbia Journalism Review article — “Should Journalists Care If Sources Go Off to Prison?” — Solomon wrote: “As one of the few journalists to attend all of the two-week Sterling trial, I watched with concern the successful prosecution that rested entirely on circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors made effective use of metadata, which showed that communication took place between Sterling and Risen — with the content almost entirely unknown. The prosecution also presented as damaging evidence the fact that the Times had published an article by Risen that quoted Sterling, who is African American, about a subject unrelated to the classified information — his lawsuit against the CIA for racial discrimination.

“That a prosecution case could be successfully built around such evidence — merely showing that the defendant had communicated with a reporter — should have been alarming to journalists across the country. But news organizations and the big press-freedom groups weren’t paying attention to the ominous implications. And they scarcely noted that whether or not Sterling was guilty as indicted, he was a whistleblower. In 2003 he earned the ire of top officials in Langley by going through proper channels to express concerns to the Senate Intelligence Committee staff about the CIA’s ‘Operation Merlin’ aimed at Iran.

“The conceit that it’s possible to defend press freedom while turning a cold shoulder to whistleblowers is short-sighted — and, in the long run, for independent journalism and true First Amendment advocates, self-defeating.”

Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. ExposeFacts is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy. See special coverage of the Sterling trial at

Also see the Institute for Public Accuracy news release: “Operation Merlin: Did CIA Seek to ‘Plant a Nuclear Gun’ on Iran and Iraq?