A former CIA officer involved in the US spy agency’s covert operation aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program over a decade ago has been convicted of espionage charges, for giving classified information about his work to a New York Times reporter and author.
Jeffrey Sterling, 47, who was fired from the CIA in the early 2000s, was convicted on Monday of nine counts of unauthorized disclosure of US national defense information and other related charges. He faces years in prison.
Sterling was charged under the Espionage Act for revealing classified information about the CIA mission. Judges in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, allowed Sterling to remain free on bond until his April 24 sentencing.
Prosecutors said Sterling, an African American, disclosed the CIA’s cloak-and-dagger mission to journalist James Risen to get revenge against the CIA for “perceived” mistreatment. Sterling had earlier filed a racial discrimination complaint against the agency.
When the guilty verdict was read by judges, Sterling “stared expressionless at jurors” and “hugged his sobbing wife afterwards,” the Washington Post reported.
The case revolved around the CIA mission in which a Russian-born scientist, who was reportedly a CIA asset nicknamed Merlin, provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics.
Risen disclosed the secretive operation in his 2006 book “State of War,” terming it a mismanaged, potentially reckless mission.
According to the New York Times, the conviction is a victory for the US government, which has clamp down on administration officials who speak to journalists about security issues without the administration’s endorsement.
Citing an anonymous source in his book, Risen elaborated on the operation, saying the CIA had fed deliberately flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in hopes of gaining more information and impeding Tehran’s nuclear activities.
Risen wrote that the operation was approved by former US President Bill Clinton in 2000 and later endorsed by his successor George W. Bush.
Sterling has denied the allegations, with his lawyers saying Washington has wrongfully leveled the accusations against him because he had sued the CIA for racial discrimination.
Former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice recently testified that the mission was one of the most secretive programs.
Rice said that she asked the New York Times not to publish Risen’s story and to get rid of any evidence it had obtained.
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