By Norman Solomon
The mass media have suddenly discovered Jeffrey Sterling — after his conviction Monday afternoon as a CIA whistleblower.
Sterling’s indictment four years ago received fleeting news coverage that recited the government’s charges. From the outset, the Justice Department portrayed him as bitter and vengeful — with the classic trash-the-whistleblower word “disgruntled” thrown in — all of which the mainline media dutifully recounted without any other perspective.
Year after year, Sterling’s case dragged through appellate courts, tangled up with the honorable refusal of journalist James Risen to in any way identify sources for his 2006 book State of War. While news stories or pundits occasionally turned their lens on Risen, they scarcely mentioned Sterling, whose life had been turned upside down — fired by the CIA early in the Bush administration after filing a racial discrimination lawsuit, and much later by the 10-count indictment that included seven counts under the Espionage Act.
Sterling was one of the very few African American case officers in the CIA. He became a whistleblower by virtue of going through channels to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003 to inform staffers about the CIA’s ill-conceived, poorly executed and dangerous Operation Merlin, which had given a flawed design for a nuclear weapons component to Iran back in 2000.
Long story short, by the start of 2011, Sterling was up against the legal wall. While press-freedom groups and some others gradually rallied around Risen’s right to source confidentiality, Sterling remained the Invisible Man.