CIA leak trial: 90+ people reportedly knew of secret mission against Iran

AFP Phoyo / Jim Watson
More than 90 people in the government knew about a covert CIA mission aimed at slowing down Iran’s nuclear program, an agency manager said in a federal court. The plan was eventually leaked to the media.

The manager’s testimony was delivered on Thursday, according to the Associated Press, in a trial that centers on government allegations that former CIA case officer Jeffrey Sterling, 47, was responsible for delivering information about the covert mission to the press. Federal prosecutors claim that Sterling leaked information about the program to New York Times journalist James Risen.

In his 2006 book 'State of War,' Risen cited an anonymous source when he described a secret operation in which the CIA fed faulty nuclear blueprints to the Iranians in the hopes of learning more about and impeding the country’s controversial nuclear program.

READ MORE:DOJ won't ask Risen to testify at espionage trial

Sterling’s lawyers, however, argue that anyone could have leaked details about the program, and that Sterling is being wrongfully targeted by the government because he sued the CIA for racial discrimination.

The government made a lengthy attempt to compel Risen to testify and reveal the identity of his source, but the journalist battled against Justice Department subpoenas from two presidential administrations – George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He ultimately lost that fight, but when he appeared in court under oath earlier this month, Risen declined to answer nearly all of the prosecution’s questions regarding his source.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department said it would not ask Risen to testify during Sterling’s trial.

Condoleezza Rice (Rob Kim / Getty Images / AFP)

The same day the CIA manager stated that some 90 people knew about the mission, AP reported that former national security advisor Condoleezza Rice testified that she was “stunned” when she found out information regarding the classified program was made public. She said in court that in her time as national security advisor during President George W. Bush’s first term, the mission was one of its most secretive programs.

During her testimony, Rice acknowledged that, under orders from Bush, she asked the Times not to publish a story Risen was working on regarding the mission. Prosecutors attempted to show just how sensitive the information was, and Rice said she told the newspaper that lives were at stake.

READ MORE:Condoleezza Rice prevented NY Times from publishing CIA scoop

“It was one of the only levers that we believed we had — that the president had — to try to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program,” she said, as quoted by Politico.

Rice also requested that the Times get rid of any evidence it had of the program.

“I asked if they had any materials, they would destroy them,” she said. “I knew they wouldn’t give them back to us.”

The Times eventually scrapped the story, which surfaced years later in Risen’s book.