Wife of jailed CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling demands his release with WH petition

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Convicted of espionage, ex-CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling has been in prison since June. But on Wednesday in Washington, DC, his wife Holly led the call for a presidential pardon, with support from other whistleblowers and over 100,000 petition signers.

At the National Press Club, Holly Sterling read excerpts from the letter she wrote to President Barack Obama urging him to “show what it means to be a true leader.”

"You publicly committed to a transparent government led by your administration, yet it has been shrouded in mistruths and secrecy," Holly read, calling her husband’s conviction an “injustice.”

“Justice at some point is going to be served,” she said. “The truth must come out. He is innocent, and he has always been innocent.”

Jeffrey Sterling is serving a three-and-a-half-year term in a Denver prison for allegedly collaborating with New York Times journalist James Risen. More specifically, he is accused of leaking details of a bungled CIA plot against Iran’s civilian nuclear program, Operation Merlin, which Risen wrote about in his book State of War. Sterling and Risen both still deny the government’s case.

The petition to release Sterling, sponsored by Change.org and RootsAction.org, has 150,000 signatures, more than what is required to earn a presidential response, according to White House rules. No response has been given yet.

Sterling is considered a whistleblower because he went to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2003 to expose mishandlings of Operation Merlin, a project he had worked on. The CIA, with the intention of steering Iran’s nuclear advancement toward destruction, sent a Russian scientist to deliver faulty manuals, but when Iranians noticed the error in the papers, the scientist felt compelled to correct the mistakes in order to not blow his cover, resulting in a technological boon for Iran.

Fellow CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou told RT’s Watching the Hawks that Sterling “did exactly what he was supposed to do when he encountered a program of waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality.”

Sterling first got into trouble with the CIA six years before going to the Senate committee. After being taught Farsi for the Agency, he was denied a post in Germany because he would “stick out as a big black guy speaking Farsi,” a higher-up reportedly said. A racial discrimination complaint was filed, and the CIA fired him as a result, only to prompt a lawsuit for the reprisal.

Sterling lost, however, and that loss is what the US government alleged made him disgruntled enough to open up about Operation Merlin to Risen years later. The government based its case on metadata, not any content, of messages between Sterling and Risen.

Holly recounted the years of asking favors of family and friends during her speech Wednesday. Legal fees added up, nearly costing the Sterlings their house before crowdfunding supporters alleviated some of the damage. She still needed rides to and from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

"I would call it persecution," Kiriakou told RT. "I believe, because Jeffrey was tried in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is a very conservative court. It's called the espionage court because nobody charged with a national security crime ever wins there. That's where Jeffrey was tried and he was convicted on that flimsy evidence."

“The point wasn’t just to imprison Jeffrey,” Kiriakou said. “It was to ruin him. Utterly ruin him. The point was to demonize him. And frighten any other would-be whistleblowers.”

The Obama administration has successfully prosecuted nine people for espionage, specifically on charges of supplying the press with classified material. The grand total of all espionage charges brought by previous presidents is three.

Among the supporters of the petition present on Wednesday were US Director of Reporters Without Borders Delphine Halgand, activist and professor Cornel West, Director of Whistleblower and Source Protection Program at ExposeFacts Jesselyn Radack, Senior Director of Strategy for Free Press Tim Karr, activist and journalist Normon Solomon, and activist and former CIA agent Ray McGovern.