The story of Jeffrey Sterling sounds like a bad spy movie. Sterling, a CIA agent, recruits a Russian nuclear engineer to sabotage nuclear development in Iran. Instead, the engineer betrays Sterling and alerts Iranian authorities of the American plot. Sterling is driven out of the agency.
Meanwhile a journalist, James Risen, writes a book: State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. The US Justice Department uses the book as a pretext to files charges on Sterling. Contact with with Risen is alleged, but Risen refuses to give up his source.
A trial is held. The witnesses are anonymous, hidden behind giant gray screens to obfuscate their identities. Sterling is convicted of espionage on the basis of the circumstantial evidence provided by the mystery witnesses. He’s also black. It’s also a true story. A man faces one hundred years in prison based on the testimony of people hidden anonymously behind screens.
Guilty or not – that is to say, we don’t know if Sterling was actually the one who provided any information to Risen – guilty or not, Sterling would only be guilty of being a whistleblower. He allegedly disclosed information that embarrassed the CIA to a journalist. That was his so-called crime. Sterling is the fifth person in US history to be convicted of espionage under the Espionage Act.
Eleven Espionage Act prosecutions in the United States, more than at any previous point in American history, have been leveled in the last few years by the Barack Obama administration. Seven of these have been focused not on conventional espionage (such as in the case of Colonel George Trofimoff who was convicted of spying for the defunct Soviet Union despite the Soviet Union no longer existing), but on whistleblowers. This means that Barack Obama has not only used the Espionage Act more than all previous American administrations, but he has also focused the bulk of them on whistleblowers.
Remember how one of Barack Obama’s major campaign promises was to protect and encourage whistleblowers?