By Norman Solomon
[In late June] CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling went to prison. If he were white, he probably wouldnâ€™t be there.
Sterling was one of the CIAâ€™s few African-American case officers, and he became the first to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency. That happened shortly before the CIA fired him in late 2001. The official in Langley who did the firing face-to-face was John Brennan, now the CIAâ€™s director and a close adviser to President Obama.
[Nearly seven] months ago, in court, prosecutors kept claiming that Sterlingâ€™s pursuit of the racial-bias lawsuit showed a key â€œmotiveâ€ for providing classified information to journalist James Risen. The governmentâ€™s case atÂ the highly problematic trialÂ was built entirely on circumstantial evidence. Lacking anything more, the prosecution hammered on ostensible motives, telling the jury that Sterlingâ€™s â€œanger,â€ â€œbitternessâ€ and â€œselfishnessâ€ had caused him to reveal CIA secrets.
ButÂ the history of Sterlingâ€™s conflicts with the CIAÂ has involved a pattern of top-down retaliation. Sterling became a problem for high-ranking officials, who surely did not like the bad publicity that his unprecedented lawsuit generated. And Sterling caused further hostility in high places when, in the spring of 2003, he went through channels to tell Senate Intelligence Committee staffers of his concerns about the CIAâ€™s reckless Operation Merlin, which had given Iran some flawed design information for a nuclear weapons component.
Among the U.S. governmentâ€™s advantages at the trial last winter was the fact that the jury did not include a single African-American. And it was drawn from a jury pool imbued with the CIA-friendlyÂ company town atmosphereÂ of Northern Virginia.
Sterlingâ€™sÂ long struggle against institutionalized racismÂ is far from over. It continues as he pursues a legal appeal. Heâ€™s in a prison near Denver, nearly 900 miles from his home in the St. Louis area, making it very difficult for his wife Holly to visit.
Last week, as Sterling headed to Colorado, journalist Kevin Gosztola wrote anÂ illuminating pieceÂ that indicated the federal Bureau of Prisons has engaged in retaliation by placing Sterling in a prison so far from home. Gosztola concluded: â€œThere really is no accountability for BOP officials who inappropriately designate inmates for prisons far away from their families.â€
With the government eager to isolate Jeffrey Sterling, itâ€™s important for him to hear from people who wish him well. Before going to prison, Sterling could see many warmly supportive comments online, posted by contributors to theÂ Sterling Family FundÂ and signers of theÂ petitionÂ that urged the Justice Department to drop all charges against him. Now he can get postal mail at:Â Jeffrey Sterling, 38338-044, FCI Englewood, Federal Correctional Institution, 9595 West Quincy Ave., Littleton, CO 80123.
(Sterling can receive only letters and cards. â€œAll incoming correspondence is reviewed,â€ the Sterling Family Fund notes. â€œIt is important that all content is of an uplifting nature as any disparaging comments about the government, the trial or any peoples involved will have negative consequences for Jeffrey.â€)
While itâ€™s vital that Sterling hear from well-wishers, itâ€™s also crucial that the public hear from him. â€œThe Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling,â€ released the day after he was sentenced in mid-May, made it possible for the public to hear his voice. The short documentary (which I produced for ExposeFacts) was directed by Oscar nominee Judith Ehrlich.
More recently, journalist Peter Maass did a fine job with an extensive article, â€œHow Jeffrey Sterling Took on the CIA — and Lost Everything.â€
It should be unacceptable that racism helped the government to put Jeffrey Sterling in prison.Î¦
Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinatesÂ ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org, which has encouraged donations to theÂ Sterling Family Fund. Disclosure: After the guilty verdict five months ago, Solomon used his frequent-flyer miles to get plane tickets for Holly and Jeffrey Sterling so they would be able to go home to St. Louis.