NarcoNews: CIA Veteran Sees Big Hole in Sterling Espionage Conviction

Retired Counterintelligence Officer Claims Intelligence Agency’s Office of Security Dropped the Ball

By Bill Conroy

A former CIA spy manager is raising a serious question about the way the intelligence agency handled the national-security risk raised in the case of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer who was recently convicted on espionage charges for leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen.

Leutrell Osborne is a 27-year veteran of the CIA who as a case officer oversaw spies and assets in 30 countries. He said he befriended Sterling, who like Osborne is African American, during the course of a discrimination lawsuit Sterling initiated against the CIA in 2000. That litigation was ultimately dismissed by the courts in early 2006 due to the government’s national security claims.

“I decided to assist Jeffrey [Sterling] in his discrimination case because I had respect for him because he was a black man, an attorney and a spy manager, and part of the reason I worked at the CIA was so people like him could follow me,” said Osborne, a CIA employee from 1957-1984. [Video: Leutrell Osborne: Black Man in the CIA]

Osborne, who now runs a business-consulting firm, had numerous interactions and conversations with Sterling, which he said should have been of interest to the CIA’s Office of Security in the course of any internal agency investigation of potential classified-information leaks.

However, Osborne said the CIA never contacted him about Sterling, prior to or during the course of the criminal investigation targeting Sterling. That criminal investigation, which led to Sterling’s indictment in 2010, was initiated by at least 2008 — when reporter Risen was first subpoenaed in the case. Osborne also said that, to date, the CIA has not returned a call he made to the agency shortly after Sterling’s conviction in late January.

If the CIA was truly concerned that Sterling was leaking classified information, then the agency should have vetted anyone who had his confidence, particularly current and former CIA personnel, to determine the extent of his alleged espionage activities, Osborne contends.

“The CIA investigated Sterling, and they knew I knew him, or should have known, yet they did not talk to me,” Osborne said. “Is the CIA that incompetent in security? The CIA is supposedly the best security organization in the world, and yet they didn’t care that there were holes in their investigation? That raises a red flag for me.”

A federal court jury in Virginia found Sterling guilty earlier this year on nine criminal counts related to charges that he provided classified documents to Risen sometime between 2001 and 2005 that were made public in a book that the journalist published in early 2006. Risen’s tome, “State of War,” included a chapter detailing a CIA covert plan to derail Iran’s nuclear-weapons development capabilities.  Sterling, now 47, was assigned from 1998 to mid-2000 as an operational officer in the unit overseeing that Iran program, dubbed Operation Merlin in court records.

The government’s case against Sterling was made with circumstantial evidence — primarily records of phone calls and emails exchanged between Sterling and Risen between 2003 and 2005, none of which contained a smoking gun proving conclusively that Sterling leaked classified information. Sterling’s lawyers argued that the trail of emails and phone calls dovetailed in time with his discrimination lawsuit against the CIA and dealt with that matter, which Risen had written about in the New York Times previously. In addition, the defense argued that there were a number of other potential sources for Risen’s book, including Senate Select Intelligence Committee staffers, given Sterling in 2003 provided information to them legally as a whistleblower on what he deemed flaws in the covert Iran program.

The Department of Justice engaged in a controversial battle across the Bush and Obama administrations to force Risen to reveal his sources on Operation Merlin. Ultimately, though, the Department of Justice backed down as Sterling’s trial got underway in mid-January and did not call Risen to testify. Government attorneys argue that Sterling was a disgruntled former CIA employee motivated to strike back at the agency and that convictions based on strong circumstantial evidence are not out of the ordinary in the judicial system.

But Osborne’s criticism has more to do with CIA internal procedures than Sterling’s criminal case itself, though he argues that there is some pause for concern that the agency may have pushed the criminal case against Sterling in retaliation for his whistleblowing and discrimination lawsuit against the agency.

Attorney Mark Zaid, who represented Sterling in the discrimination case, said Osborne “gave media interviews” during the course of Sterling’s discrimination litigation, including for national outlets such as CNN, “and was very supportive of Jeff [Sterling],” though he never testified in the case. Osborne said the CIA certainly was aware of his relationship with Sterling, or at least should have been as the world’s premier intelligence agency. In addition, Osborne said he placed a call to the CIA in early February, shortly after Sterling’s conviction, but still has not been contacted by the agency.

Osborne points out that CIA attorneys do not try criminal cases and the CIA itself has no arrest powers. Once a suspect in a classified-information leak is identified, he said, the case is normally turned over to the FBI and Department of Justice attorney’s to pursue via the criminal justice system.

However, that does not absolve the CIA, he said, of conducting its own thorough internal investigation to determine the extent of the leak and how extensive the problem is and what other agency operations might have been affected or compromised. Because he had a relationship with Sterling, the CIA should have had an interest in determining what information was exchanged between them, Osborne said.

The CIA unit responsible for protecting classified information from disclosure, and for investigating such breaches, is the Office of Security.

“That unit [the Office of Security] should have been on the job. I was a potential hole in the security, and yet no one from CIA contacted me,” Osborne stressed. “The Office of Security’s job is to look for the dirty laundry, and possibly share what they find with the FBI. I should have been contacted.”

Osborne said the fact that CIA investigators did not question him prompts a suspicion that Sterling was not the national-security threat the agency portrayed him to be and that some individuals at the CIA may have “manipulated” the Department of Justice into pursuing an espionage case against him. Alternatively, another possible implication of the agency’s failure to vet Osborne is equally troubling. That lapse, he said, points to a potential serious weakness in the CIA’s internal “security protocols” for containing espionage threats.

Dean Boyd, director of the CIA Office of Public Affairs, when asked about Osborne’s allegations, provided the following response via email:

“The criminal investigation of Jeffrey Sterling and his unauthorized disclosure of classified information was conducted by the FBI. The criminal prosecution was handled by the Department of Justice. As you may know, determinations on potential witnesses or interviews to be conducted in connection with a criminal investigation and prosecution are the purview of the FBI and Department of Justice.”

When asked in a follow-up email to address the specific concern Osborne raised about the failure of CIA investigators to contact him as part of the agency’s internal security protocols, Boyd replied: “We have no further information for you.”

“There are valleys between DOJ, FBI and the CIA,” Osborne said. “CIA uses DOJ attorneys for criminal cases, but it doesn’t’ make sense that CIA did not contact me or that DOJ should have handled that,” given any compromise of classified information potentially threatens broader CIA operations possibly not even known to DOJ. Osborne added that neither the DOJ or FBI contacted him about Sterling — nor did he reach out to them.

“This discussion just accentuates how stupid this situation is,” Osborne added.

For the record, Osborne said Sterling never shared any classified information with him.

“I did not inquire about what he did for the CIA,” Osborne said. “And he had too much respect for me to involve me in his garbage. Sterling never shared with me anything he did clandestinely for the CIA.”

Past Deceptions

This isn’t the first time the CIA Office of Security has been called out for failing to do its job properly.

In March of last year, US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), lashed out publicly at the CIA, accusing the agency and its top lawyer of illegally spying on the Senate staff charged with investigating the George W. Bush-era terrorism practices. She accused the CIA of seeking to intimidate the Senate committee by asking the Justice Department to investigate those same staffers based on what she described as “inaccurate information” provided to the Justice Department.

Although Feinstein did not then publicly identify the CIA lawyer she accused of helping to orchestrate the alleged attack on the Senate staff — via his referral of charges to DOJ — White House spokesman Jay Carney subsequently confirmed that it was then-Acting CIA General Counsel Robert Eatinger.

The Senate staff was utilizing secure computers set up by the CIA that allowed them to examine millions of documents to prepare a 6,000-page report on the terrorism-detention and interrogation program. An abbreviated version of that report, some 500 pages long and released in December of last year, determined the CIA’s use of torture to obtain information from suspects held in secret prisons didn’t work, yet the agency lied repeatedly in claiming it was effective.

In the course of preparing their report for Feinstein’s committee, the CIA alleges the Senate staffers illegally hacked into the agency’s computers to obtain information — creating the basis for Eatinger’s request for a DOJ criminal investigation. Senate staffers maintain the information in question was contained in trove of records made available to them by CIA for examination.

A five-member CIA Accountability Board, which included three CIA officials, was assembled to investigate the matter and determined in findings issued this past January that CIA personnel did nothing illegal, that it was all essentially an honest misunderstanding.

However, Feinstein took issue with the findings of the board and issued a blistering critique.

“Regardless of the extent of the violation or intent of those involved, someone should be held accountable,” she said in a press release published on Jan. 27. “…The CIA IG [Inspector General, in a separate report] found the CIA criminal referral against SSCI staff was based on inaccurate information provided to Acting General Counsel Bob Eatinger by personnel in CIA’s Office of Security. The actions of these individuals were ignored by the CIA Accountability Board, which is shocking and unacceptable.” [Emphasis added.]

So, essentially, a US senator claims the CIA’s Office of Security lied to the Department of Justice as part of an effort to launch a criminal investigation into Senate staffers

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You can read the complete investigative report here @ NarcoNews

Podcast Show #58

The Boiling Frogs Presents Russ Tice

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Russ Tice joins us to assess and explain the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) ongoing and ever-expanding domestic electronic surveillance of Americans in violation of our rights guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment, and the implications and dangers of the agency’s massive Data Mining technologies and practices. He provides us with his analysis of the Congressional Intelligence Authorization Act of 2012 and the vetoes issued by the White House against two provisions in the Senate version of the bill, one of which requires that the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) be confirmed by the Senate. He discusses the latest development in the case of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who is suspected of leaking classified information to author and New York Times reporter James Risen, and the implications of the renewed request for a subpoena to compel Risen to testify at Sterling's upcoming trial. Mr. Tice talks about the case of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the very troubling FBI-NSA information sharing-cooperation, the use of surveillance-generated information as blackmail against elected officials and more!

Russ TiceRussell Tice is a Former NSA Intelligence Analyst & Capabilities Operations Officer Specializing in Offensive Information Warfare (O-IW). During his nearly 20 year career with various US government agencies he conducted intelligence missions related to the Kosovo War, Afghanistan, and the USS Cole Bombing in Yemen. In 2005 Tice helped spark a national controversy over claims that the NSA and the DIA were engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional wiretaps on US citizens, and later admitted that he was one of the sources that were used in the NY Times’ reporting on the wiretap activity in December 2005. On July 26, 2006, he was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury regarding violations of federal law.

Here is our guest Russ Tice unplugged!

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The EyeOpener: Whistleblowers & Activists Line Up to Take Back Obama Transparency Award

Exclusive Boiling Frogs Video with James Corbett

Here is an exclusive video by James Corbett with the inaugural edition of the EyeOpener, a new weekly video series produced in conjunction with Boiling Frogs Post, on Obama’s Secret Transparency Award. This news clip is a prelude to our petition, ‘Rescind Obama’s “Transparency Award” Now!,’ co-written by Coleen Rowley and me, and signed by more than 25 high-profile government whistleblowers and over 20 organizations, which will be launched tomorrow morning. We are going to need every single one of you, your signatures, your support, and your voices to get these organizations to take back the undeserved and hypocritical award. Please watch this video. Maybe watch it again. Think about it. Get angry. Share this with everyone you know. Help up disseminate this and encourage others to watch think, get angry, and take action. We are counting on you; on us.

 

For further information and more background on this action campaign you can read this and this.

Please stay tuned for our upcoming petition tomorrow morning, and thank you all.

Sibel Edmonds

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The Mockery Award, the Fraudulent Club & the Gullible Cheering Crowds

A Serious Assault on Transparency & Government Whistleblowers

upsidedownHave you ever tried standing on your head in order to view the world upside down? What if the world stage before you turns upside-down; will you then have to stand on your head to view it right-side up? You see, we have a fraudulent institution that has been standing on its head, and has been trying very hard to get you to either stand on your head to see what they see or simply look the other way and take their word in describing a totally upside down phenomena as right-side up. Enough for riddle-like communication; let me put it all in perspective for you, ok? I’ll start with the actors:

We have a very typical Washington DC NGO institution posing as a front. As a front, this establishment NGO front sells under the pretense of being an advocate for transparency, open government, and whistleblower protections. It gets over a million dollars in grants from guess who, the establishment-from Rockefeller to Carnegie to George Soros, to pose as a not for profit organization for government whistleblowers. And it has done very well for over two decades - evident by the same grants from the same establishment that keep flowing into it; evident by creating lots of noise while ensuring no feathers are ever ruffled during the process. The Congress loves them, and knows how to do the pretense dance with them very well. The executive branch also loves them, and views them as a predictable and reliable ally that has to sometimes pose as their foe.  More importantly, they are adored by the President who pets them and gives them a bone or two for being the good loyal pets that they are.

We have a President in the White House who indisputably has the worst record in our nation’s history when it comes to the insurers of government transparency- government whistleblowers. We have a President who loves unconstitutional secrecy and baseless-imaginary presidential executive powers to quash transparency and accountability. We have a President who has an utter disdain for First Amendment practices such as peaceful protests. Okay, let me provide you a glimpse of this President’s indisputable record on Anti-Transparency: [Read more...]

When It Comes To Whistleblowers Obama Worse Than Nixon & Far Worse Than Bush

ObamaThe New Yorker features a lengthy story on NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake who is scheduled to appear in court next month where he will face a ten-count indictment:

According to a ten-count indictment delivered against him in April, 2010, Drake violated the Espionage Act—the 1917 statute that was used to convict Aldrich Ames, the C.I.A. officer who, in the eighties and nineties, sold U.S. intelligence to the K.G.B., enabling the Kremlin to assassinate informants. In 2007, the indictment says, Drake willfully retained top-secret defense documents that he had sworn an oath to protect, sneaking them out of the intelligence agency’s headquarters, at Fort Meade, Maryland, and taking them home, for the purpose of “unauthorized disclosure.” The aim of this scheme, the indictment says, was to leak government secrets to an unnamed newspaper reporter, who is identifiable as Siobhan Gorman, of the Baltimore Sun. Gorman wrote a prize-winning series of articles for the Sun about financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices in N.S.A. counterterrorism programs

Obama, prior to his election, during his ‘change’ campaign, had pledged his support for protecting national security whistleblowers, and had done so on record. As with the rest of his promises it didn’t take him long to switch positions on this front. In fact, he has broken the record among all US presidents, one that puts him in US history as the worst president when it comes to whistleblowers, truth-telling and transparency. Think Bradley Manning. Think Jeffrey Sterling. Think James Risen. Think Pentagon’s Fahrenheit 451 revisited- burning Lt Col Anthony Shaffer’s books. Think the Grand Jury on Wikileaks. And of course, think Thomas Drake:

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”

If you ever come across a cool-aid drinking vote waster who argues against Obama being far worse than his predecessor when it comes to whistleblowing, truth-telling and transparency, please send him or her my way. I believe what I went through as a whistleblower for seven years under the Bush presidency gives me unarguable moral authority. As the most gagged woman in the history of this nation who has received two separate state secrets privilege invocations, whose right to due process via the judiciary branch has been taken away, whose case has put the United States Congress under a gag order, who has been subjected to torturous polygraph tests and having her home computer confiscated …Well, you see what I mean by my moral authority, and with that I am saying it again firmly: Obama has been far worse than Bush in cases of government whistleblowers- truth-tellers exposing government waste, fraud, abuse and criminality.

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Weekly Round Up for January 9

Obama’s Whistleblower-Hunt, ‘Rent-A-Generals’ Industry, A Great Example of Intentionally Awful Journalism, One-Tip-Based Terror Watch List & More!

NYA belated happy new year to all our readers and friends here at Boiling Frogs Post. As you can tell I am just coming up for air. The holiday season happens to be the busiest time for my part-time work which involves a retail business, and my full-time motherhood task which has gotten at least three-fold harder during this not-so-terrible-twos stage. You see I say harder, but I’ll never call it ‘terrible’ because despite the tasking aspect it still remains the best and most rewarding role I’ve ever had; ever. My daughter is now 2.5 years old, and I’m happy to report: she is outspoken, highly opinionated, and on her way to becoming a real activist. She is already stopping those engaged in littering in their tracks for an earful lecture, and orders them to stop, ‘Go home, time out, and take bath!’ I am sharing a few of her recent pictures here. Many of you know all about my ‘no venture into my private life’ over here at BFP…except for an occasional relevant experience(s), or, like these here and the ones from last year to mark a new year at Boiling Frogs Post. Again, Happy New Year.

Ela1Ela2Ela3Ela4

For the past two months I’ve been collecting and saving lots of articles to share with you here at BFP. The collection kept getting larger, the list of links grew longer, and I kept falling behind and unable to post regular BFP Round Ups. Some of those articles were time sensitive so they got discarded as ‘stale and no longer relevant’. Some are still sitting on the list waiting for the addition of my comments and analyses. And here are a few important and interesting ones from the past few weeks without much need for added sound bites:

Obama’s Whistleblower-Hunt: Whistleblowers Long for Bush-Cheney Era Leniency?

OBYou thought the Bush-Cheney administration was bad? Think again; especially if you happen to be a whistleblower. Despite its awful record, the current administration witch-hunt like pursuit of whistleblowers and truth-tellers has many whistleblowers and truth-telling advocates longing for the Bush era climate. After all, everything is relevant, right? There was the bad, now it is the worse, or probably worst ever. Despite all the threats and muscle-flexing not a single whistleblower, including myself, got arrested or even pursued criminally under the previous regime. With Obama the era of threats has changed into an era of Punishment-Imprisonment and in some cases even torture. Here is one of the latest:

Former CIA officer indicted for leaks to reporter 
Peter Haldis, RCFP

A former CIA officer was indicted last month for allegedly providing a New York Times reporter with classified information. He is the latest in a string of leakers prosecuted by the Obama administration.

Jeffrey Sterling, 43, of O’Fallon, Mo., was indicted on 10 counts, including six counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information and one count of obstruction of justice. He was arrested Thursday in St. Louis.Sterling was indicted Dec. 22, 2010, and the indictment was unsealed Thursday.

Sterling is the fifth leaker to be prosecuted by the Obama administration. The others include: former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who allegedly sent classified information to an unknown newspaper reporter; Stephen Kim, a former Department of State analyst who allegedly leaked an intelligence report to an unidentified reporter; Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army private alleged to have leaked classified information to Wikileaks; and Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI linguist who was convicted in May 2010 of charges related to the leaking of classified information to an unidentified blogger and sentenced to 20 months in prison.

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 ‘Rent-A-Generals’ Consulting Firms: An Industry in Its Own

genLast month I came across the following coverage at War Is Business by Corey Pein. This Monday Peter and I will be interviewing Mr. Pein, meanwhile if you haven’t seen this great website check it out now, and put it in your ‘Favorite’ list of websites. I am really looking forward to this interview, too many topics of interest to cover!

‘Rent-A-Generals’ & ‘the Militarization of Economy’ 
By Corey Pein, War Is Business

This man is William B Burdeshaw, a retired US Army Brigadier General and founder of what the Boston Globe, in its must-read investigation of rampant corruption in Pentagon procurement, calls “one of the oldest ‘rent-a-general’ consulting firms” in the country.

His company, Burdeshaw Associates Ltd, is essentially a fixer for corporations looking to land military contracts. The firm is apparently so good at this, its influential “associates”—mostly retired, high-ranking officers—can sell the Pentagon things it didn’t even know it needed.

Read Globe reporter Bryan Bender describe how Burdeshaw cleverly wrung $109 million from the Pentagon for the firm’s client, Northrop Grumman, which wanted to build a remote-controlled helicopter called the Fire Scout. [Read more...]