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Ex-CIA officer pleads not guilty in classified info case

From Carol Cratty, CNN
Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, 43, worked at the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002, the Justice Department said.
Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, 43, worked at the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002, the Justice Department said.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeffrey Sterling is charged with unauthorized retention and disclosure of classified info
  • His attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf in court
  • "I think this case is a complex case," judge says
  • Sterling was fired from his CIA job in 2002
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Alexandria, Virginia (CNN) -- A former CIA officer pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he disclosed secret defense information.

Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, 43, of O'Fallon, Missouri, is charged in a 10-count indictment with unauthorized retention and disclosure of classified information, mail fraud and obstruction of justice, the Justice Department said.

His defense attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf during a hearing at U.S. District Court here.

The defense waived its right to a speedy trial and U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed, saying, "I think this case is a complex case."

The government is seeking to keep Sterling detained until his trial. A detention hearing will be held Wednesday.

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon expressed hope after the hearing that his client would be released.

"If they were really concerned he was a risk to the community he would have been arrested before 10 years," he said.

Sterling worked at the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002, the Justice Department said. One of his assignments was working on a top-secret operational program related to the weapons capabilities of certain countries. His role in that program included working with "a human asset," the department said.

He was fired from his job in 2002, it said, adding that he had filed discrimination complaints against the CIA before and after he left.

The indictment alleges Sterling stole classified information and orally disclosed the contents to a newspaper reporter who was writing a book.

The author of the book is not named in the indictment, but the case appears to match up with newspaper accounts about New York Times reporter James Risen, who was subpoenaed to testify about his confidential sources for his book "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."

MacMahon was seen carrying a copy of the book after the hearing Friday, though it is not mentioned in any of the court documents associated with the case.

Joel Kurtzberg, a lawyer representing Risen, has declined to comment on whether Sterling was one of the reporter's confidential sources.

"(Risen) doesn't comment on any confidential sources," Kurtzberg said last week, adding that he has not provided any testimony or documents or cooperated in any other way with the government investigation about his sources.

In a prepared statement, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said, "Through his alleged actions, Sterling placed at risk our national security and the life of an individual working on a classified mission."

The CIA would not comment specifically on the case, but spokesman George Little has said, "Separate and apart from any specific instance, including this matter involving a former agency officer who left the CIA years ago, we take very seriously the unauthorized disclosure of classified information."

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