The former CIA officer accused of disclosing the details of a covert operation to a New York Times reporter was convicted Monday in federal court, according to reports.
Jeffrey Sterling was convicted on nine felony counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, according to The Washington Post, after allegedly leaking classified information about a top secret CIA operation to undermine Iran’s nuclear program to New York Times reporter James Risen.
“This is a just and appropriate outcome,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “The defendant’s unauthorized disclosures of classified information compromised operations undertaken in defense of America’s national security. The disclosures placed lives at risk.”
FBI Director James Comey said Sterling, “violated his sworn duty to protect our nation’s secrets and he betrayed our country.”
“The FBI will continue to pursue these cases vigorously,” he said in a statement.
The case surged to the spotlight in light of the Obama administration’s aggressive track record of prosecuting leakers and after federal prosecutors served Risen with a subpoena – a controversial tactic that raises questions about press rights. Risen refused to disclose the names of any of his anonymous sources.
Prosecutors claimed that Sterling disclosed the classified information in an attempt to get back at the CIA after he was fired from the agency.
Despite lacking any record of phone calls or emails between Sterling and Risen, the prosecution was able to secure a guilty verdict after it argued that Sterling was the only person with knowledge of the covert program described in Risen’s book to know Risen and with a motive to disclose the classified information.
Prosecutors argued that Sterling’s disclosure damaged American efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program and put lives at risk.
The New York Times famously decided not to publish Risen’s story on the covert program at the urging of top officials in President George W. Bush’s administration who claimed the story would damage U.S. national security. Risen ultimately published the account in his 2006 book, “State of War.”
Sterling will be sentenced on April 24.