Continuing to deliberate as this week gets underway, the jurors in the CIA leak trial might ponder a notable claim from the government: “This case is not about politics.”
The prosecution made that claim a few days ago in closing arguments – begun with a somber quotation from Condoleezza Rice about the crucial need to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Of course prosecutor Eric Olshan was not foolish enough to quote Rice’s most famous line: “We don’t want the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud.”
During the seven days of the trial, which received scant media coverage, Rice attracted the most attention. But little of her testimony actually got out of the courtroom, and little of what did get out illuminated the political context of the government’s case against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling.
A heavy shroud over this trial – almost hidden by news media in plain sight – has been context: the CIA’s collusion with the Bush White House a dozen years ago, using WMD fear and fabrication to stampede the United States into making war on Iraq.
The Interview wasn’t exactly a great movie. The hype surrounding the Sony Pictures hack was by far its most memorable aspect. It did include a scene showing the death of Kim Jong Un, however, and that’s pretty great from the UN point of view.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea Marzuki Darusman praised the movie for “putting pressure” on Kim, saying the film “hit a raw nerve” and that more films of that sort are what is needed right now.
“This is a new thing, spotlighting the leadership and ridiculing the leadership. In any authoritarian, totalitarian system, that is an Achilles’ heel,” Darusman insisted, saying that if the ridicule from such movies seeps into the North Korean public “it could be lethal for the regime.”
Of course, Darusman is still doing his occasional report on human rights violations in North Korea, but he’s not putting his eggs in that basket, not when there are mid-budget Seth Rogen vehicles to be made.
The Bureau of Prisons contacted me today, assigning me a prison number and a new address: for the next 90 days, beginning tomorrow, I’ll live at FMC Lexington, in the satellite prison camp for women, adjacent to Lexington’s federal medical center for men. Very early tomorrow morning, Buddy Bell, Cassandra Dixon, and Paco and Silver, two house guests whom we first met in protests on South Korea’s Jeju Island, will travel with me to Kentucky and deliver me to the satellite women’s prison outside the Federal Medical Center for men.
In December, 2014, Judge Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in federal prison after Georgia Walker and I had attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander of Whiteman Air Force base, asking him to stop his troops from piloting lethal drone flights over Afghanistan from within the base. Judge Whitworth allowed me over a month to surrender myself to prison; but whether you are a soldier or a civilian, a target or an unlucky bystander, you can’t surrender to a drone.
When I was imprisoned at Lexington prison in 1988, after a federal magistrate in Missouri sentenced me to one year in prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites, other women prisoners playfully nicknamed me "Missiles." One of my sisters reliably made me laugh today, texting me to ask if I thought the women this time would call me "Drones."
It’s good to laugh and feel camaraderie before heading into prison. For someone like me, very nearly saturated in "white privilege" through much of this arrest, trial, and sentencing process, 90% (or more) of my experience will likely depend on attitude.
“Jeffrey Sterling was the hero of Risen’s story,” prosecutor Eric Olshan finished his closing argument in the Jeffrey Sterling trial. “Don’t let him be the hero of this one.”
“They are patriots,” prosecutor Jim Trump ended his remarks, speaking of the many CIA officers the jury had heard from. “They do their work without accolades.” He then compared Sterling with those patriots. “Sterling is not a patriot,” he described after accusing Sterling of betraying the CIA and his colleagues. “He is the defendant, he is guilty.”
Defense attorney Barry Pollack spoke in different terms – of the government’s insurmountable burden to present actual evidence that Jeffrey Sterling leaked national defense information to James Risen. Pollack warned of what a tragedy it would have been had the jury used the circumstantial evidence, presented by the government, that the word “Merlin” appeared on a computer Sterling used for 2 years to convict Sterling, when it turns out the word probably got there from its prior owner’s review of a piece of software called Merlin. “It would have been a tragedy” had the jury convicted Sterling based on that evidence, Pollack ended his presentation.
But along the way Pollack reminded whose story this is: James Risen’s, not Jeffrey Sterling’s, and the choices about how he presented Sterling, Bob S, and Merlin were made by him. The government, which pursued Risen’s testimony for 9 years, today presented the reporter as a mere vehicle for Jeffrey Sterling, a non-entity. Of course, no mention was made of Risen’s clear argument, in both the chapter (which the jurors will read) and the rest of the book (which jurors cannot read) that there were real reasons to be worried about CIA’s actions with respect to WMDs in both 2003 and still in 2006.
“There are four types of people who join the military. For some, it’s a family trade. Others are patriots, eager to serve. Next you have those who just need a job. Then there’s the kind who want a legal means of killing other people.”
– The title character of the 2012 movie Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, listing the “four types” to Rosamund Pike’s Helen Rodin.
As for the fourth type, Reacher was referring to another character in the film, an American sniper prosecuted for murders both in Iraq and the US.
Jack Reacher’s “American Sniper”: James Barr, played by Joseph Sikora.
Judging from Kyle’s own words, this character is a much more accurate portrayal of Chris Kyle’s psyche than the one created by Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper.
“But after you kill your enemy, you see it’s okay. You say, Great. You do it again. And again. (…) I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different–if my family didn’t need me–I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun.”
– Chris Kyle, American Sniper
Six days of testimony at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling have proven the agency’s obsession with proclaiming its competence. Many of the two-dozen witnesses from the Central Intelligence Agency conveyed smoldering resentment that a whistleblower or journalist might depict the institution as a bungling outfit unworthy of its middle name.
Some witnesses seemed to put Sterling and journalist James Risen roughly in the same nefarious category – Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information that put the CIA in a bad light, and Risen for reporting it. Muffled CIA anger was audible, coming from the witness stand, a seat filled by people claiming to view any aspersions on the CIA to be baseless calumnies.
Other than court employees, attorneys and jurors, only a few people sat through virtually the entire trial. As one of them, I can say that the transcript of USA v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling should be mined for countless slick and clumsy maneuvers by government witnesses to obscure an emerging picture of CIA recklessness, dishonesty and ineptitude.
Consider, for example, the testimony of David Shedd, who was chief of operations for the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division when Sterling was a case officer at the turn of the century. On the stand, Shedd presented himself as superbly savvy about Operation Merlin. He’d met with the head prosecutor three times to prepare for testifying. Yet, as a witness, Shedd turned out to be stunningly ignorant about the only CIA operation at issue in the trial.