CIA Whistleblower Released: Jeffrey Sterling’s Story
(August 24, 2019) — “After close to 10 years trying to live under the oppressive shadow of the criminal justice system in this country,” Jeffrey Sterling told us a few days ago, “I am still adjusting to this new life of mine, a life not under the gaze or thumb of the CIA and the Department of Justice.”
Jeffrey’s “new life” is a far cry from his years in prison that followed what BBC News called a “trial by metadata.” The government’s anti-whistleblower crusade has tried to crush Jeffrey. That effort has been unsuccessful, in part due to assistance that he has received from RootsAction Education Fund supporters.
The Education Fund was proud to work in solidarity with Jeffrey during his long imprisonment, and we’re now equally proud to sponsor his work as the coordinator of The Project for Accountability.
After Jeffrey readily acknowledged going through channels to blow the whistle on an ill-conceived and dangerous CIA operation against Iran involving flawed diagrams for nuclear weaponry, the US government prosecuted him on charges that he provided classified information to a New York Times reporter who included it in a book.
The January 2015 trial had a jury that included no African Americans and was filled with people sympathetic to local Northern Virginia mega-employers like the Pentagon and CIA.
Now, as Jeffrey explains below, his life is starting to turn around. He just became extricated from probation. And his long-awaited book Unwanted Spy will be published this fall.
We asked Jeffrey to share with you some of his current thoughts, and he responded quickly.
On Deciding to Say “No”
I did realize so long ago when I decided to say “no” to being discriminated against at the CIA that the road would be a difficult one, but I could not, or more accurately did not want to imagine that the journey would include arrest, conviction, and imprisonment.
That part of the journey ended last month when the court granted, despite objection by the Department of Justice, my request to terminate the pointless supervised release I was shackled with.
After such a long time, I am not sure if I know or remember what freedom is or at least what it is supposed to feel like. One thing is for certain, I am grateful for having survived the ordeal. Now, there is the matter of how to reconcile what I have experienced with loving my country.
I don’t know if I can ever forget the pain that I have experienced at the hands of the CIA who discriminated against me because of the color of my skin, or the Department of Justice and the criminal justice system that wrongfully prosecuted and imprisoned me for an alleged crime I did not commit, but I am confident that I will and can journey beyond it.
Part of that journey has to include feeling a part of the country that I love. Recently, while still trying to get used to the idea of no longer being under the thumb of the probation office, I received something in the mail which affirmed that my return can happen.
It was a manila envelope with the return address of the local probation office that I fell under for the past year. I certainly wasn’t expecting any additional contact with my former overseers, so I was nervously curious about what the letter contained. To my ultimate surprise, it was a certificate of completion, commemorating a successful end to supervised release.
What an insult! I wondered if I was expected to frame the certificate as a memento of the ordeal and benevolence of the criminal justice system.
As I began to toss the certificate into the recycle bin, I noticed that there was another sheet of paper along with the certificate. It was a notification of reinstatement of voting rights once a convicted felon has completed his sentence as well as parole, or probation.
I cannot overstate how important the restoration of one civil right means to me. The persecution I endured meant more to me than just being convicted and being sent to prison, it meant I was essentially stripped of being a citizen of the country I believed in and fought so hard to be a part of. Now, I have at least one hallmark of citizenship returned to me, I could once again vote.
I have often wondered whether I would partake in any more civic duties as a convicted felon, I had difficulty finding the worth in doing so. Previous to the horrible ordeal, I was an emphatic voter. I not only felt voting a right but also a responsibility that I thankfully had because of the struggle against wrongs that so many sacrificed so much for me to be able to enjoy. But, given my experience, I didn’t know if I could find it within myself to vote again.
Then, I reminded myself of the words of Nelson Mandela who was describing the day he was released from prison, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
I realized that if I choose to not take advantage of having a cherished civil right returned to me, then I would still be a prisoner of the unjust system that persecuted me. Yes, I have some bitterness and anger over what has happened, but if I hold on to those feelings then that means giving up on not only my country but myself.
I eagerly await the next election and I don’t care if it is for dogcatcher or coroner, I will gladly cast my ballot. If I am going to return to this country, then it is my duty to take advantage of the rights I have, especially those that have been restored. And, isn’t such a thing what accountability is all about?
Ultimately, the vote is the most powerful tool of accountability that we as citizens have. I imagine that the coming elections will be watershed moments holding government accountable and that I will be joined by many others who want and expect meaningful change.
I hope to meet many of my fellow citizens during the forthcoming fall tour for my book Unwanted Spy.
Jeffrey’s refusal to knuckle under to illegitimate power has come at a very steep personal cost. That’s the way top CIA officials wanted it. His enduring capacity to speak truthfully can help strengthen a wide range of whistleblowers — past, present and future.
ACTION: You can help The Project for Accountability with a tax-deductible contribution. Half of every dollar you donate will go directly to Jeffrey as he works to rebuild his life, while the other half will go to sustaining his work as coordinator of The Project for Accountability.