Would Jeffrey Sterling Be in Prison If He Were White?

Last week CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling went to prison. If he were white, he probably wouldn’t be there.

Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American case officers, and he became the first to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency. That happened shortly before the CIA fired him in late 2001. The official in Langley who did the firing face-to-face was John Brennan, now the CIA’s director and a close adviser to President Obama.

Five months ago, in court, prosecutors kept claiming that Sterling’s pursuit of the racial-bias lawsuit showed a key “motive” for providing classified information to journalist James Risen. The government’s case at the highly problematic trial was built entirely on circumstantial evidence. Lacking anything more, the prosecution hammered on ostensible motives, telling the jury that Sterling’s “anger,” “bitterness” and “selfishness” had caused him to reveal CIA secrets.

But the history of Sterling’s conflicts with the CIA has involved a pattern of top-down retaliation. Sterling became a problem for high-ranking officials, who surely did not like the bad publicity that his unprecedented lawsuit generated. And Sterling caused further hostility in high places when, in the spring of 2003, he went through channels to tell Senate Intelligence Committee staffers of his concerns about the CIA’s reckless Operation Merlin, which had given Iran some flawed design information for a nuclear weapons component.

Among the U.S. government’s advantages at the trial last winter was the fact that the jury did not include a single African-American. And it was drawn from a jury pool imbued with the CIA-friendly company town atmosphere of Northern Virginia.

Sterling’s long struggle against institutionalized racism is far from over. It continues as he pursues a legal appeal of his three-and-a-half year sentence. He’s in a prison near Denver, nearly 900 miles from his home in the St. Louis area, making it very difficult for his wife Holly to visit.

Last week, as Sterling headed to Colorado, journalist Kevin Gosztola wrote an illuminating piece that indicated the federal Bureau of Prisons has engaged in retaliation by placing Sterling in a prison so far from home. Gosztola concluded: “There really is no accountability for BOP officials who inappropriately designate inmates for prisons far away from their families.”

With the government eager to isolate Jeffrey Sterling, it’s important for him to hear from people who wish him well. Before going to prison, Sterling could see many warmly supportive comments online, posted by contributors to the Sterling Family Fund and signers of the petition that urged the Justice Department to drop all charges against him. Now he can get postal mail at: Jeffrey Sterling, 38338-044, FCI Englewood, Federal Correctional Institution, 9595 West Quincy Ave., Littleton, CO 80123.

(Sterling can receive only letters and cards. “All incoming correspondence is reviewed,” the Sterling Family Fund notes. “It is important that all content is of an uplifting nature as any disparaging comments about the government, the trial or any peoples involved will have negative consequences for Jeffrey.”)

While it’s vital that Sterling hear from well-wishers, it’s also crucial that the public hear from him. “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling,” released the day after he was sentenced in mid-May, made it possible for the public to hear his voice. The short documentary (which I produced for ExposeFacts) was directed by Oscar nominee Judith Ehrlich.

More recently, journalist Peter Maass did a fine job with an extensive article, “How Jeffrey Sterling Took on the CIA – and Lost Everything.”

It should be unacceptable that racism helped the government to put Jeffrey Sterling in prison.

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org, which has encouraged donations to the Sterling Family Fund. Disclosure: After the guilty verdict five months ago, Solomon used his frequent-flyer miles to get plane tickets for Holly and Jeffrey Sterling so they would be able to go home to St. Louis. His books includeWar Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

11 thoughts on “Would Jeffrey Sterling Be in Prison If He Were White?”

  1. Generally speaking when I think of a whistleblower I think of someone who blows the whistle on an illegal act. I guess I'm in the minority on this one but I just don't see him as being a big hero in this case. This was a guy who was more than happy to make his living being a CIA agent and still would be one today. I can find all kinds of room to doubt that if he hadn't been fired he would still be happily doing his job at the CIA right now. As for his claims that he was fired over racism; I have no idea. But nobody in power likes to be accused of anything by an ex employee and they will likely retaliate no matter what the color of your skin. I think it's safe to say he would be a free man today if not for all kinds of things, first and foremost would be if he hadn't decided to join the CIA in the first place. Lie down with the dogs and all that.

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  4. He would still be in prison if he were white. You've got to be a Jew in order to get the magic "get out of jail free card". Most recently, George Soros pumping $33 million into Ferguson to "aid" the protesters. He should be under indictment for fomenting a riot at the least. From 9 years ago, the AIPAC spy scandal refers to Lawrence Franklin's scandal of passing classified documents regarding United States policy towards Iran to Israel through American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The 2 top level AIPAC officials involved were charged but lawyered up and eventually had the charges dropped. Franklin, their goy patsy was convicted but plea bargained for a reduced sentence.

  5. I don't think so that Jeffrey Sterling is in the prison because of he is white in color it is not possible i think it's all about their crime or any other illegal activity which is not good for them that's why they are in the prison.

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