“Does the government have no shame in destroying one man’s life?” asked Holly Sterling, wife of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling.
The wife of former CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling on Thursday publicly called on U.S. President Barack Obama to pardon her husband—who has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for, in her words, blowing the whistle and standing up for his rights.
“Does the government have no shame in destroying one man’s life and wasting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to punish a man who had the audacity to do two things: Stand up for his constitutional rights and utilize proper channels provided to him to express concern for the citizens of our country?” asked Holly Sterling in an open letter that was shared at a Washington, D.C. press conference co-hosted by Reporters Without Borders, ExposeFacts and RootsAction.
“Mr. President, I ask you what do you want your legacy as president to be?” she continued. “Is it one in which you are remembered for prosecuting more whistleblowers than any other previous 14 administration combined, or rather, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘Let us remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”
Earlier this year, a federal court sentenced Sterling to prison after he was convicted of nine felony charges, including seven counts of espionage. He is accused of handing classified material to New York Times reporter James Risen detailing the CIA’s covert Operation Merlin, which was carried out under the administration of former President Bill Clinton to give Iranian government false information about nuclear technology in order to delay its alleged nuclear weapons program.
Risen criticized the operation as reckless and dangerous, arguing that it accelerated—rather than discouraged—nuclear proliferation.
Sterling has maintained his innocence, and Reporters Without Borders notes that “the evidence that formed the basis of his conviction consisted only of multiple emails and telephone conversations between the two men, without any content to directly prove Sterling was the source.”
Sterling, meanwhile, has long been heralded as a whistleblower by his supporters because he raised concerns about Operation Merlin by going through formal channels and informing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “He had grave concerns about mismanagement of the program and potential harm to our country,” Holly wrote. “This was a legal and proper channel for agency employees to voice any such concerns.”
Yet it was on the grounds of this advocacy that he was suspected as Risen’s source.
“Even worse,” former CIA analyst and whistleblower John Kiriakou noted in a piece published in May, “the feds claimed that Sterling, who is black, did it out of resentment over a failed racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency—in effect using Sterling’s willingness to stand up for his rights against him.”
Many have argued that the Department of Justice has sought to make an example of Sterling, as part of the Obama administration’s larger war on whistleblowers. Meanwhile, high-ranking government officials like retired general David Petraeus have received far less severe consequences for their confirmed leaks of classified information.
“How do you explain the obvious disparate treatment of General Petraeus?” Holly Sterling wrote to the president. “If one strips away the race, financial status, and political clout of Jeffrey and Mr. Petraeus and solely reviewed the alleged crimes of Jeffrey and those pled by the general, it is glaringly obvious this was selective prosecution and sentencing.”
“They already had the machine geared up against me,” said Sterling in a documentaryreleased earlier this year. “The moment that they felt there was a leak, every finger pointed at Jeffery Sterling.”
Sterling is currently imprisoned in Littleton, Colorado—900 miles from his wife and family in St. Louis.