The U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officer Jeffrey Sterling for allegedly revealing details to New York Times (NYT) investigative journalist James Risen of one of its less-successful covert operations highlights much of what is seriously wrong with the contemporary mindset that prevails in foreign-policy circles and across the broader Beltway. Along with showcasing the inequities rooted in the U.S. justice system, the prosecution and subsequent trial brought into sharp relief once again the obsequious compliance of the corporate (or mainstream) media with the agenda of the national-security obsessives that populate the neo-conservative and liberal-interventionist firmament.
Now, with Sterling's sentencing pending later this month, it is timely to revisit the backstory of this case and consider its broader implications.
The Sterling case involved Risen's own efforts in 2006 to publish a story in the NYT detailing the CIA's convoluted and ultimately botched attempt during the Clinton administration to provide Iran with flawed nuclear-device schematics. The objective of this operation was to sabotage Iran's nuclear-weapons program, one that reportedly the CIA chaps weren't even sure existed at the time or for that matter whether the Iranians really had ambitions in that respect. To this day, this doubt remains.
Codenamed Operation Merlin, this ill-fated, misadventure in Spy v Spy subterfuge is one of the most bizarre, cockamamie plots ever seeded and harvested down on the Langley Farm. And in the annals of The Company's heroic exploits in the defence of freedom, democracy, truth, justice and the American Way, that's a 'call' for which there's serious competition. In fact, it's difficult to imagine master spy storyteller John Le Carre would've risked insulting his readers' intelligence devising such a scheme as a remotely plausible plot device.
Of course the Iranians' purported efforts to develop a nuclear-weapons program has been for some time - and remains - one of the defining and divisive strategic issues of our time, an observation evidenced by the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's recent dog 'n pony show presented for the U.S. Congress. If it wasn't for the fact that Russia itself has its own formidable nuclear-weapons arsenal, in geopolitical terms this issue might rival in significance the portentous standoff between the U.S. and its former Cold War nemesis over the Ukraine.
The Truth Might Set you Free
What's not "difficult to imagine" though is why the CIA folks would want to keep the specifics of this murky little black-op debacle from receiving wide-lens exposure. And although many CIA insiders would have us believe otherwise, it has little to do with national security.
Such is the byzantine nature of this story that an in-depth rendering herein is not possible, and in any event it has been well covered especially throughout the course of Sterling's trial. Suffice it to say that the outcome of this utterly reckless operation generated double-barreled 'blowback' -- the spooks' worst nightmare. And by pursuing at first Risen, then Sterling, in the manner in which they have done, the CIA for reasons best known to themselves seem hell bent on shooting themselves once again in the foot.
To begin with, in handing over even flawed blueprints for the nukes, the CIA inadvertently delivered information to the Iranians they almost certainly could have used to advance any weapons program. That is of course if and/or when they do decide to get serious about it because as indicated -- the Israeli PM's Congressional bluff 'n bluster aside -- few appear really certain what their intentions are. This apparently includes key figures in Israel's own intelligence services, who themselves appear to be singularly at odds with their own leader over the issue.