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Ex-CIA Officer Convicted of Leaking Secrets to Reporter

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Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, second from left, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Holly, second from right, attorney Barry Pollack, right, and attorney Edward MacMahon, after he was convicted on all nine counts he faced of leaking classified details of an operation to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions to a New York Times reporter. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, second from left, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Holly, second from right, attorney Barry Pollack, right, and attorney Edward MacMahon, after he was convicted on all nine counts he faced of leaking classified details of an operation to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions to a New York Times reporter. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — For years, ex-CIA case officer Jeffrey Sterling was the one under indictment but prosecutors’ primary focus of pursuit was journalist Jeffrey Risen.

Prosecutors believed Sterling leaked details to Risen about one of the government’s most closely held secrets: a secret CIA mission to derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions by giving them deliberately flawed blueprints.

Risen, though, wouldn’t divulge his sources. Prosecutors sought court orders forcing Risen to testify, saying their job would be immeasurably more difficult without his testimony.

Ultimately, though, prosecutors won their case without Risen. On Monday, Sterling was convicted in federal court on all nine charges he faced after a two-week trial in which Risen never made an appearance.

Experts said the trial shows the government can pursue leak investigations without relying on recalcitrant reporters.

At issue in the two-week trial: Who told Risen about the mission, one that former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice testified was one of America’s best chances to derail Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions?

The case was delayed for years as prosecutors fought to force Risen to divulge his sources. Risen eventually lost his legal battle to quash a government subpoena. But prosecutors ultimately decided not to call him to testify after the Justice Department, bowing to pressure from free-press advocates, promised it would not ask Risen sensitive questions about his sources.

Lacking Risen’s testimony, prosecutors acknowledged a lack of direct evidence against Sterling, 47, of O’Fallon, Missouri, but said the circumstantial evidence against him was overwhelming.

Defense lawyers had said the evidence showed that Capitol Hill staffers who had been briefed on the classified operation were more likely the source of the leak.

Following the verdict, defense lawyer Edward MacMahon said he was disappointed, but “we still believe in Jeffrey’s innocence.” Sterling will have the option to appeal his case after he is sentenced in April. Motions to dismiss the case on various legal grounds are also still pending in front of the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema.

Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school and former director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said she was not surprised by the verdict, which followed days of testimony from CIA officials who testified without revealing their last names and from behind a gray screen that shielded their faces from the public. She called it groundbreaking in the sense that it showed how prosecutors are willing to pursue such cases without reporters’ cooperation.

“They’re going to use this case to terrify federal employees. They’re going to use this case to teach the intelligence community a lesson” about the consequences of leaks, she said.

The Obama administration has brought more leak cases than all of his predecessors combined. U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who leaked more than 700,000 secret military and diplomatic documents to the WikiLeaks website, was convicted at a military trial and sentenced to military prison.

Other cases were resolved before trial. Former CIA officer John Kiriakou pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison for disclosing to a reporter the name of an undercover agency officer. Thomas Drake, who worked for the National Security Agency, disclosed government waste and fraud to a reporter. He pleaded guilty to a minor charge and did not receive prison time.

A former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, was charged with leaking to journalists but received asylum in Russia.

Going back earlier, Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin received a 12-year sentence after a guilty plea for leaking classified information to a reporter and two pro-Israel Lobbyists, though his sentence was later reduced significantly.

The classified operation at the heart of the Sterling trial involved using a CIA asset nicknamed Merlin, who had been a Russian nuclear engineer, to foist deliberately flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints on the Iranians, hoping they would spend years trying to develop parts that had no hope of ever working.

Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War,” describes the mission as hopelessly botched. Throughout the trial, though, numerous CIA officers testified they had deemed the program a success, even though the Iranians never followed up with Merlin to get additional blueprints he had offered to them as part of the ruse.

Prosecutors argued to the jury that the relevant chapter of Risen’s book seemed to be clearly written from Sterling’s perspective as Merlin’s case handler. The book describes the handler’s misgivings about the operation while others at the CIA pushed the plan through despite its risks.

Furthermore, Sterling believed he had been mistreated and was angry that the agency refused to settle his racial-discrimination complaint, prosecutors said.

And jurors were given phone and email records showing dozens of interactions between Sterling and Risen.

But defense lawyers said the government had no evidence that Risen and Sterling talked about anything classified in those phone calls and emails. The government failed to obtain Risen’s records to see who else he may have contacted.

Defense attorney Barry Pollack said Risen first got wind of the operation in early 2003, within weeks of Sterling reporting his misgivings to staffers at a Senate intelligence committee — a channel Sterling was legally allowed to pursue. Pollack said it makes more sense that a Capitol Hill staffer leaked to Risen.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente, in a written statement, described Sterling as “a disgruntled former CIA employee” and said the leak “was illegal and went against Mr. Sterling’s professional commitments to the CIA.”

“Mr. Sterling’s vindictive and careless choices ultimately led us here today and to this unanimous verdict.”

Risen did not return a call and email seeking comment.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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African American News & Issues

Reparations: How ‘Intentional’ Government Policy Denied Blacks Access to Wealth

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

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Stock photo of a vault with access denied written across it

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the Black community owned less than 1% of the United States’ total wealth, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans was told during its fourth meeting.

Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of California Irvine, School of Law, shared the statistics during the “Racism in Banking, Tax, and Labor” portion of the two-day meeting on October 13.

From her perspective, the power of wealth and personal income is still unequally distributed. And that inequality, in her view, has always been allowed, preserved and compounded by laws and government policy.

“More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged,” Baradaran told the Task Force, tracing the wealth gap from the period after the Civil War when President Lincoln granted formerly enslaved Blacks their freedom to the present day.

“The gap between average white wealth and Black wealth has actually increased over the last decades. Today, across every social-economic level, Black families have a fraction of the wealth that white families have,” she said.

Baradaran has written a range of entries and books about banking law, financial inclusion, inequality, and the racial wealth gap. Her scholarship includes the books “How the Other Half Banks” and “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” both published by the Harvard University Press.

Baradaran has also published several articles on race and economics, including “Jim Crow Credit” in the Irvine Law Review, “Regulation by Hypothetical” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, and “How the Poor Got Cut Out of Banking” in the Emory Law Journal.

Baradaran, a 43-year-old immigrant born in Iran, testified that her work on the wealth gap in America was conducted from a “research angle” and she respectfully “submitted” her testimony “in that light,” she said.

In her research, Baradaran explained that she discovered an intentional system of financial oppression.

“This wealth chasm doesn’t abate with income or with education. In other words, this is a wealth gap that is pretty much tied to a history of exclusion and exploitation and not to be remedied by higher education and higher income,” Baradaran said.

According to a January 2020 report, the Public Policy Institute of California said African American and Latino families make up 12% of those with incomes above the 90th percentile in the state, despite comprising 43% of all families in California.

In addition, PPIC reported that such disparities mirror the fact that African American and Latino adults are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and have higher unemployment rates, and African American adults are less likely to be in the labor force.

Many issues support these activities that range from disparities around education, local job opportunities, and incarceration to discrimination in the labor market, according to PPIC.

“While California’s economy outperforms the nation’s, its level of income inequality exceeds that of all but five states,” the report stated.

“Without target policies, it will continue to grow,” Baradaran said of the wealth gap. “And I want to be clear of how this wealth gap will continue to grow. It was created, maintained, and perpetuated through public policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

“Black men and women have been shut out of most avenues of middle-class creations. Black homes, farms, and savings were not given the full protection of the law. Especially as these properties were subjected to racial terrorism. The American middle-class was not created that way (to support Black communities),” Baradaran said.

A June 2018 working paper from the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute written by economists familiar with moderate-to-weak Black wealth backs up Baradaran’s assessment.

Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the authors of the report wrote that strategies to deny Blacks access to wealth started at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, picked up around the civil rights movement, and resurfaced around the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Authored by Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins, the “Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016” explains a close analysis of racial inequality, pre-and post-civil rights eras.

The economists wrote that the median Black household has less than 11% of the wealth of the median white household, which is about $15,000 versus $140,000 in 2016 prices.

“The overall summary is bleak,” the report states. “The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”

Baradaran recently participated in the virtual symposium, “Racism and the Economy: Focus on the Wealth Divide” hosted by 12 District Banks of the Federal Reserve System, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

There are some positives that are not typically included in discussions about the challenges Blacks have experienced historically in efforts to obtain wealth, Baradaran said. Many African Americans, specifically in California, were able to subvert the systems that discriminated against them.

“Black institutions have been creative and innovative serving their communities in a hostile climate,” Baradaran said. “I’ve written a book about the long history of entrepreneurship, self-help, and mutual uplift. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have provided stellar education and Black banks have supported Black businesses, churches, and families.”

California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, titled “The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” created a nine-member commission to investigate inequity in education, labor, wealth, housing, tax, and environmental justice.

All of these areas were covered with expert testimony during the two-day meeting held on October 12 and October 13. The task force is charged with exploring California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the historic denial of Black citizens’ constitutional rights.

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

“Banks and corporations have engaged in lending and hiring practices that helped to solidify patterns of racial inequality,” Jacqueline Jones, a history professor from the University of Texas told the Task Force.

The Racism in Banking, Tax and Labor segment also featured testimonies by Williams Spriggs (former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University. Spriggs now serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO), Thomas Craemer (public policy professor at the University of Connecticut), and Lawrence Lucas (U.S. Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees).

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans will conduct its fifth and final meeting of 2021 on December 6 and December 7.

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Activism

Ask County Supervisors Not to Spend Millions in Tax Dollars on Oakland A’s Real Estate Deal

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

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A rendering of the proposed new A’s ballpark at the Howard Terminal site, surrounded by port cranes and warehouses. Image courtesy of MANICA Architecture.

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA) and other groups are asking local residents to attend and speak at next week’s Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting to oppose a proposal to spend county residents’ tax dollars to pay for the Oakland A’s massive multi-billion-dollar real estate deal at Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland. 

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

The Stadium Alliance urges community members to “let (the supervisors) know that Alameda County residents don’t want our tax dollars to pay for a private luxury development. This proposal does not include privately funded community benefits and would harm our region’s economic engine – the port- putting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs at risk.”

 

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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Coronavirus

Colin L. Powell, former Secretary of State, 84

Colin L. Powell, the first Black man to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Black Secretary of State, died Monday of complications of COVID-19. The 84-year-old was also diagnosed with and being treated for a form of blood cancer and Parkinson’s disease. 

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United States Army General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/ Wiki Commons

Colin L. Powell, the first Black man to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Black Secretary of State, died Monday of complications of COVID-19. The 84-year-old was also diagnosed with and being treated for a form of blood cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

A four-star general who also served on the National Security Council, Powell was born in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrants in 1937. He attended public schools in the Bronx, where he grew up, and would graduate from City College of New York before joining the armed services in 1958 as a second lieutenant because of his participation in ROTC.

He was a professional soldier for 37 years, including two tours in Vietnam, rising steadily through the ranks until achieving 4-star general status in 1989 and, later that year, became the youngest and the first Afro-Caribbean to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense.

Powell was an exceptional military leader.  He earned the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Soldier’s Medal for heroism.

A moderate, the lifelong Republican was well liked by both political parties, but he ultimately decided against running for public office himself.

He was selected in 2000 to be Secretary of State, transforming General Powell from soldier to statesman.

He became known for persuading the American public and world leaders that Iraq was creating weapons of mass destruction when he ultimately agreed with President George Bush’s administration determination to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. 

It would turn out that the allegations of weapons of mass destruction were not true and Powell would consider the war and loss of life a blot on his record the rest of his life. He returned to private life in 2005 and became an acclaimed speaker in high demand.

He broke rank with his fellow Republicans when he supported then-candidate Barack Obama’s bid for president in 2008. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice.

Powell earned the trust of U.S. presidents, foreign leaders, diplomats, and the American people.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of General Colin Powell. I send my sincere condolences to General Powell’s wife, Alma, his family, his friends, and all of his loved ones” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

“General Powell was a trailblazer, serving as the first Black Secretary of State,” Lee continued. “I was fortunate enough to travel with General Powell during my early days in Congress to monitor elections in Nigeria and was moved by his kindness and expertise. I witnessed the close friendship between the late Congressman Ron Dellums, Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and General Powell.

“Their relationship was a powerful example of a mutual admiration and respect between public officials despite their different opinions on policy. Despite our disagreements on some issues, General Powell was steadfast in his commitment to racial equity, diversity and our democracy. General Powell served this country with decency, integrity, and showed respect to everyone he encountered.

“May he rest in eternal peace and power,” Lee concluded.

Powell is survived by his wife, Alma, and three children.

Sources for this story include various news sites, Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s press office and Wikipedia.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

 

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