US government wants to use secret witnesses in CIA leak trial

James Risen

James Risen

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Prosecutors in the case of an ex-CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information to a journalist have asked the court for permission to introduce evidence in secret and to use privacy screens to shield the identities of witnesses. Jeffrey Sterling, who worked for the CIA’s Iran Task Force,  faces 10 felony counts and up to 120 years in prison for sharing information about the CIA’s operations in Iran. Court documents do not name the recipient of Sterling’s information, but it is common knowledge that Sterling spoke to James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times. In chapter 9 of his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Risen details a botched operation by the Iran Task Force, which tried to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. To do this, the CIA apparently recruited a Russian former nuclear scientist, who had defected to the United States. The unnamed scientist was told to travel to Vienna, Austria, in early 2000, and offer to sell the documents to the Iranians. But the documents contained a deliberate technical flaw, which, Risen alleges, the Russian CIA operative thought was so obvious that it could make him look untrustworthy in the eyes of the Iranians, thus endangering the entire mission. The Russian scientist ended up letting the Iranians know about the flaw, reveals Risen. He further alleges that the CIA operation may have actually helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian scientists would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Risen has refused to cooperate with government prosecutors, who appear to have identified Sterling as the source of Risen’s revelations. On Tuesday, government prosecutors filed a motion (pdf) to conceal witnesses and evidence from the public, in order “to safeguard national security secrets and to assure the safety of witnesses who worked undercover as officers or agents”. The motion requests “that some […] witnesses be referred to throughout the public proceedings by the initial of their true last name (e.g., Mr. D. for John Doe), and that a screen be used to prevent the identities of several of those current or former officers from being revealed to the public”. It appears that among the witnesses that may be called to testify is the Russian defector mentioned earlier. Sterling’s defense attorney, Ed MacMahon, told reporters that his client is “entitled to a public trial [and] not one controlled by the CIA”.

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