Professionalism/Jeffrey Sterling and Operation Merlin

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
< Professionalism
Jump to: navigation, search

Introduction[edit]

What is Operation Merlin?[edit]

Figure 1: CIA Seal Logo

Operation Merlin was a top secret CIA mission that was intended to slow the development of Iran’s nuclear program while also damaging relations between Iran and Russia. The mission objective was to deliver flawed nuclear warhead blueprints to the Iranians via “Merlin,” a Russian engineer who would be under the cover of a disgruntled Russian scientist with experience at Arzanas 16 looking to sell national secrets. The plans had both missing components and a planted error that the US was sure Iran would not be able to decipher. This error was in the design of the “fireset” which is an essential explosive piece of the plans. It was designed in such a way that it could not be made to work and would hopefully lead the Iranians into a dead end after wasting large amounts of time and money.

While plans were being made, Merlin was told to build his cover by emailing Iranian organizations that might be interested in this information. Merlin was not briefed that the CIA was giving the Iranians flawed plans but noticed immediately that there were discrepancies in the plans in an early meeting. Specifically, he noticed the most important parts from the parts list were not in the schematics of the blueprints and that the parts list was written in English rather than Russian. He feared that the plan would fail if the Iranians were to notice the same flaws in the plans. The CIA told him to tell the Iranians they would receive the missing parts once the package was paid for and to continue with the mission as planned. This new information coupled with a cover that could be easily blown, Merlin was skeptical about following through with the mission and even threatened to quit in January of 2000.

In March of 2000, Merlin made a trip to Vienna where he was to meet with the Iranians and deliver the package but he did not follow protocol. He took it upon himself to notify the Iranians where the missing parts were in the blueprints with a letter he included in the plans. He also did not meet with the Iranians in person; he slid the package in a mail slot. Despite this mishap, the CIA was sure that even with the knowledge of missing pieces, the Iranians would not notice or be able to fix the “fireset” they had designed and the mission continued. [1]

Who is James Risen?[edit]

James Risen, a well-known New York Times journalist famous for his dedication to the anonymity of sources, received the information about this mishap from an anonymous source and tried to expose the CIA in an article in the New York Times in 2003 before the NSA stepped in and urged him not to. They claimed it would endanger American lives as well as potentially compromise the still ongoing mission.[2] Risen was not discouraged by the NSA’s warnings. Three years later in 2006, he published “State of War” which included detailed descriptions of top secret information about Operation Merlin, causing the CIA to immediately halt the operation.

Who is Jeffrey Sterling?[edit]

Figure 2: Jeffrey Sterling

Jeffery Alexander Sterling began his career at the CIA in 1993. In 1998, he was assigned as a case officer on Operation Merlin. He was the handler of the Russian engineer (Merlin), the CIA asset. He allegedly was denied certain assignments during his time at CIA due to his race. In 2000, shortly before his time on the operation was terminated Sterling filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the CIA. [3] In March 2001, the court dismissed Sterling's lawsuit in a pretrial hearing on the grounds that the case would reveal state secrets. [4] Shortly after, Sterling was placed on administrative leave and stripped of his top secret access. Sterling continued to pursue the lawsuit but had a hard time finding people to support him. In 2002, after Sterling told the CIA that he would completely drop the lawsuit, he was terminated.[5]

After his termination, Jeffrey Sterling restarted his life and became a nanny for a college friend. After leaving the nanny job, he got married and finally found a job at a Health Insurance Company. [3] Six years after he lost all contact with the CIA, Sterling finds out that his is a prime suspect in the leaking of information about Operation Merlin.

General Timeline of Events[edit]

Figure 3: Timeline of events

References for Timeline: First block: [6] Second block: [4] Third block: [7] Fourth block: [4] Fifth block: [8] Sixth block: [2] Seventh block:[9] Eighth block: [1] Ninth block: [1] Tenth block: [1] Eleventh block: [10]

CIA's Perspective[edit]

The CIA depicts Sterling as a disgruntled employee seeking to embarrass the organization after losing a racial discrimination suit. They claim that Sterling's racial discrimination claims were meritless, and that he refused to accept alternate positions that he was offered. They claim that he demanded a severance package of hundreds of thousands of dollars and stopped showing up for work shortly after. Sterling was subsequently fired based on poor performance, and his communication with James Risen began at the same time.[11] The CIA claims that Operation Merlin was a complete success, and only failed in 2006 when Sterling deliberately sabotaged it by going to the media and making the story public, an act which endangered Merlin and all other personnel involved with the operation. [2]

CIA Concerns and Evidence Against Sterling[edit]

There were several factors that led the CIA to believe that Sterling was responsible for the leaks. The CIA knew that Sterling felt wronged by them after he filed the racial suit, and felt that this gave him a motive to release state secrets. Sterling's correspondence with Risen also provided the CIA with strong circumstantial evidence of Sterling's disclosure. Risen wrote a report about a secret CIA office in the World Trade Center just five days after Sterling was fired. Sterling once held a position in that same office so he knew of its location. Furthermore, Risen's information about Operation Merlin began when Sterling started working on it and ended in 2000, when Sterling was removed from the case. The CIA alleges that this information was all shared through twelve deleted emails between Sterling and Risen. The last piece of evidence of the disclosure of classified information was contained in Risen's book, State of War. The book contains a letter sent from Merlin to Iran, stating his intent to sell nuclear plans. The letter was written collaboratively by a team within the CIA, and Sterling made final edits to the plan. The version published in State of War contained Sterling's final edits, a version to which only Sterling had access.[12]

Sterling's Perspective[edit]

Sterling's Defense[edit]

Sterling claims that the CIA targeted him because of the racial discrimination lawsuit he filed that they believe gave him motive to leak the information about Operation Merlin to James Risen. [3] One important fact about the case the CIA had against Sterling is the jurisdiction of the case. Because Sterling was being tried in the Eastern District of Virginia. [13] Therefore, the only evidence that could be used to convict Sterling had to occur in that district. Although there was other evidence found about communication between Sterling and Risen the only evidence that could be used of communication between the two was a small percentage of the total amount. The only circumstantial evidence the CIA had against Sterling that they could use was phone calls that were 4 minutes in total. [14] Sterling stated that 4 minutes is not enough time to disclose the same amount of information that was found in Risen's book, State of War.

Additionally, he discusses the power divide between himself and the CIA. He was being charged of espionage by the CIA, a power much bigger than himself. He points out that if the tables were turned or the power was divided equally the decision on the case could have been different. [3] He was tried and convicted solely based on circumstantial evidence, when compared to other espionage cases involving CIA employees is unfair and unprecedented. [14]

Conclusion[edit]

Figure 3: Pulling on Superman's Cape

Generalizations from the Case[edit]

There are two main generalizations that can be taken from this case. First for Sterling, sometimes you will feel obligated to go up against an organization larger than yourself. Don’t let personal feelings cloud professional judgment. In this case, Sterling goes up against the CIA and does not prepare for the repercussions and consequences that could stem from taking on a powerful organization. As a professional, you should not be unusually intimidated by a larger power, but instead you should plan carefully when taking on the larger power. Additionally, Sterling should have separated his personal feelings from his judgment. Sterling put himself in a compromising position with the timing of the racial discrimination lawsuit and his alleged leaking of Operation Merlin. Second for the CIA, uphold a code of ethics even in the face of personal detriment. The CIA could have investigated Sterling's racial discrimination claim instead of sweeping it under the rug and taking the quicker and easier solution.

Is Jeffrey Sterling a professional?[edit]

This case has two different perspectives that tell conflicting stories of the events following Operation Merlin. If Sterling is correct, and Operation Merlin was a botched CIA operation that led to the expansion of their nuclear program, then Sterling was right to voice concerns to the Senate Intelligence Committee and sought to end a failing program by releasing the story to James Risen. If Sterling only released classified data for revenge against an organization that he felt wronged him, as the CIA alleges, Sterling acted unprofessionally. If these claims are true Sterling endangered the lives of both Americans and foreign assets in hopes of tarnishing the reputation of an organization. The secretive nature of this case makes objective accounts of the events, meaning that the truth of Sterling's intentions and the success of Operation Merlin are hidden from the public. This leaves it to individuals to decide on the ethical value of Sterling's actions.

References[edit]

  1. a b c d Walter Pincus. (2015, January 26). Twisted view of CIA’s Operation Merlin. Washington Post. Retrieved from [1]
  2. a b c Sterling Exhibits. (2015, January 16). Retrieved from [2]
  3. a b c d Judith Ehrlich. (2015). The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffery Sterling. Retrieved from [3]
  4. a b c Norman Soloman. (2015, May 12). CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Prison: The Latest Blow in the Government’s War on Journalism. The Nation. Retrieved from [4]
  5. Matt Apuzzo. (2015, January 26). C.I.A. Officer Is Found Guilty in Leak Tied to Times Reporter. The New York Times. Retrieved from [5]
  6. "USA v. Sterling 10 CIA Exhibits on Merlin Ruse" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 2015-01-14. Retrieved from [6]
  7. "USA v. Sterling 10 CIA Exhibits on Merlin Ruse" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 2015-01-14. Retrieved from [7]
  8. Matt Apuzzo. (2015, January 26). C.I.A. Officer Is Found Guilty in Leak Tied to Times Reporter. The New York Times. Retrieved from [8]
  9. Matt Apuzzo. (2015, January 26). C.I.A. Officer Is Found Guilty in Leak Tied to Times Reporter. The New York Times. Retrieved from [9]
  10. Norman Soloman. (2015, May 12). CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Prison: The Latest Blow in the Government’s War on Journalism. The Nation. Retrieved from [10]
  11. Leslie Caldwell, Dana J. Boente, James L. Trump, Dennis M. Fitzpatrick, Eric G. Olshan, Sung-Hee Suh, & Robert A. Parker. (2016, March 28). Brief for the United States. Retrieved from [11]
  12. Leslie Caldwell, Dana J. Boente, James L. Trump, Dennis M. Fitzpatrick, Eric G. Olshan, Sung-Hee Suh, & Robert A. Parker. (2016, March 28). Brief for the United States. Retrieved from [12]
  13. USA v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling: Selected Case Files. (2016, March 29). Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved from [13]
  14. a b Lawrence S. Robbins, & William J. Trunk. (2016, February 22). Defendant’s Appeals Court Brief. Retrieved from [14]