McLEAN, Va. (AP) — A former CIA officer convicted of leaking classified details of an operation to derail Iran's nuclear ambitions would spend 20 years in prison if a judge follows federal sentencing guidelines.
Jeffrey Sterling of O'Fallon, Missouri, will be sentenced next month in Alexandria following his conviction in January. A jury found him guilty of illegally disclosing to New York Times journalist James Risen a secret mission to stall Iran's nuclear weapons program by feeding them deliberately flawed blueprints.
Prosecutors on Monday filed papers urging a severe sentence, but declining to spell out a specific recommendation. They said probation officers correctly calculated a sentencing guidelines range of 20 to 24 years.
The government cited testimony during the trial from former national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the plan was one of the best options the U.S. had in its admittedly limited ability to confront Iran's plans to build a nuclear weapon as part of their argument for a severe sentence.
Rice convinced the Times to spike a newspaper article that would have divulged the program, but Risen later included it in a book, State of War.
Prosecutors said Sterling leaked information about the program and falsely portrayed it to Risen as a botched operation because he felt he had been mistreated during his time in the CIA, and because it refused to settle his racial discrimination lawsuit.
"When he disclosed facts about Classified Program No. 1 — and distorted them to maximize the damage to the CIA, an entity he had grown to despise — he did so out of selfishness, not love of his country," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
But the judge is free to reject the guideline recommendation. Meanwhile, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others are supporting Sterling and argue he has been treated unfairly.
In a letter earlier this month, Tutu wrote that a harsh punishment for Sterling would stand in stark contrast to the likely sentence for former CIA director Davis Petraeus, who has agreed to plead guilty to leaking classified information to his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell. In that case, prosecutors are recommending probation.
"Your Honor, I appeal to you to provide the sentencing of Mr. Sterling with a sense of equity that can help to move the way of the world closer to real justice, nurturing belief in the law as a guardian of justice and not a violator of it," Tutu wrote to U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema.
Defense attorneys have not yet filed their sentencing recommendation. Sterling has denied he is the source of the leak and the defense has asked the judge to either set aside the verdict or order a new trial.
Sterling's sentencing had been scheduled for Friday but was pushed back to May 11 because of scheduling conflicts.