ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — Lawyers for a former CIA officer convicted of leaking details of a secret mission to derail Iran's nuclear ambitions argued Friday that he deserves a light sentence similar to that just handed down to ex-CIA director David Petraeus.
Jeffrey Sterling of O'Fallon, Missouri, will be sentenced May 11 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. In court papers filed Friday, his lawyers urged a lenient sentence. They said a recommendation under federal sentencing guidelines for a term of 20 years or more is excessive.
The lawyers say similar leaks have resulted in far lighter sentences. Petraeus was sentenced Thursday to two years' probation for giving classified material to his biographer and former mistress. Former CIA veteran John Kiriakou received a sentence of 2 ½ years for leaking a covert officer's identity in connection with discussions of the CIA's use of waterboarding of terror suspects.
Prosecutors are urging a severe sentence.
A jury convicted Sterling on all counts earlier this year after he was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking details of a CIA mission to New York Times journalist James Risen. The leaks exposed a plan to stall Iranian ambitions to build a nuclear weapon by using a Russian asset to slip deliberately flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran. At the trial, former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the mission represented one of the few opportunities the U.S. had to stop Iran from going nuclear and said it was one of the most closely held secrets in her time in the administration of President George W. Bush.
In their court papers Friday, Sterling's lawyers submitted a letter from former CIA station chief David Manners, who wrote that the government is exaggerating the harm caused by the leak.
Sterling has denied that he is the source of the leak and has asked Judge Leonie Brinkema to either set aside the jury verdict or order a new trial.