Former Black CIA agent Jeffrey A. Sterling was disbarred on May 12, 2022, for his 2015 felony conviction after serving time for leaking information to the press about the Central Intelligence Agency.
Sterling’s legal fight with the CIA has been going on since 2000. While he was still an agent, he lodged a racial discrimination complaint and he claims he has been subject to retaliation.
A state appellate court ruled to disbar Sterling, 54, from New York’s roll of attorneys after he had served a three-and-a-half-year prison term for leaking information about a secret operation to the media in 2003. He was released in 2018.
In 2015, Sterling was convicted on espionage charges by a federal jury in Virginia for telling a reporter at the New York Times about a CIA operation to interfere in the Iran nuclear program, the newspaper reported at the time.
Sterling “committed professional misconduct by failing to timely report his conviction,” the appellate court said in the current ruling, The New York Post reported. The ruling stated that he was disbarred effective retroactively to the time of his 2015 conviction.
Sterling said he felt he was treated differently at the CIA because of his race almost from the beginning. He joined the CIA right out of law school. His first day at CIA training camp Langley was May 13, 1993.
While he was still an agent, Sterling he lodged a racial discrimination complaint.
“I seriously considered leaving the agency. But I believed in what I would be able to do. I believed in the career I could have there…I couldn’t just walk away from something that was so vital to me and that I knew I was good at, proved I was good at. That was it for me … No, you are not going to treat me that way.”
The agency soon fired him, and he filed two federal lawsuits against it, one for retaliation and discrimination and another for obstructing the publication of his autobiography.
Diversity has been a challenge for the agency, where 26.5 percent of members of the intelligence agencies in 2019 were racial and ethnic minorities, up slightly from 26.2 percent in 2018, according to a new report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence obtained by ABC News.
African American and Hispanic people account for 31.9 percent of the overall U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census.
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Sterling wrote a memoir, tentatively titled “Spook: An American Journey Through Black and White,” and submitted chapters to the agency for pre-publication review. The CIA determined that his manuscript contained classified information that should not be published, according to a lawsuit Sterling filed in 2003. His manuscript has not been published, The Intercept reported.
But in 2019, Sterling published another book, “Unwanted Spy: The Persecution of an American Whistleblower.”
Sterling spoke out as a whistleblower to Congress in 2015.
His fight with the CIA has been difficult. He said he lost almost everything and was nearly homeless at one point, The Intercept reported. But before his arrest, he had rebuilt his life and started a new career.
Then in 2011, the FBI came to his workplace and placed him in handcuffs.
Sterling’s case was part of President Barack Obama’s controversial crackdown on leakers and whistleblowers.
Photo: In this Jan. 26, 2015 file photo, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling leaves federal court in Alexandria, Va. A federal appeals court on June 22, 2017, upheld all but one of the convictions of Sterling, found guilty of leaking government secrets to a reporter. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)