In Convicting Jeff Sterling, CIA Revealed More Than It Accused Him of Revealing by David Swanson

Updated: May 13, 2015

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Let’s Try Democracy
May 11, 2015

Some Americans have heard of New York Times reporter and book author James Risen and his refusal to expose a source. But, because most reports on that matter scrupulously avoided the subject of what it was Risen had reported, relatively few people can tell you. In fact, Risen reported (in a book, as the New York Times obeyed a government request to keep it quiet) that back in the year 2000 the CIA gave nuclear weapons plans to Iran. Flaws had been introduced into the plans, with the stated intention of slowing down an Iranian nuclear weapons program if one existed. Risen’s reporting that the flaws were glaringly obvious, including to the former-Russian asset assigned to deliver the plans to Iran, made the scheme look even worse than it at first sounds.

Jeffery Sterling, a CIA handler of the former-Russian asset, was convicted earlier this year of being Risen’s source. He was convicted on the basis of the sort of circumstantial evidence known as “meta-data” that the NSA maintains we’re not supposed to worry about, but which an appeals court on Thursday ruled the bulk collection of unconstitutional. Sterling is expected to be sentenced Monday to a lengthy prison term.

During the course of Sterling’s trial, the CIA itself made public a bigger story than the one it pinned on Sterling. The CIA revealed, unintentionally no doubt, that just after the nuclear weapons plans had been dropped off for the Iranians, the CIA had proposed to the same asset that he next approach the Iraqi government for the same purpose. The CIA revealed this by entering into evidence this cable:


Mr. S., also known as Bob S., was and is a CIA officer. M is short for Merlin which is code for the former Russian and also the name of the operation (Operation Merlin). The cable refers to a more adventurous extension of the operation to somewhere other than Iran. The name for this other location begins with a vowel, because it follows the indefinite article “AN.”

Look closely at the text of the cable. The letters line up in vertical columns as well as the usual horizontal rows. It’s a grid. The missing word on the seventh line begins with a vowel and has five letters. It can be IRAQI or OMANI.

Keep reading. The missing word on the tenth line has four letters. It is either IRAQ or OMAN.

There follows a discussion of a meeting place, which is likely not in Iraq (or Oman).

Read to the last line. There the missing word has six letters. It can be IRAQIS or OMANIS.

The circumstantial evidence for choosing Iraq over Oman as the second target for Operation Merlin is far more weighty than what was used to convict Jeffrey Sterling of informing the public of the first target. Oman has never been alleged publicly by anyone of having or pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Oman has never been known to be a target of U.S. military action. Iraq in 2000 had been the target of multiple CIA-backed coup attempts. Iraq’s weaponry was a top focus of the CIA. Within two years, claims about Iraqi weaponry would be used by the CIA to support the U.S. attack on Iraq that would come in March 2003.

The 2002-2003 claims by then-President George W. Bush and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that a smoking gun could come from Iraq in the form of a mushroom cloud take on a different light when we learn that some short time earlier the CIA had proposed to give Iraq nuclear weapons plans as part of a program that Condoleezza Rice personally persuaded the New York Times not to reveal.

In 1995, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law Hussein Kamel had informed U.S. and British intelligence officers that “all weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.” Yet, on October 2, 2002, President Bush said, “The regime has the scientists and facilities to build nuclear weapons, and is seeking the materials needed to do so.” This was a claim he would also put in a letter to Congress and in his 2003 State of the Union Address.

Vice President Dick Cheney went so far as to claim, on March 16, 2003, on Meet The Press, “And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

There was no evidence for this, of course, and pretended evidence was carefully manufactured, including forged documents purporting to show that Iraq was trying to buy uranium, and an incorrect analysis of aluminum tubes that had to be carefully sought out after all the usual experts refused to provide the desired answer.

“We do know that there have been shipments going . . . into Iraq . . . of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to — high-quality aluminum tools [sic] that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,” said Condoleezza Rice on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer on September 8, 2002.

When the experts at the Departments of Energy, State, and Defense refused to say that aluminum tubes in Iraq were for nuclear facilities, because they knew they could not possibly be and were almost certainly for rockets, a couple of guys at the Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center near Charlottesville, Va., were happy to oblige. Their names were George Norris and Robert Campus, and they received “performance awards” (cash) for the service. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell used Norris’ and Campus’ claims in his U.N. speech despite the warning of his own staff that they weren’t true.

The U.S. government has never engaged in any such efforts to falsely portray Oman as pursuing nuclear weapons.

Did the CIA follow through with Merlin and actually give anything to the Iraqi government? Did it provide nuclear weapons plans as with Iran? Did it provide nuclear weapons parts, as originally conceived for Iran but not followed through on?

We don’t know. But we know that the CIA continued paying “Merlin” and his wife for some service. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, “altogether, the CIA paid the Merlins roughly $413,223.67 over the 7 years after James Risen supposedly ruined Merlin’s usefulness as an asset.” For all we know, we taxpayers are still funding the Merlin household.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of and campaign coordinator for Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at and He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.


[DS added the video report.]

CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling sentenced to 42 months in prison

RT on May 11, 2015

A former CIA officer convicted of passing secret information on Iran’s nuclear program to a reporter has been sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison. It’s the latest case in the Obama administration’s drive to root out whistleblowers. For more details, RT’s Manuel Rapalo.


Updated: May 13, 2015

Possible CIA Crime Revealed in Sterling Trial

TheRealNews on May 13, 2015

David Swanson says CIA inadvertently revealed a dark side of its operations in Iran and Iraq in the Sterling trial.


see also:

Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out Upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison

16 thoughts on “In Convicting Jeff Sterling, CIA Revealed More Than It Accused Him of Revealing by David Swanson

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  5. Well, this really makes sense on WMD lies, we gave the Iraq’s chemical weapons info AND nuke info. Finally, the truth comes out. LOL so incompetent.

  6. David, Sorry for not getting back to you. I’m delighted you found a used copy of the Holloway book. Yes, I believe he is an Englishman.

    Prior to your post, I had never heard of Kenneth Rexroth but I clicked on the link and what he wrote is “the cat’s meow!” Great description and the meaning of egalitarian anarchism.

    I often mention the Spanish anarchist/socialist/ communities of Spain prior to the Civil War, as I sat in my car, in 1990-91 listening to the last half-hour (or maybe more?) of a immensely informative presentation by a British historian on how well these egalitarian and democratic communities functioned, and seen as a threat to the “ruling-class” in Madrid and it really was an eye opener for me on the possibilities of a non-violent, cooperative society.

    I have to add Rexroth’s as another book to purchase and learn from.


    • Lo, typo in my reply to Frank, para 2 should read post 1880…how’s the garden?

      • Got it corrected, David. Thanks for your comment, as always.

        Garden is doing well; have most of the veggies planted but still needs a lot more work in general. It will take years to get it growing. Mostly I haven’t decided what to do with both the front and back yards. Hope you’ve been well.

        • Thanks Lo, it takes ages to make a garden work really well I think, I’m just beginning to understand my own patch here, it’s a long conversation….the more time you spend at it, the more interesting it gets!

        • So true. The sad part of moving to a new house was leaving my old garden. I know it will take years to develop and grow into a more established garden. It is exciting, though.

  7. David, 99% of the American people haven’t the foggiest notion who Jeff Sterling is. Or James Risen for that matter.

    But they can give you the lineup for the football, baseball, basketball, and NASCAR driver with much enthusiasm.

    The bloodless coup d’ etat has been easily carried out.

    • I guess that sums it up Frank, but why shouldn’t we expect more from those who profess to profess?

      Bye the way I’ve found a used copy of the Holloway book you flagged up, and his latest project also looks promising on post 1880 communities in Europe (possibly the rest of the world too?) as well.

      I meant to ask you if you’d ever read Kenneth Rexroth’s Communalism (1974) ~ think I must have found it during the eighties, quite informative ~ maybe he sourced material from Holloway, who is English apparently. It’s been made available as a pdf here

      Click to access Rexroth%20Kenneth%20-%20Communalism.pdf

      You know, this worldwide planetary awareness is unprecedented, we should study the past (from best sources) as thoroughly as possible, and really reinvent or somehow at least, redesign the future in my opinion. I just viewed a rather fascinating doc. on the Origins of Democracy, actually a Greek production evidently, but in a cheesy anglophone version, nonetheless packed with really interesting material ~ I learned quite a lot from it….ideas I’d never heard before…

  8. The cunning US administration seems to be investing huge resources into pulling one colossal criminal stunt after another, rolling out sophisticated lethal deceptions calculated to hoodwink the rest of the world; “never to let a dull moment pass on Capitol Hill” is apparently now official government policy…keep ’em guessing! chant their choral spooks, as they enthusiastically wave tacky commercial wands at every hostile wind, lest it should threaten to stalk them as a mighty whirlwind, guaranteed to chasten them severely, for disingenuously professing such learned ignorance & dark hubris…..tant pis!!

    Interestingly, I note that the Lib of Congress is currently hosting “Grand Illusion: The Art of Theatrical Design…” Seems apt somehow.

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