(CN) – A federal judge agreed to hold a closed-door hearing as to whether the government should have to provide additional classified materials to Jeffrey Sterling, the former CIA officer accused of revealing top-secret national defense information to a New York Times reporter.
The one-page order simply notes that the government’s motion is “reasonable” and schedules the matter for Aug. 30 at 10 a.m.
Sterling filed his second motion to compel on Aug. 8, asking the government to disclose various documents, both classified and nonclassified.
Sterling says the expert he hopes to call at trial needs these documents to prove that Sterling’s 2006 book, “State of War,” does not in fact disclose national defense information. Prosecutors say the book indicates that Sterling told New York Times reporter James Risen about Operation Merlin, a CIA effort to transmit flawed nuclear weapon designs to Iran.
Sterling plans to argue that any info he disclosed “could only be an embarrassment” as opposed to sensitive government information. According to the motion, to win its case, “the government must prove that the disclosed information is ‘related to the national defense’ that ‘could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a former power.’ In that light, information that is merely embarrassing to the United States is not ‘national defense information.'”
Specifically, “the defense has the right to argue to the jury that Iran does not even have a nuclear weapons program. Therefore, any alleged disclosure was not even potentially damaging, much less actually damaging,” according to the motion.
Sterling has asked for all national intelligence estimates referring to an Iranian nuclear weapon program and “all CIA or DIA published analytic papers regarding the info.”
Skewering the government’s “parade of horribles that could have ‘potentially’ occurred from the publication of the book,” Sterling claims that the information requested will help him prove “that the Iranians did not gain any benefit from this alleged disclosure and, further, the United States suffered no damage.”
Sterling’s motion concludes by insisting that “the defense surely must be able to show, with public and non-public documents, that no damage ever occurred and that this case is just the type of alleged leak that is merely embarrassing to the public officials that provided blueprints to the enemy.”
A few days later, the government moved for in camera hearings. It followed up on that request with a letter on Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria granted the motion that same day.