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Ex-CIA officer convicted of leaking secrets to NY Times reporter

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AP) — A former CIA officer was convicted Monday of leaking details of a covert mission to derail Iran’s nuclear program in a case that, until the eve of the trial, was as much about the journalist who published the leaks as it was the accused leaker.

The government gave up on its effort to force New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his sources — and ultimately didn’t need him to win a conviction.

Jurors convicted Jeffrey Sterling, 47, of O’Fallon, Missouri, of all nine counts he faced in federal court.

At issue in the two-week trial: Who told Risen about the mission, one that former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice testified was among the government’s most closely held secrets during her tenure as well as one of its best chances to derail Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions?

The case was delayed for years as prosecutors fought to force Risen to divulge his sources. Risen eventually lost his legal battle to quash a government subpoena, though prosecutors ultimately decided not to call him to testify once it became clear he would not reveal those sources even if jailed for contempt of court and free-press advocates lobbied on Risen’s behalf.

Prosecutors had acknowledged a lack of direct evidence against Sterling but said the circumstantial evidence against him was overwhelming. Defense lawyers had said the evidence showed that Capitol Hill staffers who had been briefed on the classified operation were more likely the source of the leak.

Following the verdict, defense lawyer Edward MacMahon said he is disappointed in the verdict but “we still believe in Jeffrey’s innocence.” He said the defense will pursue every available legal option to get the jury’s verdict overturned.

Sterling will have the option to appeal his case after he is sentenced in April. Motions to dismiss the case on various legal grounds are also still pending.

The classified operation at the heart of the trial involved using a CIA asset nicknamed Merlin, who had been a Russian nuclear engineer, to foist deliberately flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints on the Iranians, hoping they would spend years trying to develop parts that had no hope of ever working.

Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War,” describes the mission as hopelessly botched, and possibly backfiring by giving the Iranians blueprints that could be useful to them if they sorted out the good information from the errors.

Throughout the trial, numerous CIA officers testified that they had deemed the program a success, even though the Iranians never followed up with Merlin to get additional blueprints he had offered to them as part of the ruse.

In his closing arguments, prosecutor Eric Olshan said the chapter of Risen’s book seemed to be clearly written from Sterling’s perspective as Merlin’s case handler. The book describes the handler’s misgivings about the operation while others at the CIA push the plan through despite its risks.

Furthermore, Sterling believed he had been mistreated and was angry that the agency refused to settle his racial discrimination complaint, Olshan said.

Risen had written about that complaint, and he was known to have a relationship with Sterling. The two exchanged dozens of phone calls and emails, Olshan said.

But defense lawyers said the government had no evidence that Risen and Sterling talked about anything classified in those phone calls and emails. The government failed to obtain Risen’s records to see who else he may have contacted.

Defense attorney Barry Pollack said Risen first got wind of the operation in early 2003, within weeks of Sterling reporting his misgivings to staffers at a Senate intelligence committee — a channel that Sterling was legally allowed to pursue. Pollack said it makes more sense that a Hill staffer leaked to Risen.

Prosecutors declined to comment after the verdict, as did a CIA spokesman.

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Sotto salutes Bernas for ‘life of service, devotion to God, rule of law’

The Senate on Monday adopted a resolution expressing its profound sympathy and sincere condolences on the demise of constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, who passed away last Saturday at the age of 88.

Senate Resolution 674, introduced by Senate President Tito Sotto, was unanimously adopted by the chamber, which honored Bernas for his “immeasurable and invaluable contributions to the legal profession and society.”

The Jesuit priest was a notable constitutionalist and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.

“We salute you for a life of service and devotion to God, the Rule of Law and your countrymen, Fr. Joaquin Bernas,” Sotto said in his sponsorship speech.

He described Bernas as a man with a “strong sense of morals and ethics who was humble and calm, exuding authority even in his silence.”

Sotto said the Jesuit priest had willingly responded to the call of legal and moral duty to protect democracy and human rights unmindful of his own physical well-being.

He said Bernas’ unblemished devotion and faith in God and the Rule of Law had helped rebuild the country through his teachings, writings, and leadership.

“His death is great a loss not only to his Atenean family and to the legal profession but to the Filipino people and the nation as well,” Sotto said.

Senate celebrates women’s contributions in battle against Covid-19

The Senate on Monday, International Women’s Day, adopted a resolution to commemorate the occasion and the role of women in nation building and to celebrate women’s indispensable contributions to the Filipino home and in the workforce, particularly in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Senate Resolution 673, sponsored by Senator Joel Villanueva, stressed that this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day with the theme “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world,” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the pandemic.

“While recognizing that across the world women are facing increased domestic violence, unpaid care duties, unemployment and poverty, and despite women making up a majority of front-line workers, there is disproportionate and inadequate representation of women in national and global COVID-19 policy spaces,” the resolution read in part.

Also according to the resolution, “In order to uphold women’s rights and fully leverage the potential of women’s leadership in pandemic preparedness and response, this year’s celebration also recognizes that the perspectives of women and girls in all of their diversity must be integrated in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes in all spheres and at all stages of pandemic response and recovery.”

The resolution also cited that “the Philippines has always recognized the role of women in nation-building and the need to ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men, as enshrined in Article II, Section 14 of the Constitution.”

“Pursuant to this state policy, Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta for Women, tasked the Philippine Commission on Women to act as a catalyst for gender mainstreaming, as well as the authority on women’s concerns and lead advocate of women’s empowerment, gender equity, and gender equality,” the resolution said.

Senate unanimously okays BFP modernization bill

The Senate on Monday unanimously approved on final reading a bill to modernize and strengthen the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) by providing modern firefighting tools and life-saving equipment, additional personnel and relevant training of personnel.

With a 23-0 vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1832, or the proposed BFP Modernization Act, aimed at helping the BFP pursue its mandate of ‘promoting public safety by saving lives and protecting property in times of emergencies’.

Senator Bato Dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate public order committee, said that the proposed measure will ensure that the BFP will be well-quipped and sufficiently manned to suppress fire and respond to calamities.

“We will not allow the BFP to prevent and suppress destructive fires alone. Sa tulong ng Senate Bill 1832, masisiguro natin na magkakaroon ng sapat na fire officers, fire trucks, personal protective equipment at ibang equipment na kailangan para maapula ang mga nakamamatay na sunog,” he said.

“Bukod pa rito, mas magagampanan ng BFP ang kanilang tungkuling bilang “first responder” sa mga sakuna, aksidente at iba pang emergency,” Dela Rosa said.

The bill expands the BFP’s functions to include prevention and suppression of fire in all buildings, houses, and other structures located inside economic zones, agro-industrial economic zones, free ports, and special economic zones and other similar places.

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