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Sterling writes: "At FCI Englewood, a federal prison, as I wait for my appeal to be heard, I am looking back on the presidency of Barack Obama. A supporter recently sent me a subscription to New York Magazine and the first issue I received, ironically, features the eight years of the Obama presidency, under the title 'Hope and What Came After.'"

Jeffrey Sterling. (photo: AP)
Jeffrey Sterling. (photo: AP)

Yes We Can

By Jeffery Sterling, Reader Supported News

22 November 16


t FCI Englewood, a federal prison, as I wait for my appeal to be heard, I am looking back on the presidency of Barack Obama. A supporter recently sent me a subscription to New York Magazine and the first issue I received, ironically, features the eight years of the Obama presidency, under the title “Hope and What Came After.” I was immediately struck by the title used to name the series of pieces about and from Obama on his tenure, because the same title could be used for my experience during the Obama years. Obama’s election, for many reasons, meant and embodied hope for me; what came afterward was anything but. As his presidency draws to an end, I can only hope that the change will once again have an impact on my life, maybe this time for the better.

In my opinion, the election and presidency of the first African American president of the United States has been a remarkable time for the country, one we should all be proud of. Like many Americans, I found so much to identify with and embrace in Barack Obama. I distinctly and fondly remember the Obama presidential campaign as one of genuine hope for positive change and a real, collective attitude of “Yes We Can.” I was definitely all in. I will never forget that November 2008 evening when Obama was declared president-elect. My wife Holly and I had tears in our eyes, overcome with fulfillment of the promise of hope. We were elated: “He ... We did it!” Accentuating that heartfelt euphoria was our implicit, if somewhat fanciful view that Obama’s election would strengthen our own determination in the face of overwhelming opposition.

It had been over two years since our home was invaded in 2006 by the FBI conducting a search as part of a seemingly unending leak investigation with me in its fixed crosshairs. Even prior to that time, we had been hounded for years, our entire lives subject to the investigative whims of the DOJ and FBI. We weren’t filled with delusions that the election of a black president would signal the end of the investigation, but we did enthusiastically take it as a sign that the nightmare just might be over. I could not have possibly imagined that that November 2008 evening was the beginning of what would turn out to be the most horrible time of my life. With that November 2008 vote, I unwittingly placed myself within the throes of what was to become one of Obama’s more unfortunate legacies.

Prior to the Obama presidency, I had worked as a case officer for the CIA. In 2001, I sued the CIA for employment discrimination based on race. The Bush administration DOJ fought for and won the ability to deny me the constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination and stand up against it, arguing that my doing so would endanger the national security of the US. The courts confirmed that I lacked those constitutional rights. It was a terrible blow to my view of myself as an American, punctuated by being fired from the CIA and losing everything. But I persevered and built a new life for myself. My resolve was to face an even more difficult test once Barack Obama became president.

Targeting whistleblowers with a McCarthyesque fervor was not part of the Obama presidential campaign. I cannot imagine that even one vote was cast for Obama based on the assurance that he would engage in relentlessly hunting down and prosecuting whistleblowers at a rate never before seen in any previous president. Yet, that is exactly the silent agenda that Obama brought and engaged in with his presidency and his administration.

The impact that Obama’s silent agenda has had is well documented: John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, and Chelsea Manning, to name just a few, have had their lives turned upside down not because their actions posed harm to the US, but because they had the courage to tell the truth. Their lives were thrown asunder at the whims of the same unfettered agenda which, from the moment Obama became president, gave new life to the years-long leak investigation that had hounded me relentlessly since being fired from the CIA back in 2002.

Obama’s first term was an unbelievably trying time for me. Clearly from 2009, the new administration had an unfounded determination to target me by any means necessary. The result was that I was arrested in January 2011, charged with violating the Espionage Act, immediately fired from my job as a healthcare fraud investigator, forced away from my wife and my home, and returned to the hell I had worked so hard to pick myself up from. All that I had fought to regain was in jeopardy, and the losses continued to mount even when Obama started his second term in 2013. It was a terrible, extremely disheartening limbo with a federal indictment hanging over my head. I was unable to find work, had expended all of my resources, and was on the verge of losing my home by the time the trial happened in 2015. What came after hope for me was being put on trial for a crime I did not commit.

The trial was hurtful. The Obama DOJ had won the right to call and question any reporter on sources, but they chose not to. Instead, they played a more substantial hand, characterizing me as a vindictive African American who had the nerve to sue the CIA for discrimination. An administration that had been strikingly silent on issues of race, except in response to the many crises that occurred during its tenure, made it a point to use race as proof and basis for my prosecution. The Bush administration had told me that the safety of the country meant I had no civil rights; the Obama administration took that denial and used my fight for civil rights against me. Incredibly, it took the first African American president with the first African American attorney general to take the loss and denial of my civil rights and use them to do to my life what the previous administration could not or would not do. The effect was undeniable. I was convicted and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

The hypocrisy of Obama’s silent agenda has been shocking. Leaks of classified information are nothing new in any government, but Obama has taken them to a new, disturbing level. Those who mishandle or leak classified information, provided they do so at the behest of or are in good stead with the administration, are privately congratulated while publicly presented facing feigned machinations of equal treatment under the law. Numerous examples have been commonplace throughout the Obama years, such as the situations with Generals Petraeus and Cartwright, among others. I would be remiss in not mentioning that I have certainly noticed the disparity in how the Obama DOJ and FBI have approached presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. What would life be like for these favored individuals had they faced the same prosecutorial fervor I have? That is a question that has lingered with me throughout the Obama years, particularly given Obama’s assurance of equality and transparency.

Shakespeare reminds me that “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.” It feels somewhat perverse to think that the end of the Obama presidency might signal hope for the future renewed in me after having hope deferred for so many years. For me, Obama has represented the continuation, if not an enhanced though reversed version, of the same African American experience that led to his becoming president; that same sort of perseverance and never giving up in the face of overwhelming opposition is what I’ve had to rely on to survive through the Obama years.

But I cannot say that renewed hope is or will be inspired by the looming ascension of Donald Trump. During their campaigns, neither Trump nor Clinton offered anything more than an unapologetic return to business as usual for the well-entrenched social or political establishments, both of which Obama had promised to change for the better. The importance of this election was lost upon me, as I could not vote. The loss of that fundamental right was somewhat assuaged by the knowledge that this time around, I at least wouldn’t be directly contributing to my own subjugation.

My inspiration for the future has come from an unexpected avenue. While in prison, I have received the support of thousands upon thousands of people. I note that those who have expressed solidarity through letters and by signing petitions on my behalf are like me and believed in the hope upon which Obama had campaigned and won. All of this support has been an incredible silver lining by which I have been able to persevere through the unfulfilled promises and debauchery of hope that has represented the presidency of Barack Obama, and it has motivated me to believe in hope again and know that “Yes I Can.”

Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA case officer, is currently serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence for leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter. His forthcoming book will be published by Nation Books.

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