To Avenge Mr. Merlin, CIA Exposed Mrs. Merlin

Courtroom sketch by Debra Van Poolen (

Courtroom sketch by Debra Van Poolen (

The government engaged in a great deal of security theater during the Jeffrey Sterling trial, most notably by having some CIA witnesses — including ones whose identities weren’t, technically, secret — testify behind a big office divider so the general public couldn’t see the witness.

But along the way, the government revealed a great number of secrets, including a number of secrets about how its counterproliferation programs work.

Perhaps most ironically, in a trial aiming to convict Jeffrey Sterling for revealing that the Russian scientist referred to as Merlin during the trial was a CIA asset, the government revealed that Merlin’s wife was also an asset.

That possibility was first suggested in the testimony of the first witness, Stephen B, who described originally recruiting Mrs. Merlin (presumably also for information on Russia’s nuclear program), not Merlin himself. Merlin’s wife suggested CIA recruit Merlin.

But the exhibits make it even more clear that CIA continued to have a relationship with Mrs. Merlin as well. For example, the first of two cables describing CIA informing the Merlins the engineer appeared in James Risen’s book describes them as the “Merlin assets,” plural.

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That January 6, 2006 cable goes on to reveal that Mrs. Merlin had been facilitating the targeting of a Russian official who was due to travel to the US.

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In addition, a stipulation regarding how much the CIA paid out over the years described it as how much “CIA paid Merlin and his wife.” [my emphasis] Indeed, the payments continued after CIA purportedly had to discontinue using Merlin on operations when Risen threatened to publish a New York Times story in 2003, and continued even after Merlin appeared in Risen’s book in 2006, even increasing in 2007.

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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.

It’s possible that some of these amounts were just meant to keep the Merlins silent. Yet it’s also clear that in 2006, Mrs. Merlin was actively providing information on Russian targets to the CIA.

None of these details — including a listing of how much nuclear engineers might expect to be paid by the CIA for a thorough debriefing then participation in a deception operation — were made public by Risen’s book.

But in the government’s zeal to punish Jeffrey Sterling because it believes he revealed Merlin to the world, the government has, in turn, revealed Mrs. Merlin.

6 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    I’m starting to wonder – are the people at CIA smart, or not? The ones on ‘Homeland’ sure aren’t – they’re always getting into trouble and messing things up. Is it a typical government organization where no one ever gets punished or fired for screwing up?

    • Anon says:

      I recommend reading the Laura Portis series “Top Secret America” in the Washington Post. One of the themes that ran through that set of articles was that secrecy hides incompetence. Indeed some of the more senior people that they interviewed commented on their frustration that the secret status of many of the projects were likely there just to insulate them from any review and to protect their funding.
      In effect noone is punished for stupidity because they spend all their time classifying the stupidity. In this case either they felt that they had to let it out or they were so zealous about prosecution that they forgot, or didn’t care, how it would look.
      It’s not like the new Congress is going to ask any hard questions anyway.

  2. der says:

    Thankfully I read this after having lunch, because I read this before:

    – “On December 6, 2014, approximately 36 of America’s top commandos, heavily armed, operating with intelligence from satellites, drones, and high-tech eavesdropping, outfitted with night vision goggles, and backed up by elite Yemeni troops, went toe-to-toe with about six militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. When it was over, Somers was dead, along with Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher due to be set free the next day. Eight civilians were also killed by the commandos, according to local reports. Most of the militants escaped.”

    – Most of the 6/Six/Sitta/Shisha militants escaped. “Most” would be like 4? 5 maybe? Getting away from 36 of ours and all that good stuff they use? Supermen.
    – Christ. Rome burns.

  3. galljdaj says:

    Basics boys and girls! Our so called leaders are not worried about you and me, or the ‘stock boys’ they employ. Its about spending the Dollars of the Peoples Treasury on the privileged few, ‘That make money enough to provide campaign gifts often outright bribes and employment at very high salaries when the govt career ends. The lil bits they can’t get away with is no worry, the congress will merely cut a lil more off the Peoples’ Table.
    This explains the “American Interests” the is rabble.

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