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A former case officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, who is black, contends in a lawsuit against the agency that his supervisors discriminated against him for much of his career. Jeffrey Sterling, the first black case officer to file such a suit, claims his managers threw up hurdles that prevented him from succeeding. Trained to recruit Iranians as spies, Sterling said he was fired in October after refusing an assignment to return to the Iran Task Force. The CIA denies that race was a factor in his dismissal. “His allegations of racial discrimination were investigated thoroughly, including at the senior-most levels at CIA, and they were found to be groundless,” CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Saturday. He said that the CIA could not discuss the specifics of the case because Sterling did not agree to a privacy waiver. Sterling’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, said the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in August, and that a judge ordered the original complaint sealed, citing its classified nature. Both sides are to be in court March 15 when a schedule is set for the trial. Sterling’s suit contends that white agency officials blocked key assignments that would have allowed him to advance within the agency. Mansfield said that the agency “is absolutely committed to a work force that reflects our nation’s diversity and the agency is doing everything it can to see that every employee reaches his or her full potential.” Sterling became a case officer December 1994 and about a year later joined the Iran Task Force, where he was the only black officer among 20 to 30 professional staff members, he told The New York Times. Sterling said he traveled to Africa and Europe to work with Iranian agents and spent a year learning Farsi in preparation for his assignment. Sent to Germany in September 1997, Sterling said he was given cover as an Army logistics officer rather than as a State Department officer, which he said hampered his ability to recruit Iranians, according to the report Saturday. Upset that he was not given new cases to develop, he told the newspaper he took his complaints that November to a manager. Sterling said he was informed that as a “big black man speaking Farsi,” he would draw too much attention to the agency’s Iranian agents. Sterling was transferred to New York in early 1999. He alleges in the suit that he was again assigned to try to recruit Iranians under the guise of an Army officer, and after failing to do so, was given what he contends were unrealistic assignments. He left New York in August 2000, later was placed on administrative leave and was fired last October. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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