A former CIA officer was sentenced Monday to 3 ½ years in prison for leaking details of a secret mission to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a sentence that was received with a measure of relief from his legal team and paled in comparison to the decades-long term that had been on the table.

Jeffrey Sterling, 47, of O’Fallon, Missouri, had faced federal sentencing guidelines calling for 20 years or more, as well as a push by prosecutors urging a severe sentence for a leak they said hit the nation’s security apparatus at its core.

A jury convicted him in January of telling New York Times journalist James Risen about a classified plan to trick the Iranian government by slipping flawed nuclear blueprints through a Russian intermediary.

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