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A Double Standard For David Petraeus

Former CIA director David Petraeus pauses as he speaks to the media as he leaves the federal courthouse in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, April 23, 2015 after pleading guilty to sharing top government secrets with his biographer. Petraeus, whose career was destroyed by an extramarital affair with his biographer, was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $100,000 for giving her classified material while she was working on the book. (Chuck Burton/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Former CIA director David Petraeus pauses as he speaks to the media as he leaves the federal courthouse in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, April 23, 2015 after pleading guilty to sharing top government secrets with his biographer. Petraeus, whose career was destroyed by an extramarital affair with his biographer, was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $100,000 for giving her classified material while she was working on the book. (Chuck Burton/AP)

Edward Snowden can come home now, right? And Chelsea Manning and Stephen Jin-Woo Kim will be released from prison? House arrest will be lifted for John Kiriakou? And Jeffrey Sterling will walk out of the courthouse next month a free man?

How could it be otherwise after U.S. District Court Judge David Keesler last week gave David Petraeus two years probation after the former CIA director admitted giving a trove of classified national security secrets to his hagiographer-lover and lying to the FBI about it?

The sweetheart deal prosecutors cut with the retired general exposes the hypocrisy and the incoherence at the heart of the U.S. Justice Department’s war on whistleblowers.

The sweetheart deal prosecutors cut with the retired general exposes the hypocrisy and the incoherence at the heart of the U.S. Justice Department’s war on whistleblowers. Leakers who acted out of conscience in revealing the government’s global and domestic surveillance programs, botched covert efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program and other national security matters have gotten either long prison terms or reduced time behind bars in exchange for guilty pleas. Petraeus got a walk and a $100,000 fine, less than the self-aggrandizing former military commander in Iraq and Afghanistan earns for a single speech on the lecture circuit.

How could U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema fail to consider that discrepancy on May 11 when Sterling is scheduled to be sentenced for leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter about a failed CIA attempt to feed faulty nuclear plans to Iran? The same Justice Department that gave Petraeus a pass is seeking a prison term as long as 25 years against Sterling.

That can’t be justice.

Sterling’s is the eighth case brought against a government official or contractor by a leak-obsessed Obama administration for revealing national security information to journalists. In all prior administrations there had only been three such cases.

Those hit the hardest by federal prosecutors revealed information it was in the American public’s interest to know. Snowden’s revelations led to an ongoing global conversation about privacy and government overreach that the president, himself, has said was warranted and long overdue.

Petraeus, on the other hand, had no higher motive than accommodating his secret lover in the preparation of her sycophantic biography of the married four-star general. According to the indictment, Petraeus gave Paula Broadwell eight black books containing “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings … and [his personal] discussions with the president of the United States.”

There are, indeed, consequences, just not for David Petraeus.

For this he gets probation while Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years for leaking Iraq war logs and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden is in exile in Russia for letting us know the extent of National Security Agency’s surveillance operations and former CIA officer John Kiriakou is finishing up his 30-month prison sentence under house arrest for confirming the name of a covert agent that was never published?

A month before revelations of his extramarital affair led to his resignation as CIA director in 2012, Petraeus sounded like a man who would have abhorred the double standard that the judicial system has just applied in his case. “Oaths do matter,” he said after Kiriakou accepted a plea deal that October, “and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.”

There are, indeed, consequences, just not for David Petraeus.

Related:

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University. A Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The Boston Globe, she is working on a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

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