The new poster child for the CIA’s double standard is none other than former CIA director General David Howell Petraeus, who escaped a jail sentence despite providing eight notebooks of highly classified information, including names of covert operatives, to his biographer-mistress Paula Broadwell. The fact that he lied to the FBI about providing classified information to his mistress should have meant an automatic prison sentence. In 1991, I was questioned by the FBI regarding Robert Gates‘ role in Iran-Contra, and it was made clear at the outset that the “truth and the whole truth” carried a special meaning for the FBI.
General Petraeus presumably understood this as well, but in a miscarriage of justice that my good friend Ray McGovern termed “too big to jail,” the general was given a misdemeanor wrist-slap and a $40,000 fine, which the general can more than cover with one of his public speaking fees. McGovern, a CIA veteran and well-known dissident, was jailed for merely trying to get into a speaking event featuring General Petraeus at the 92nd Street YMHA in New York City on the eve of Halloween in 2014. McGovern was denied entrance to the YMHA despite having a ticket to the event, but New York’s finest were summoned and McGovern was dragged away and spent the night in jail. It is reasonable to assume that the government’s monitoring of McGovern’s Internet activity, which included the purchase of the ticket to the event, led to the encounter at the Y.
There is nothing new here, however. Former CIA director John Deutch placed the most sensitive operational materials of the CIA on his home computer, which was also used to access pornographic sites among other things. Like Petraeus, Deutch agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge and was assessed a modest $5,000 fine. Before the prosecutors could file the papers to federal court, President Bill Clinton pardoned Deutch on his last day in office, which contributed to his presidential sobriquet of “Slick Willie.” Clinton’s national security adviser Samuel Berger similarly pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge and received a $10,000 fine for stuffing into his pants classified documents from the National Archives in 2005.
Several years later, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was not even charged–merely admonished–for keeping sensitive information about the NSA’s surveillance program at home. Meanwhile, NSA official Tom Drake was charged with violations under the Espionage Act for dealing with unclassified information. Other NSA officials were also harassed by the government for the handling of unclassified information and one of them, Edward Loomis, faced a one-year government review of his book on NSA transgressions.
Conversely, John Kiriakou, a CIA operative, who revealed the decision making involved in CIA’s torture and abuse, was given a 30-month jail sentence, for providing the name of one CIA operative to two journalists who never used the name in any of their stories. No one was quicker to praise the sentencing of Kiriakou than CIA director Petraeus.
Meanwhile, the CIA cleared for publication the memoirs of two senior officers with more than 70 years of professional experience at the CIA who claim there was no such thing as torture and abuse. John Rizzo, a senior career lawyer at the CIA who took part in the decision making for torture and abuse, defended CIA interrogation at its “black sites.” Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA operative who destroyed the 92 torture tapes, denied that CIA conducted torture and abuse, hiding behind the so-called “torture memoranda” of the Department of Justice that provided legal cover for some–but not all–of the CIA practices. Meanwhile, the major author of the torture memoranda, John Yoo, who is on the faculty of the University of California’s law school in Berkeley, has conceded that CIA officers went beyond the letter of the authorization and should be held accountable.
A colleague of mine from the 1970s, Frank Snepp, wrote an important book with no classified information that was not submitted for Agency clearance. As a result, he had to forfeit his considerable royalties, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, for violating his obligation to submit such a manuscript. Nevertheless, former director Leon Panetta submitted his memoir to his publisher in 2013 long before he passed the manuscript to the CIA for security review; he received no punishment whatsoever, not even an admonishment. Snepp’s book was severely critical of the CIA and the U.S. government for leaving behind loyal Vietnamese in our withdrawal in 1975. Conversely, Panetta had great, albeit misguided, praise for the CIA.
The fines for the crimes of Petraeus, Berger, and Deutch must be compared to the jail sentences given to low-ranking government officials and contractors who have mishandled classified information. Stephen J. Kim, a contractor, received a one-year prison sentence for disclosing information to a reporter for Fox News, who was also charged for merely doing his job of investigative journalism. A former FBI technician received a four-year sentence for discussing classified information with a reporter from the Associated Press. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA operative, is facing a lengthy prison sentence for discussing classified information with James Risen of the New York Times. Risen also faced serious charges but in a sudden twist, Attorney General Eric Holder realized that his controversial legacy at the Department of Justice shouldn’t include the harassment of journalists and journalism.
Although President Obama campaigned on openness in government, no president has been so zealous in defending official secrecy or in using the Espionage Act from 1917. More U.S. officials have been charged with leaking secret information by the Obama administration than any other, and no president has done more harm to the institution of the Inspector General. Whistleblowers simply have no place to go other than the media because of the weakness of the Offices of the Inspector General in the intelligence community, and the fact that the congressional intelligence committees are in the hands of Republican apologists for the intelligence community.
The charges against General Petraeus were the most ironic of all. The general’s mistress was the target of the leak investigation, which led to the discovery of the classified documents. At that point, the FBI actually believed the CIA director was the target of hacking; no one suspected a felony offense. Next time, the good general should give any classified information to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward because he has been publishing state secrets from high-level officials for several decades with no accusations or investigations.
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.