There is a new poster child for the U.S. government’s double standard in dealing with violations of public policy and public trust—former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who will receive no punishment for her wanton disregard of U.S. laws and national security. Clinton merely received a blistering rebuke from FBI director James Comey, who charged her with “extremely careless” behavior in using multiple private email servers to send and received classified information as well as using her personal cellphone in dealing with sensitive materials while traveling outside the United States. Some of these communications referred to CIA operatives, which is a violation of a 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act to protect those individuals working overseas under cover.
A CIA operative, John Kiriakou, received a thirty-month jail sentence in 2014 for giving two journalists the name of a CIA operative, although the name never appeared in the media. Kiriakou’s sentence was praised by CIA director David Petraeus, who faced his own charges for providing sensitive materials to his biographer, who was also his mistress. Petraeus lied to FBI investigators, who wanted to confront the general with felony charges. The Department of Justice reduced the matter to a single misdemeanor, and Petraeus received a modest fine that could be covered with a few of his speaking fees.
The treatment of Clinton is reminiscent of the handling of cases involving former CIA director John Deutch and former national security adviser Samuel Berger. Deutch placed the most sensitive CIA operational materials on his home computer, which was also used to access pornographic sites. Deutch was assessed a fine of $5,000, but received a pardon from President Bill Clinton before prosecutors could file the papers in federal court. Berger stuffed his pants with classified documents from the National Archives, and also received a modest fine. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez kept sensitive documents about the NSA’s surveillance program at his home, but received no punishment.
There is a similar double standard in dealing with the writings of CIA officials. Critical accounts get great scrutiny; praise for CIA actions is rewarded with easy approval. A classic case involved the memoir of Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., who destroyed over 90 CIA torture tapes and wrote a book that denied any torture and abuse took place. The Department of Justice concluded that it would not pursue criminal charges for the destruction of the videotapes, although it was clearly an act to obstruct justice. A senior career lawyer at CIA, John Rizzo, who took part in decision making for torture and abuse, received clearance for a book that defended CIA interrogation at its secret prisons or “black sites.”
In addition to the velvet glove approach for Rodriguez and Rizzo, the authors of the torture memoranda at the Department of Justice—John Yoo and Jay Bybee—received no punishment for providing legal cover for some—but not all—of CIA torture techniques. Even Yoo, now a faculty member at the University of California’s law school in Berkeley, conceded that CIA officers went beyond the letter of the authorization and should be held accountable. Meanwhile, Kiriakou, the first CIA officer to reveal the torture and abuse program, was convicted and sentenced.
A CIA colleague from the 1970s, Frank Snepp, wrote an important book on the chaotic U.S. withdrawal South Vietnam with unclassified information, detailing the decisions and actions that left behind loyal Vietnamese. Snepp had to forfeit his considerable royalties because the book wasn’t submitted for the agency’s security review. More recently, however, former CIA director Leon Panetta presented his memoir to his publisher in 2013 without getting clearance from the CIA, and only at the last minute before the book’s distribution did it receive a cursory review. Former director George Tenet received special treatment with his memoir, getting deputy director Michael Morell to intervene to reverse Publications Review Board decisions to redact sensitive classified materials from the director’s book.
All of these decisions point to a flawed and corrupt system that permits transgressions at the highest level of government, while the government pursues those at a lower level. President Barack Obama’s legacy will include the fact that he irresponsibly used the Espionage Act of 1917 more often than all previous presidents over the past 100 years, and contributed to the demise of the Office of the Inspector General throughout the government, particularly at the CIA. One of the key causes of the current hostility and cynicism toward politicians and the process of politics is the double standard at the highest levels of government.