- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2015

Analysts are questioning whether the White House is protecting one of its inner-circle members in a leak investigation, especially given the Obama administration’s demonstrated willingness to prosecute and imprison lower-level government employees for providing classified information to the press.

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and somewhat of a White House fixture as a close military adviser to President Obama.

For over a year, he reportedly has been the target of a Justice Department criminal investigation. He is suspected of leaking to The New York Times highly classified details of a U.S. cyberwarfare program against Iran and its quest for nuclear weapons. Gen. Cartwright played a critical role in the covert action, whose weapon was a cyberworm called Stuxnet and whose code name was “Olympic Games.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the probe has come to a halt because the White House fears prosecution would force the administration to disclose secret sources and methods.

Despite the slowdown, Mr. Obama has been the most aggressive president in history in hunting down and prosecuting government personnel who leak.

In six years, the Justice Department has prosecuted nine leakers: One Army soldier; two National Security Agency personnel; two FBI employees; one State Department contractor; two former CIA officers; and, just recently, one retired general. Six have been, or will be, sentenced to prison terms.

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David H. Petraeus, like Gen. Cartwright a retired four-star general, received what some consider a slap on the wrist. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count for providing eight classified journals to his lover and biographer. He almost certainly will avoid prison.

The other eight have one thing in common: they are relatively low-ranking employees far from the centers of power and from connections to senior Obama aides.

Not so Gen. Cartwright, who gained wide White House access as the nation’s No. 2 military officer before retiring in August 2011. By law, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman is the principal military adviser to the defense secretary and to the president.

“What? Hypocrisy from the Obama administration?” said Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst. “Justice in the U.S. is not blind. The blindfold is off and keeping an eye out for friends and family who need protection. The scales of justice are not balanced, but heavily weighted to favor political friends. There’s a complete double standard on how we’re treating these people. It’s just not right. If you’re a favored general, you get a pass.”

Ken Allard, a retired Army intelligence officer, said it appears the White House is protecting Gen. Cartwright under the guise of national security.

“The one thing about these people is that they are consistent in their wrongdoing,” Mr. Allard said. “I was shocked to hear that Hoss Cartwright was being investigated. As a former special agent, I also understood that a number of far more likely suspects abounded in the West Wing. The Justice Department going after Hoss was simply a ploy to divert attention away from those White House officials, who were presumably carrying out their president’s wishes.”

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The 2012 report in The New York Times notes a tense meeting at the White House to deal with the Stuxnet worm’s unintended escape out of Iran:

“‘Should we shut this thing down?’ Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.”

The Post story Wednesday quoted an unidentified source as saying the Cartwright investigation has stalled because White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler was “unwilling to provide the documentation, citing security concerns, including those relating to sources and methods.”

Ms. Ruemmler, a close confidante of Mr. Obama’s, stepped down in June and returned to private law practice. She declined to comment to The Post.

A White House spokeswoman Thursday declined to comment to The Washington Times.

Gen. Cartwright’s attorney, Greg Craig, who was Mr. Obama’s first White House counsel, said he has not heard from the Justice Department.

“Gen. Jim Cartwright is an American hero who served his country with distinction for four decades,” Mr. Craig said. “Any suggestion that he could have betrayed the country that he loved is preposterous.”

Gen. Cartwright, who has remained active in Washington’s national security circles and is a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is suspected of being a source for the New York Times report by David E. Sanger and his subsequent book. It disclosed a joint U.S.-Israeli covert operation, begun by President George W. Bush, to infect Iran’s nuclear industry with the debilitating cyberworm.

The Times of Israel speculated Thursday that the investigation is on hold for fear of worsening relations with the Jewish State, which, like the U.S., has never publicly acknowledged the Stuxnet attacks.

New disclosures could complicate U.S.-led negotiations with Iran aimed at stopping Tehran from building a nuclear arsenal.

“It will be interesting to see if there is any movement on the investigation and case against Cartwright after the upcoming election in Israel,” said Bart Bechtel, a former CIA officer. “Cartwright truly stepped in it with his disclosure. The administration probably wants this matter to slowly slip from everyone’s memories, at least until after there is some conclusion in the negotiations with Iran.”

The Obama administration has, in fact, brought to public trial recently a former CIA officer who provided information on another anti-Iran nuclear operation to New York Times reporter James Risen. The former officer was convicted in January.

The Stuxnet operation was highly classified. Its disclosure prompted Republicans to charge that the White House was leaking secrets to make Mr. Obama look like a strong commander in chief in an election year.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. opened an investigation and assigned the job outside the Washington office to Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland.

Last year, NBC News reported that Mr. Rosenstein had notified Gen. Cartwright that he was a target of the investigation. A target letter means the government believes it has substantial information that the person committed a crime and likely will face indictment.

The nine government personnel charged criminally with leaking secrets during the Obama administration:

Edward Snowden. The former National Security Agency contractor provided copious documents and briefings on how the NSA listens to and tracks terrorist suspects. He is charged with violating the Espionage Act and is living in Russia.

Thomas Drake. The NSA senior manager provided classified NSA budget documents. He was indicted in 2010 on 10 felony charges, but all charges were dropped. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding the authorized use of a computer and received one year of probation.

Shamai Leibowitz. The FBI translator pleaded guilty to providing classified documents to a blogger and was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

Donald Sachtleben. The former FBI agent pleaded guilty to providing The Associated Press with details of an intelligence operation against al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Yemen. A judge sentenced him in November to more than three years in prison. The Justice Department discovered his identify via a mass capturing of AP telephone calls, emails and text messages, sending shock waves through Washington’s journalism community.

Jeffrey Sterling. The former CIA officer was indicted in 2011 on charges of providing classified information to Mr. Risen of The New York Times on a covert operation to stall Iran’s nuclear program. Sterling was convicted in January and will be sentenced in April.

John Kiriakou. The former CIA officer was sentenced to 2 years in prison in January 2013 for disclosing the name of a covert officer. He is now finishing his sentence under house arrest in Virginia.

Stephen Kim. The former State Department contractor pleaded guilty to a felony charge of providing classified information to Fox News about North Korea. In April, he was sentenced to 13 months in prison. The FBI also targeted Fox News reporter James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator.” It marked another leak investigation that rattled Washington journalists, who complained that the administration was having a chilling effect on the process of obtaining government information.

Bradley Manning. The Army soldier was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking mounds of classified cables to Wikileaks, a self-described whistleblower group.

Although five leakers received prison sentences and one is to be sentenced, the Justice Department is recommending only probation for Gen. Petraeus. The four-star Army general commanded the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, ran the war in Afghanistan and then landed the top job at the CIA.

He has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of sharing classified information with his mistress, Paula Broadwell. He also admitted that he lied to investigators about sharing secrets.

Former CIA analyst Mr. Johnson sees a trend. The White House is stalling a probe of Mr. Cartwright and giving a light sentence to Mr. Petraeus, two high-ranking, well-connected retired officers, while lower-ranking leakers get locked up.

“Just add this to the list of David Petraeus, who gets a wrist slap while others, like John Kiriakou, actually go to prison,” he said.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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