Double standard for leaking endangers the nation

DCIA David Petraeus

Gen. David Petraeus (ret.). From Wikiepedia.

Reportedly, investigators have recommended indictment of disgraced former Central Intelligence Agency Director, David Petraeus on charges of leaking classified information.

[Investigators concluded that, whether or not the disclosure harmed national security, it amounted to a significant security breach in the office of one of the nation’s most trusted intelligence leaders. They recommended that Mr. Petraeus face charges, saying lower-ranking officials had been prosecuted for far less. (New York Times, Jan. 9)

Attorney General Eric Holder says the decision is likely to be made “at the highest levels” of the Justice Department. But, Petraeus, who is accused of sharing classified information with a biographer/mistress, is unlikely to ever see a prison cell. Influential Washington insiders immediately began lobbying the administration to grant a crony immunity.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee had high praise for the man who shielded government officials from accountability for drone assassinations and torture. “One of America’s finest military leaders,” wrote Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham. “A very brilliant man,” gushed Sen. Diane Feinstein.

Sounding like the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Feinstein expressed shock that someone would even consider subjecting a person of Petraeus’ high status to prosecution.

This man has suffered enough, in my view. He’s the four-star general of our generation. I saw him in Iraq. He put together the Army Field Manual. He put together the Awakening and how it worked out. He, I think, is a very brilliant man. – Feinstein (CNN) [Excerpt from transcript by Democracy Now!]

Changing course, Feinstein portrayed Petraeus as Everyman, deserving of sympathy from the masses (who likely would never get the special treatment requested for Petraeus).

People aren’t perfect. He made a mistake. He lost his job as CIA director because of it. I mean, how much do you want to punish somebody? (CNSNews)

If Americans are not filling the streets with cries of Je suis Petraeus!, possibly it’s because they fear being shot down or tear-gassed by police in armored vehicles. Perhaps they see the hypocrisy in Feinstein demanding relentless prosecution of the ‘little guy,” whether he is smoking pot or disclosing government abuses. They may recall Feinstein telling them to forget about clemency for Edward Snowden,  and Obama condemning Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning.

Yes, we are all one except for the many occasions when we are not. The Petraeus case shines a light on Washington’s double standard that immunizes people in positions of power and their loyal cronies, but demands harsh punishment for others.

Long-standing mavens of DC political power literally believe that they and their class-comrades are too noble, important and elevated to be subjected to the rule of law to which they subject everyone else. They barely even disguise it any more. It’s the dynamic by which the Obama administration prosecuted leakers with unprecedented aggression who disclose information that embarrasses them politically while ignoring or even sanctioning the leaks of classified information which politically glorify them. –Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

The average American, who earns $35,293 a year, would be hard-pressed to understand how Gen. Petraeus is “suffering.” Since resigning in 2012, he has retained his security clearance (unlike the ‘other woman‘ in the scandal and numerous whistleblowers) and he continues to advise the White House. He has a top-tier attorney to handle his legal problems. He has multiple streams of income, including an Army pension ($220,000 a year), and teaching positions at the University of Southern California, the City University of New York (that involved Petraeus in a new scandal) and Harvard University. Mike Lofgren ( comments, “The Ivy League is, of course, the preferred bleaching tub and charm school of the American oligarchy.”

Petraeus also gives speeches and, best of all, he is Chairman of the KKR Global Institute, a presumably very lucrative position created for him in 2013 by the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. KKR has been cagey as to the exact nature of Petraeus’ expected contributions to the firm, and onlookers express puzzlement about his qualifications for the job. It seems fair to suppose that his CIA and Army expertise offer some potential benefit to the firm, whose investors include high net worth individuals and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs).

Experts have warned for several years about changes in the way SWFs invest that increase the potential for foreign governments to use them to undermine the economy and security of other countries, including the United States.Thomas Hemphill pointed out some of the risks in an article for Thunderbird International Business Review.

Lyons (2007) and Luft (2008) argue that this form of “state capitalism” can be used to secure sensitive strategic assets in the in- frastructure industries (e.g., telecommunications, media, energy, seaports, and financial services) and, in lieu of a direct military attack, undertake decisions contrary to the safety and security of the United States or other Western countries.

Researcher Alan Tonelson, in American Economic Alert, described another looming threat. “Foreign government investments from Persian Gulf oil kingdoms in particular . . . raise the somewhat different yet equally worrisome possibility of transfers to third parties, such as terrorist organizations or to rogue states like Iran and North Korea.” But, an investment corporation’s chief responsibility is to maximize the returns of investors, including SWFs, and, Tonelson notes, government regulation has not caught up with developments in the investment industry.

For high-level leakers, it seems the safety net is always out. BoingBoing notes, “[C]urrent CIA director John Brennan, former CIA director Leon Panetta, and former CIA general counsel John Rizzo are just three of many high-ranking government officials who have gotten off with little to no punishment despite the fact we know they’ve leaked information to the media that the government considers classified. But, for whistleblowers, there is no safety net; only a steady stream of abuses.

National security whistleblowers have been fired, stripped of their security clearances, blacklisted from employment, imprisoned, held at gunpoint while their homes were ransacked, placed on the government’s No Fly list, shunned, prosecuted under the Espionage Act, subjected to surveillance, maligned in national media, subjected to retaliatory mental examinations, stripped naked and held in solitary confinement while awaiting trial and declared guilty in advance by the Commander in Chief.

The government wants nothing less than complete destruction of the whistleblower–politically, socially, physically, financially and psychologically–to discourage others from whistleblowing. Calling this “reprisal” is too kind. It’s bureaucratic terrorism designed to protect the organization from external accountability for waste, fraud and abuse. For examples, see the cases of Thomas Drake, Chelsea/Bradley Manning and John Kiriakou.

Retaliation occurs whether or not whistleblowers disclose classified information to the public, whether or not they go through authorized channels, whether or not their disclosure harms anyone. These are null factors, irrelevant to whether a whistleblower experiences retaliation; but they dominate the public debate as a purposeful distraction from a fundamental truth: The system abhors external accountability, a linchpin of our republic. Often, it has much to hide.

The officials who proposed leniency for Petraeus did so, apparently, without knowing details of the FBI’s evidence against him. That is standard treatment for privileged leakers, for whom there is a presumption of innocence. In contrast, whistleblowers are presumed guilty of the most vile offenses and deserving of the most extreme punishment.

“Congressman Mike Rogers called for execution of Bradley/Chelsea Manning if found guilty.”

“Sen. Feinstein denied that Edward Snowden is a whistle blower and said he was guilty of ‘treason.”

“Bill Nelson, formerly a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Snowden’s disclosures an ‘act of treason‘.”

“Former CIA director James Woolsey told Fox News that Edward Snowden, who exposed illegal domestic spying, “should be prosecuted for treason” and ‘hanged by his neck until he is dead‘.”

[Sidebar: Even Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen, two of America’s most notorious spies did not receive the death penalty.]

Some of these extremely biased and hostile statements about whistleblowers were made by officials who are or were “official channels” for the receipt of whistleblower disclosures, and responsible for enforcement or oversight of whistleblower protections. This is a huge red flag for potential whistleblowers in national security programs.

One can argue that the Snowden and Manning cases are significantly different from cases like Petraeus’ and Panetta’s. But, even when serious, documented harm resulted from leaks that were clear cases of espionage, culpable non-whistleblowers received a slap on the wrist. That was demonstrated in the case of Aldrich Ames, the notorious CIA mole, whose leaks to the Soviets had a devastating impact on US intelligence.

The information he gave the Soviets led to the virtual annihilation of the agency’s Soviet network. At least 10 CIA agents were executed. Others wound up in prison camps or had to flee to the West. Ames also compromised dozens of other operations, including vital communications intercepts. (Businessweek)

Ames escaped detection for nearly a decade due to the CIA’s “boozy old-boys’ club” culture, “overly concerned with protecting perks and deflecting scrutiny.”

Pegged by his bosses as a boozer who used CIA safe houses for sex, Ames nonetheless was promoted to a highly sensitive counterintelligence post in 1984. The FBI observed him meeting secretly with a Russian contact in 1986, but the CIA ignored the warning. He was transferred instead to Rome, where he was so drunk that the Italian police once fished him out of a gutter. Though he was ranked 197 out of 200 case officers in his division, Ames was put on a promotion panel to pass judgment on his colleagues (he also likely passed along their identities to the Soviets). In 1990, a female case officer alerted her bosses that Ames seemed suspiciously flush with cash . . . Yet he had received not a single reprimand in his 32-year career. The excuse? His superiors thought he was a “good briefer.” (Newsweek)

Ultimately, an investigative report by the CIA’s inspector general identified 23 current and former CIA employees that it said should be held accountable for the leaks. The job of deciding their fate fell to then CIA Director James “Hang’em high” Woolsey. It’s tempting to suppose that the man who wants to string up an NSA whistleblower came down hard on Ames’ enablers. Instead, “Woolsey chose to issue letters of reprimand to 11 employees — seven of whom were retired — but no one was fired, demoted, suspended or reassigned.”

Protecting and promoting incompetents is not unique to the CIA. In the military, the practice is known as “pass the trash.” But judging from the details that emerged last week in the case of Aldrich Ames, the now infamous Soviet mole, the CIA’s clubby Operations Directorate acted more like a mutual protection association than a spy agency

Subsequently, the Robert Hansen spying scandal erupted at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an agency that “hates the very idea of any outside control or oversight,” and routinely retaliates against whistleblowers. More recently, fraud and cronyism prevented the National Security Agency from detecting the 9/11 plot. The agency’s retaliation against whistleblowers who tried within “official channels” to correct the problems led to a bigger scandal that focused attention on the earlier one. Still more scandals, at the Secret Service, the Interior Department, and the U.S. Navy, show that the “mutual protection association” is still alive in Washington, protected by a double standard that endangers everyone by allowing negligence, incompetence, and fraud to undermine important government functions.

Strict justice requires the government to treat Petraeus as it has whistleblowers by prosecuting him under the Espionage Act. But, prosecuting anyone under the Act who is not spying for a foreign nation is unjust. Furthermore, it gravely undermines the public interest in disclosures of government wrongdoing. The best solution would be for Congress to amend the Act to limit its scope to classic espionage, i.e., the kind of spying conducted by Ames and Hansen.

Dana Gold, Senior Fellow at the Government Accountability Project, writes, “No one wins under the current paradigm that vilifies whistleblowers: not businesses, not government, not the public, and certainly not the whistleblowers.”

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