On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, lawyers for retired four-star general David Petraeus publicly acknowledged in a Raleigh, North Carolina court room that the highly decorated army officer shared eight handwritten journals in 2011 with Paula Broadwell, his mistress and author of a flattering biography entitled All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.
Facing numerous felony charges including disclosure of classified information, obstruction of justice, false statements and years in federal prison General Petraeus agreed to plead guilty to a simple misdemeanor charge of “Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Material”. Stars and Stripes reported that the government will recommend a fine and no jail time. The deal spares both Broadwell and the General from a humiliating trial filled with lurid personal details of their relationship as well as the extent of his exposure of national security information.
These weren’t typical diaries. These were anything but Patraeus’s private late night reflections on his daily events, important meetings, discussions with colleagues and key government officials: information that would be helpful for any biographer. Before a federal judge, prosecutors painted a very different view of this remarkable collection of black books. Spanning back to the General’s days as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, they were filled with classified “code words, war strategy, the identities of covert officers,” and summaries of “deliberative discussions with the National Security Council and President Obama.”
Today we know that this tragedy began in May 2012 when a Florida socialite named Jill Kelley, who had high level connections with Central Command leaders in Tampa, began receiving harassing emails from an anonymous source. Kelley notified the FBI, which started a cyber-stalking investigation that soon led to Broadwell. During an interview at her North Carolina home the forty year old army lieutenant colonel admitted her romantic involvement with the General. Then she confessed to sending the angry messages fearing that Kelley was pursuing a romance with Petraeus. FBI analysts later discovered thousands of classified documents on her home computer.
When confronted by FBI agents at his Langley, Virginia office, then CIA director Petraeus acknowledged the affair with Broadwell but denied sharing classified information with her. As more embarrassing facts emerged in the days and weeks ahead he abruptly resigned in November 2012 after only fifteen months on the job. Two weeks later he signed documents assuring Agency officials that he had no classified information still in his position.
Petraeus’s new lie was discovered when a search of his home/office uncovered the journals in a desk drawer. Further evidence of his guilt surfaced when an audio recording located in Broadwell’s home was found which captured her asking the General for the books. His reply – “Umm, well, they’re really – I mean they are highly classified, (italics added) some of them. They don’t have it on it, but I mean theres code word stuff in them” His guilt was sealed when investigators learned that he turned over the books to Broadwell for five days while she was staying at a house in Washington.
So here’s my question: Should the General go to jail for his offenses; even if it is only a token confinement for a few weeks or day?
What prompts my concern is the saga of John Kiriakou, a fourteen year CIA veteran and counterterrorism director in Pakistan who committed the same crimes. He disclosed classified information about covert operators to a journalist and then lied to investigators. Unlike Petraeus, however, the Obama Justice Department charged him with espionage, forcing a plea agreement in exchange for a two and a half year prison sentence. Attorney General Eric Holder heralded the Justice Department’s strong stand at the time charging that “leaks jeopardize national security” and that “safeguarding classified information … is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security.” Even Petraeus, then the CIA director, condemned Kiriakou stressing the sensitive nature of the CIA’s operations, the risks posed to CIA officers around the globe and warning that illegal passage of secrets is an abuse of trust that may put lives in jeopardy. (italics added)
So, why the huge disparity in treatment between Kiriakou, an obscure government employee buried inside the Intelligence Community and the highly decorated Petraeus? Both faced almost identical felony charges. Both signed numerous secrecy agreements over the years which spelled out the consequences of spying. Both were skilled intelligence veterans. Both worked for the CIA. Both passed equally damaging information to authors who had a commercial motivation. (All In reached #33 on the 2012 New York Times Bestseller List.) Both obstructed justice by making false statements to the FBI. Why then did the Obama Administration send one man to jail for espionage and offer the other a simple misdemeanor plea with no jail time?
The General’s supporters point to two factors for such extraordinary leniency. First, it was a momentary lapse in judgment which was not reflective of his true character. He has suffered enough, they say. His career is over. Then there was the more than three decades of outstanding military service starting with his student days as a cadet at West Point and on to international acclaim as a warrior/scholar whose advice on military policy was eagerly sought by presidents and lawmakers alike. His current employer, the private equity firm KKR Global Institute which is undoubtedly paying him millions of dollars, is anxiously “looking forward to working with him as he continues to add value as chairman.” I have little doubt that most of his apologists side with Senator John McCain (R-Arz.) who trivialized his behavior by claiming that he has “apologized and expressed deep regret for this situation …“it is time to consider this matter closed.”
But what about poor Kirakou? He claims “Whistleblower” as a motivation. As for Petraeus, his motives are far less clear. But isn’t Kiriakou’s career at an end? Hasn’t he suffered? Why should his life be any less relevant than a four-star general?
What does the Petraeus/Kiriakou comparison say to the average American? What does it signal to the millions of troops Petraeus commanded over the years not to mention the thousands of anonymous Intelligence Community professionals he led as CIA director? Kiriakou is now a convicted felon sitting in federal prison. When he is released he will face legal bills that will probably bankrupt him. Petraeus, on the other hand, will pay a $40,000 fine plus legal fees which he will easily recoup from his seven figure salary and princely speaking fees.
My point is that Petraeus sat at the very pinnacle of America’s national defense structure. For years he judged subordinate officers and enlisted men and women charged with all varieties of offenses. As one of America’s most senior military commanders he lived daily with the terrible consequences of leaks. These factors alone should be reason enough for his facing at least some prison time – even if it’s only a token.
It’s a matter of justice and fairness: Intelligence Community professionals at all levels must be certain that they face equal justice. Anything less smells of political influence, and hints of favoritism and cronyism which reinforces a growing cynicism that only further weakens an already frayed American confidence in the Intelligence Community and its leadership.
To help frame my thoughts I went back over the last few days to the lessons of the Second World War. What jumped out at me was the story of George Patton, the famed Lieutenant General, who slapped two lowly GIs convalescing in military hospitals in Sicily. When General Eisenhower learned about it he wasted no time disciplining the General who historian Stanley Hirshson described as “probably the most successful Allied commander” in the war. Patton was ordered to personally apologize to the individuals and units involved in the slappings. Ike was no one’s fool. Behind that magnificent smile was a shrewd judge of men and long-term consequences. His real reason for issuing such a harsh order was a deep concern for the good order and discipline of the millions of troops Eisenhower commanded – knowing full well that the anonymous “ground-pounder” was always watching.
Eric Holder should have learned a lesson from Ike. Instead, his shabby bargain with Petraeus is today’s equivalent of Patton’s slap. This time, unfortunately, it is America’s hard working Intelligence Community and military professionals (ground-pounders) who are on the receiving end.
What do you think?
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