David Petraeus shared highly classified information so he could sell more books, and got a slap on the wrist. Edward Snowden shared highly classified information to expose government’s secret abuse of power, and is now a wanted man.
Last Friday, the Pentagon quietly informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that it will not seek any further punishment on retired Army general David Petraeus, who resigned in 2012 after it was discovered that he shared highly classified material with his biographer.
The material contained eight notebooks worth of “code words, war strategy, the names of covert officers and other sensitive information. In addition, they outlined deliberative discussions with the National Security Council and President Obama.” The Justice Department said if this information were disclosed to the wrong people, it would cause “exceptionally grave damage.”
Petraeus also lied to the FBI during the investigation and admitted to having an affair with Paula Broadwell, the biographer who received the classified information. The prosecution’s case included felony charges of lying to the FBI and violating a section of the Espionage Act, both of which could mean years in prison. However, those charges were never filed.
Instead, Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material, which brought a penalty of two years probation and a $100,000 fine. He was still subject to discipline under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But in a three-sentence letter to Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jack Reed, it was revealed that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter agreed with the Army not to discipline Petraeus at all.
“Given the Army review, Secretary Carter considers this matter closed,” Stephen C. Hedger, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, wrote in the three-sentence letter, obtained by The Washington Post. The letter did not elaborate.”
The Pentagon had options ranging from a nonbinding letter of concern to demoting his rank as a retired four-star general. However, none of this happened. In fact, Petraeus will keep his four stars and will receive a pension in the amount of $220,000 per year.
Contrast this with the persecution of Edward Snowden, who in 2013 leaked classified information about numerous surveillance programs being carried out against U.S. citizens and across the globe. Snowden did this to expose the abuse of power being carried out by his government, which was violating the constitutional rights of Americans and the rights of foreign nationals.
Snowden was careful not to release information that would jeopardize the safety of individuals, saying, “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest.” NSA director Michael Rogers stated that the damage done was not significant enough to conclude “the sky is falling.”
“The only thing that has been jeopardized is the reputation and credibility of the people in power who are engaged in this massive spying program and wanted to do it in the dark,” said Glenn Greenwald, responding to politicians and MSM talking heads who suggested the Snowden revelations would expose us to terrorist attacks.
In December 2013 a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s collection of U.S. phone metadata was likely unconstitutional. U.S. allies that were victimized by NSA’s spy programs were able to confront the U.S. government and take measures to stop the intrusion.
The New York Times praised Snowden as a whistleblower, saying he had “done his country a great service.” Even the Republican party acknowledged that Snowden’s revelations had uncovered “an invasion into the personal lives of American citizens that violates the right of free speech and association afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Snowden’s actions initiated a national debate on privacy and warrantless domestic surveillance that continues today. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers which exposed President Johnson lying to the public and Congress to advance the Vietnam war, said, “Edward Snowden has done more for our Constitution in terms of the Fourth and First Amendment than anyone else I know.”
Despite this monumental public service, Snowden is still charged with theft of government property and two counts of violating the Espionage Act. As the U.S. repeatedly requests countries to apprehend and extradite Snowden, it looks for opportunities to kidnap him. In one instance, they had a plane waiting in Denmark to snatch him up.
The cases of David Petraeus and Edward Snowden highlight the fact that status matters much more than the actual “crime” committed. If you are a military general who has long rubbed shoulders with the Washington elite, then sharing highly classified information gets you a slap on the wrist. If you are just a cog in the gigantic wheel of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, then sharing classified information makes you an enemy of the state.
Petraeus committed his act for personal gain, to make for a better biography so he could sell more books. Snowden committed his act for completely selfless reasons, knowing his life would be turned upside down, but taking solace in the fact that people would find out about the abuses of constitutional rights secretly being carried out by government.
Jesselyn Radack, head of National Security and Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), said that her organization’s “whistleblower clients lost their careers and spent millions on legal fees while Petraeus was able to retain his security clearance, advise the White House, make lucrative speeches across the globe, and pull in a massive salary as a partner in one of the world’s biggest private-equity firms.”
This is par for the course in Washington. As we reported yesterday, it appears that Hillary Clinton will manage to avoid being indicted because the State Department has decided to withhold 22 emails from scrutiny.
While government issues platitudes about “equal justice for all,” its actions show that this is a myth when their own are involved.
Justin Gardner’s article previously appeared at The Free Thought Project.