DC’s Elite: Let Our General Go!

At almost precisely the moment the FBI started investigating who was pestering Tampa Bay socialite Jill Kelley, an investigation that would lead to the resignation and investigation of David Petraeus, John McCain called for an investigation into top Obama officials leaking details of covert ops to make themselves look good.

Outraged by two recent articles published by the New York Times, which exposed the extent of U.S. involvement in cyberattacks made against Iran and the White House’s secret ‘Kill List,’ John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) took to the Senate floor to admonish the administration, and accuse it of widespread disregard for national security.

“The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks by a 22-year-old Army private in the Wikileaks matter and former CIA employees in other leaks cases, but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable,” McCain said.

Now, McCain is outraged! that former top Obama official David Petraeus is getting the callous treatment given to those being investigated for leaks.

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) today released the following statement on the handling of the investigation into former CIA Director David Petraeus:

“While the facts of the case involving General David Petraeus remain unknown and are not suitable for comment, it is clear that this investigation has been grievously mishandled.

“It is outrageous that the highly confidential and law enforcement-sensitive recommendation of prosecutors to bring charges against General Petraeus was leaked to the New York Times. It is a shameful continuation of a pattern in which leaks by unnamed sources have marred this investigation in contravention to fundamental fairness.

“No American deserves such callous treatment, let alone one of America’s finest military leaders whose selfless service and sacrifice have inspired young Americans in uniform and likely saved many of their lives.”

And of course, McCain had no problem when the first story about poor Petraeus’ treatment appeared in December, quoting lots of McCain’s buddies calling for justice! for Petraeus.

McCain (and his sidekick Lindsey) are not the only ones rending their garments over the injustice of a top Obama official being investigated for leaking classified details to make himself look good. Jason Chaffetz keeps complaining about it. And Dianne Feinstein took to the Sunday shows to declare that Petraeus has suffered enough. Richard Burr apparently made false claims about how the Espionage Act has been wielded, of late, even against those whose leaks caused no harm.

Golly, you’d think all these legislators might figure out they have the authority, as legislators, to fix the overly broad application of the Espionage Act.

Meanwhile, Eli Lake — who launched the campaign to Let Our General Go last month — has an odd story complaining about Petraeus’ treatment. To Lake’s credit, he mentions — though does not quote — how Petraeus celebrated John Kiriakou’s guilty plea. Here’s what Petraeus said then about the importance of respecting your vows to secrecy:

It marks an important victory for our agency, for our intelligence community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

Lake also suggests Paula Broadwell’s job — writing fawning biographies of the man she was fucking — was the same as Bob Woodward’s.

What’s more, Broadwell herself was writing a second book on Petraeus. When Broadwell — a graduate of West Point — was writing her first biography of him, she was given access to top secret information covering the period in which Petraeus commanded allied forces in Afghanistan. This arrangement is common in Washington for established authors. Sources for Bob Woodward, whose books often disclose classified information that is provided to him through semi-official leaks, are not investigated for betraying state secrets.

Maybe it is, maybe Woodward is nothing more than a power-fucker. But it obscures the key difference (which should not be true but is) that when the White House sanctions a book, they get to sanction self-serving leaks for it.

Finally, Lake misstates something about selective treatment.

Senior officials such as Petraeus, who serve at the highest levels of the national security state, are almost never punished as harshly as low- and mid- level analysts who are charged with leaking. When former CIA director John Deutch was found to have classified documents on his unsecure home computer, he was stripped of his security clearance and charged with a misdemeanor. 

An even better example — one not mentioned at all — is when Alberto Gonzales was found to have kept a CYA file, full of draft OLC memos and notes from a briefing on the illegal wiretap program, in a briefcase in his house. He resigned at the beginning of that investigation (and it has never been clear how much that played a role in his resignation; there are many interesting questions about Gonzales’ resignation that remain unanswered). But he suffered no consequences from keeping unbelievably sensitive documents at his house, aside from being denied the sinecure all other Bush officials got.

That said, that’s true of a lot of people in sensitive positions. Of the 40 witnesses who might be called against Jeffrey Sterling, for example, 6 have been found to have mistreated classified information (as has Sterling himself); that includes his direct supervisor while at CIA as well as 3 others cleared into the Merlin op (and I’m certain that doesn’t include Condi Rice, whose testimony the AIPAC defendants would have used to show how common leaking to the press was, nor does it include one other witness I strongly suspect has been involved in another big leak case). CIA withheld that detail from DOJ until right before the trial was due to start in 2011. But it does offer at least one metric of how common mistreating classified information is.

The prosecution of it, of course, is very selective. And that’s the problem, and David Petraeus’ problem, and Congress’ problem.

Yet that won’t ensure that Congress does anything to fix that problem with the means at their disposal, legislating a fix to stop the misuse of the Espionage Act. That’s because they like the overly broad use of it to cudgel leakers they don’t like. Just not the ones they’re particularly fond of.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    I’ve long been fascinated by the involvement of Michael O’Hanlon in this long-running sordid Broadwell-Petraeus affair. O’Hanlon is another strap-hanger on the Petraeus Express. The two have a long relationship, from when they were students together. O’Hanlon, director of research for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, has often been a go-to guy on COIN, Afghanistan and Iraq, forever promoting Petraeus.
    .
    O’Hanlon and Broadwell appeared at a recent Aspen Ideas Festival, where O’Hanlon introduced Broadwell to discuss her book on Petreaus, of which O’Hanlon wrote: “This is the best book yet on General David Petraeus, written by a remarkable former Army officer who spent months on the ground in Afghanistan herself. Paula Broadwell captures his basic tenets of counterinsurgency and basic approach to leadership—as well as Petraeus’s personal qualities and character—in a highly readable and pithy fashion. No one gives a truer picture of the war, or of the finest general of this era and one of the greatest in modern American history.”
    .
    In the audio from Aspen O’Hanlon calls Broadwell’s book “a monumental accomplishment . .an exhaustive study . .of a remarkable American.” Broadwell’s remarks were not without humor regarding Petraeus: “Five years experience — friend and mentor — I know him in several capacities.”
    .
    Another fascinating involvement was by Washington Post local editor Vernon Loeb, who ghostwrote Paula Broadwell’s David Petraeus biography, AKA Broadwell’s monumental accomplishment . Vernon Loeb:

    In July 2010, I got a call from my agent, Scott Moyers in New York, who wanted to know whether I was interested in ghostwriting a war book about Petraeus, who had just been named commander in Afghanistan. I’d just finished ghostwriting a CIA memoir that Scott had represented.
    .
    He described his other client, with whom I’d be working, as a woman who had unique access to Petraeus. She was, in Moyers’s telling, a dynamo — a West Point graduate who’d worked in counterterrorism after Sept. 11 and was pursuing a PhD at King’s College in London. It sounded like an incredible opportunity.
    .
    I flew to Charlotte and spent an afternoon sifting through an impressive pile of e-mails and documents on Broadwell’s dining room table that she had already compiled as part of a PhD thesis she was writing on Petraeus and his approach to leadership, which he had agreed to help her with after they met at Harvard a few years earlier….I sat in my basement in Maryland and wrote what was virtually a real-time narrative fashioned from the torrent of e-mails, documents and interview transcripts Broadwell sent my way.
    .
    Before Broadwell’s first trip to Afghanistan, I wondered whether she really had the kind of access necessary to deliver the book we’d promised. But she wore down whatever resistance Petraeus may have had to the project, which he never agreed to make an authorized biography. By the time of Broadwell’s last reporting trip to Afghanistan, her access was exclusive.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Holder said on ABC’s “This Week” that “any investigation that is ongoing will be done in a fair and an appropriate way.”
    .
    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the government to take a pass.
    .
    “This man has suffered enough, in my view,” Feinstein, D-Calif., told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

  3. Don Bacon says:

    Paul Campos:
    .
    If you passed classified information to your mistress, how many senators would appear on Sunday morning talk shows to talk about what a great person you are?
    .
    (a) Zero.
    .
    Stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $2,000,000 from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
    .
    (b) One.
    .
    Defense may be applicable in your case. Consult the editorial board of the Washington Post for further guidance.
    .
    (c) Two or more, at least one of which is from each major party.
    .
    Congratulations, you are a Genuine American Hero(tm), and as such outside the jurisdiction of federal criminal law. Please be sure to collect your Augusta National Golf Club membership and other complimentary gifts at the door.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Broadwell continued to receive classified information after Petraeus went to CIA, like on Benghazi.

    Now, I don’t know if a lot of you have heard this but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner, and they think that the attack on the consulate was an attempt to get these prisoners back.

    That was Paula Broadwell on October 26, 2012 at the University of Denver alumni symposium, whole video here with info on how she met Peteaeus etc. and partial with above leaked comment here in an excerpt.
    .
    Here’s an interesting comment by Ton Ricks.
    “There have been several books written about parts of the career of David Petraeus, but this is the first one that could be called a biography of the most prominent American general since World War II. It is written with an insider’s lively understanding of the workings of today’s Army. I’ve known David Petraeus since he was a colonel and written two books in which he appeared, but I still learned a lot about him from this book. All In feels at times like we are sitting at his side in Afghanistan, reading his e-mails over his shoulder.”
    —Thomas E. Ricks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Generals, Fiasco, and The Gamble

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