Obama’s ‘favorite general’ target of leak investigation

NBC News reports: Legal sources tell NBC News that the former second-highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military is now the target of a Justice Department investigation into an alleged leak of classified information about a covert U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program.

According to legal sources, retired Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been notified that he’s under investigation for allegedly leaking information about a massive attack using a computer virus named Stuxnet on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Gen. Cartwright, 63, becomes the latest alleged leaker targeted by the Obama administration, which has already prosecuted or charged eight individuals under the Espionage Act.

Last year, the New York Times reported that Cartwright, a four-star general who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 2007 to 2011, conceived and ran the cyber operation, called Olympic Games, under President Bush. President Obama ordered the cyberattacks sped up, and in 2010 an attack using the Stuxnet worm temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges that the Iranians were using to enrich uranium.

The Times story included details of the Olympic Games operation, including the cooperation of Israeli intelligence. The story said that President Barack Obama had ordered the attacks, which began during the Bush administration, to continue even after Stuxnet “escaped” from the Natanz nuclear plant in Iran and began to spread via the Internet. The virus was first publicly identified by a computer security company in June 2010.

The story described meetings in the White House Situation Room and was based on 18 months of interviews with “current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program.” It credited Gen. Cartwright with presenting the original idea for Stuxnet to President Bush, said the NSA had developed the Stuxnet worm in tandem with the Israelis, and said thumb drives were first used to introduce the virus into the Natanz plant in 2008.

“This leak was very damaging,” said former California congresswoman Jane Harman, now a member of the Defense Policy Board. “Clearly what was going on here was a method and it should have been protected and I think it’s had devastating consequences.”

President Obama said in June 2012 that his attitude toward “these kinds of leaks” was “zero tolerance,” and that they were “criminal acts.”

According to legal sources, the original FBI probe into the Stuxnet leak focused on whether the information came from someone in the White House. By late last year, according to legal sources, FBI agents were zeroing in on Cartwright, who retired from the military in August 2011.

The Washington Post adds: Although Obama forged a quick rapport with Cartwright — White House officials referred to him as the president’s favorite general — the president chose not to promote him to chairman in 2011, in part because of concern that Cartwright had frayed his relationships with too many senior generals during the surge debate. Within the Pentagon, “he wasn’t seen as a team player,” said a senior military official who worked on the Joint Staff.

After retiring, Cartwright took a position at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has spoken frequently on national security issues. He has emerged as a growing critic of the Obama administration’s expanded use of drones to counter the al-Qaeda threat.

At at event in Chicago in March, Cartwright said that the United States was beginning to see “blowback” from that targeted killing campaign. “If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”

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