Obama administration infighting suddenly goes public

Shane Harris and Noah Shachtman write: Usually, the Obama administration and the Pentagon do their bureaucratic knife fighting in private. Not so in the latest investigation of a national security leak.

This time the target is one of the highest-profile — and perhaps most controversial — senior military officers in the United States, Gen. James Cartwright. The former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is now allegedly a top target in the FBI’s investigation of who leaked details about the Stuxnet cyberweapon that hit Iran’s nuclear program.

NBC News broke the story last night. (Who leaked word to them is unknown; the possibilities are vast.) Cartwright, however, saw this coming. In recent months, he believed that his communications were being monitored and that he was being watched. He knew he was a target of the investigation. And with good reason. Aside from the fact that he was identified in David Sanger’s book Confront and Conceal as a mastermind of the Stuxnet project, Cartwright is also one of the most politically contentious military officers in Washington.

Cartwright has taken contrarian and politically risky positions on major policy decisions, most notably when he broke with many of his fellow generals and opposed a troop surge in Afghanistan. This brought him closer to the commander in chief (Cartwright had been called Obama’s favorite general), but it alienated him from his own cohort, including David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Cartwright also loved to talk about cyberconflict. He took the lead in establishing what would become the Pentagon’s Cyber Command. He pushed to make the United States’ own cyberattack capabilities “credible,” which some took to mean public. Being the guy who likes to talk about things like Stuxnet makes him a logical suspect for leaking about Stuxnet.

A close reading of Sanger’s book shows he had sources on Stuxnet that went far beyond Cartwright, and far beyond the White House. Sanger also had the project approved at the highest levels. “We certainly didn’t lock him out,” jokes one former administration official. [Continue reading…]

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