Petraeus and Washington’s culture of leaks

Former CIA director General David Petraeus is getting a slap on the wrists for leaking classified information to his biographer and then lying about it to the FBI. Eli Lake notes the double standards that operate in Washington when it comes to its treatment of leakers.

If the decision of which leakers to investigate and charge seems arbitrary, then the punishments they receive are even more so. While Petraeus is unlikely to spend time behind bars, John Kiriakou, a former CIA employee who pleaded guilty to disclosing the identity of an undercover officer, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison — even though the employee’s identity was never made public. Stephen Kim, a federal contractor, went to prison for a year after leaking secrets about North Korea to a Fox News reporter. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer, is facing a longer prison term for leaking secrets to a New York Times reporter.

Steve Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists, noted the disparity: “Petraeus is getting off much more easily than people who committed similar offenses. In the Kiriakou case, as in the Petraeus case, the identity of an undercover officer was disclosed without becoming public. But the outcomes of the two cases are radically different. Either they should both go to jail or they should pay a fine.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, praised Petraeus’s service. He also told me, “I am reminded every day of the critical importance of safeguarding classified information and all individuals — no matter how senior — must be held to account when they fail in this duty.”

But classified information hasn’t been safe in Washington for some time now. The Petraeus affair is in this sense a small scandal. The much larger one is that some leakers are punished mildly, others are punished harshly and most are not punished at all.

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