The Strange Case of James Cartwright

That’s the headline on my latest piece for The National Interest. It looks at the case of (retired) General James Cartwright, former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under investigation for a leak relating to the Stuxnet worm, a US-Israeli cyberwarfare exercise directed against Iran. The key points

* Like most leaks, the one for which Cartwright is being investigated revealed nothing that wasn’t known to the Iranian targets of the exercise or easily inferred by anyone who had followed the story in public media

* Unlike the leaks for which whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden have been prosecuted/persecuted, this was an absolutely standard Washington leak, done for personal gain. Assuming the facts are as alleged, Cartwright, an insider, gave information (classified as secret, but actually well known) to a journalist, in return for favorable coverage. This is such standard practice that it would be hard to find anyone in government (in DC or elsewhere) who hasn’t done it

But, Cartwright had made lots of enemies and so appears excluded from the general immunity that covers such leaks. Moreover, thanks to Obama, the stakes are high. Based on the Manning precedent, he could be charged with aiding the enemy, a crime that carries the death penalty. The only comparable case of an insider prosecution is that of Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, who leaked the identity of an active CIA agent for political gain. He got a three-month slap on the wrist, which was immediately commuted. Even then he was prosecuted for perjury, not for the actual leak.

Having reached the point where the weapons of the security state are being turned against insiders, it will be interesting to see how things play out. Hopefully, those involved will look over the precipice and pull back.

24 thoughts on “The Strange Case of James Cartwright

  1. Pullback? Unlikely. Cognitive dissonance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance no longer seems to trouble anyone in the relevant decision making positions. And Obama seems to be the model for this doublethink that illustrates the rule – very sadly for me as I went with friends to Washington memorial in late 2008 to hear/see him cheered on by Pete Seeger et al. just prior to his inauguration. Like with Kevin 07 we hoped that maybe a new era was finally dawning but it was not to be.

  2. Another instance of the US surveillance culture biting a senior office holder is CIA Director Petraeus being forced to resign after the FBI exposed his extra-marital affair.

  3. Like most leaks, the one for which Cartwright is being investigated revealed nothing that wasn’t known to the Iranian targets of the exercise or easily inferred by anyone who had followed the story in public media

    so true. so many leaked secrets are of the form if they weren’t doing that, they were not doing their job.

    most terrorists are dumber than the average drug dealer when it comes to counter-surveillance.

    any drug dealer watching The Wire (one of the best TV drama ever) would learn to not use a mobile phone or email. I assume criminals and terrorists neither watch CSI nor crime TV on cable.

  4. they use throw away mobile phones. the real lesson of “the wire” is don’t follow the money. -a.v.

  5. @John Quiggin

    As I said earlier, there are “good” leaks and “bad” leaks.

    the general immunity that covers such leaks

    There is no such “immunity”. It can be given and taken away capriciously. That is what those who benefit from its illusory ‘protection’ don’t understand.

    Bolt obviously used “leaks” which by all accounts could only have come from Downer’s office to smear Wilkie. I think it was the fact that Wilkie was exposing the Iraq wheat scandal, but it might have been one of the other scandals.

    Like drinking wine or beer in the park – strictly speaking it is illegal and could result in brutal police action (as it usually does if you happen to be of the black persuasion) – but a blind eye is turned when the “right” people do it.

  6. Obama seems to be the model for this doublethink that illustrates the rule

    He has shown himself to be an overpromoted ward heeler who should never have gotten past city councilman. He is a man who has parlayed his race and a vast talent for lying combined with spinelessness into a package that could be foisted on the voters in the guise of reform.

  7. @Megan
    The point made in the post is that in the normal run of things Cartwright would be well and truly in the class of “right” people and hence virtually immune from prosecution.

  8. @B

    I’m no fan of Obama, who as a liberal makes a pretty traditional Republican, but your comment that he is a man who has parlayed his race and a vast talent for lying combined with spinelessness into a package that could be foisted on the voters in the guise of reform goes too far.

    As far as I can tell, all US Presidents lie and dissemble pretty much all the time. Most say they are for reform or hope or some such thing. Whereas all of the others relied on the advantages of being white, square-jawed and male, Obama derived some marginal advantages amongst his target voters from being of mixed race.

    At times he has been craven in the face of rightwing challenge but again, this is not unusual. I’d call him a President who was competent in most of the areas rightwing US voters normally hope their President will be good at, but otherwise disappointing for anyone of small-l liberal disposition and even more so for those on the left.

    I suppose it looks worse because after Bush, small-l liberals and left-of-centre folk (‘the netroots”) indulged themselves with the idea that he too shared their appetites. Had Hillary got the nod, or some other eminence grise like Kerry, doubtless the disappointment would have been less.

  9. Dear Fran,

    Of course B goes too far! I mean he’s killing and torturing and disappearing people, violating international and domestic law, and has all the respect for the international state system our delightful leaders have for asylum seekers.

    Bad B!

  10. @Tony Lynch

    Of course B goes too far! I mean he’s killing and torturing and disappearing people, violating international and domestic law,

    Like all of his predecessors, as far as can be told. Maybe someone can point to a President in the last 120 years who wasn’t guilty of such conduct.

  11. Maybe Jimmy Carter might have been a lesser offender, though he did back the Shah of Iran, Shah Reza Pahlavi in his brutal crackdown on dissent.

  12. It’s the system, not the personalities that count. The system determines outcomes. Changing the personality at the top changes nothing. The entire system of political economy has to be radically changed or none of the outcomes will change.

    Will the US pull back from the brink of the precipice? Too late! They have already gone over and are in free fall.

  13. The constant propaganda has even intelligent people brainwashed, as we see with the ABC.
    Even Margaret Pomeranz has appeared to “buy” the new psyops movie on Wikileaks, for example.
    Welcome the paranoid McCarthy world, circa 1952.
    I think what actually has their knickers in a knot is the fear that evidence will out that collusion between corporations and politicians has occurred in developing expensive and unnecessary policies (say after Halliburton and the detention racket) with aims more sinister, opposite to those claimed.

  14. Looking at the postings, another from Fran Barlow I largely agree with re Obama and the whole jammed system over there. The notion that the President is a game breaker is largely illusory, given the politics.

  15. I find it hugely disappointing but not unexpected what is happening with Snowden stuck in Moscow transit, facing a possible death sentence under the US 1917 Espionage Act.
    You would think some EU nation that has figured in US spying would have the courage to defy the US by offering sanctuary, particularly with that death sentence potential. I guess Obama can’t intercede in a legal case but if he had the guts he could quietly parlay an offer to a potential sanctuary nation to pardon Snowden on leaving office in 2016 if convicted. Legal rangling could probably keep him out of prison for much of that time anyway.
    It is unseemly to have such naked international bullying on show and for the US to appear to be revelling in it’s power.
    The only hope it seems for Snowden is that Bradley Manning is acquitted.

  16. pablo :
    … I guess Obama can’t intercede in a legal case but if he had the guts he could quietly parlay an offer to a potential sanctuary nation to pardon Snowden on leaving office in 2016 if convicted. Legal rangling could probably keep him out of prison for much of that time anyway.
    It is unseemly to have such naked international bullying on show and for the US to appear to be revelling in it’s power.
    The only hope it seems for Snowden is that Bradley Manning is acquitted.

    Obama has one of the lowest pardon rates of any american president. clinton pardoned a white collar criminal fugative (and his half-brother too) on his last day in office. the shame of the former still lingers.

    Manning plead guilty to some of the charges against him.

  17. As far as I can tell, all US Presidents lie and dissemble pretty much all the time. Most say they are for reform or hope or some such thing. Whereas all of the others relied on the advantages of being white, square-jawed and male, Obama derived some marginal advantages amongst his target voters from being of mixed race.

    I don’t much like the presidential system of government. It seems destined to create tyrannical tendencies.

  18. Jim Rose, I expect I would have pleaded guilty (to just about anything) if I’d been treated as Bradley Manning has.

  19. David Irving (no relation) :
    Jim Rose, I expect I would have pleaded guilty (to just about anything) if I’d been treated as Bradley Manning has.

    manning pleaded guilty because he broke the criminal law and wanted to get a sentencing discount for a guilty plea. He wants to avoid a life sentence so he is contesting the charges that carry that punishment.

    Manning has been in medium security and able to mix with 5 other people on remand for more than 2 years now. he was evaluated as fit to plead.

  20. “Snowden is someone who has made me proud to be an American, which isn’t something that’s happened too often in the past dozen years.”

    “we’re a turnkey away from a police state” -daniel ellsberg -http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/12/daniel-ellsberg-nsa-spying_n_3429694.html

    “I felt about Edward Snowden the way I felt about Daniel Ellsberg” – steve wozniak – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/21/wozniak-guilty-nsa-surveillance-snowden

    open letter to president correa:-
    http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1421

    some names: noam chomsky, tom hayden, daniel ellsberg, tariq ali, john pilger, naomi klein, oliver stone, roseanne barr, danny glover, emma thompson, boots riley, john cusak, amber heard, julie christie. julie christie, for goodness sake ! puts a whole different perspective on “mary poppins”, at least. -a.v.

  21. Cartwright had made lots of [internal] enemies and so appears excluded from the general immunity …. the stakes are high …he could be charged with aiding the enemy, a crime that carries the death penalty

    Reminiscent of the Admiral Byng case, which despite Voltaire’s famous saying about it was less about policy and more about personal animus.

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