The Obama Administration is at it again, pursuing yet another leaker. The target named in this investigation is Retired Marine General James “Hoss” Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright is being investigated for possibly having leaked information to The New York Times’ David Sanger about Stuxnet, the joint cyberattack program with Israel that disabled as many as 1,000 Iranian centrifuges, a key part of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The program is believed to have set Iran’s nuclear program back about two years.
As we had previously suggested, the Administration had not gone after the leakers of the Stuxnet story, nor the leakers of the “kill list” story, because those were “sanctioned leaks.” After all, “Administrations have always done exactly what Obama’s has: condemn leaks in public while leaking for its own benefit,” wrote Trevor Timm in the June 2012 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. (The Times’ Stuxnet story was published on June 1, 2012.)
Perhaps this never was, or is no longer, a sanctioned leak, and the Administration is going after the man it deems responsible. Will the Administration therefore go after the leakers of the “kill list” story, if given the chance, as well?
“The revelation [that Cartwright is a ‘target’ of the investigation] which was first reported by NBC News, means that an administration that has already launched more leaks prosecutions than all of its predecessors combined is now focused on one of its own,” reports The Washington Post. “Since Obama took office, the Justice Department has prosecuted or charged eight people for alleged violations of the Espionage Act.”
The facts don’t quite add up in the case of Cartwright, whom NBC News described as a four-star general with a “close working relationship” with Obama. Cartwright is also described by NBC as formerly “a key member of President Obama’s inner circle of national security advisors.” Bob Woodward of The Washington Post described him as “Obama’s favorite general.” Are we really expected to believe that the Stuxnet leak, which made the Administration look good and was leaked by a close advisor to the President, was done without the President’s blessing?
“The legal sources say the FBI originally focused on whether the Stuxnet leak came from the White House,” reports NBC News. “But late last year agents started zeroing in on Cartwright, who had retired from the Pentagon in 2011.” The question now is, who leaked the information about Cartwright being a target of this investigation. And why now?
“Congressional leaders demanded a criminal investigation into who leaked the information, and Obama said he had zero tolerance for such leaks,” reports The Guardian. “Republicans said senior administration officials had leaked the details to bolster the president’s national security credentials during the 2012 campaign.”
“The larger reality is that these leaks, designed to highlight the President’s credentials as a tough leader, are trying to mask the fact that Obama has virtually nothing to show on key national security issues,” wrote Steven Bucci for the Heritage Foundation at the time. “When progress is absent, a desperate Administration may use leaks, even if it harms national security.”
“It’s obvious on its face that this information came from individuals who are in the Administration,” said Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on CNN’s “State of the Union” last year. “The President may not have done it himself, but the President certainly is responsible as commander in chief.”
It is clear now that the information did come from high up in the Administration.
“The [New York] Times said Cartwright was one of the crucial players who had to break the news to Obama and vice-president Joe Biden that Stuxnet had escaped onto the internet,” reports the Guardian.
It turns out that in recent years President Obama has had growing reasons to dislike Cartwright’s political efforts. “After retiring, Cartwright took a position at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has spoken frequently on national security issues,” reports The Washington Post. “[Cartwright] has emerged as a growing critic of the Obama administration’s expanded use of drones to counter the al-Qaeda threat.” Cartwright also opposed a surge in Afghanistan, according to the Post. Perhaps Cartwright’s criticisms may have heated up the President’s desire to go after this particular leaker?
While Gen. Cartwright has refused to comment to the press about these developments, his attorney, Gregory Craig said, “General Cartwright is an American hero who served his country with distinction for four decades. Any suggestion that he could have betrayed the country he loves is preposterous.” Those sound like fighting words. It remains to be seen if Cartwright leaked the information at all, and if he did, was it on the President’s behalf? Does the President have something on Cartwright that might prevent him from talking, or does Cartwright’s loyalty really extend that far?
“Cartwright, a four-star general, was cleared in February 2011 of misconduct involving a young aide,” reported the Associated Press. “The report did find that Cartwright mishandled an incident in which the aide, drunk and visibly upset, visited his Tbilisi, Georgia, hotel room alone and either passed out or fell asleep on a bench at the foot of his bed.”
“Cartwright denied any impropriety and was later cleared of all wrongdoing.” He resigned from the military in August 2011. Perhaps Cartwright is waiting for the right time and place to offer his side of the story.
CNN’s Barbara Starr seemed to come to Cartwright’s defense, saying that “This is not a guy who goes rogue. So you might wonder if maybe somebody in the White House originally encouraged him to discuss this program.” And NPR’s Tom Gjelten also seemed surprised that Cartwright might have done this, saying, “Most of us who have covered national security issues have known General Cartwright. I have to say, my impression has always been that he’s a real straight arrow. He certainly never leaked anything to me…He was always very careful in our conversations not to get into anything classified. So this is hard to understand.”
Just days after the Sanger story broke in June of 2012, citing Obama’s alleged role in the success of Stuxnet, The Atlantic pointed out that “Israel’s officials have a message for anyone praising the CIA for its sophisticated cyber attack on Iran: It was our baby. The Stuxnet computer worm, described by David Sanger in The New York Times last week as an invention by the Bush administration, was actually developed by Mossad, according to Israeli officials speaking with Haaretz journalist Yossi Melman on condition of anonymity.”
In fact, media reports in early 2011, including in The New York Times and the British Telegraph appeared to back up the likelihood that Israel was the primary author of Stuxnet, while acknowledging the U.S.’s role in its creation and implementation. But the timing of the Sanger story in June 2012—just months before the presidential election—made the source of this leak, its proximity to the White House, and its accuracy, all suspect.