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Prosecution Against Alleged Stuxnet Leaker Reportedly Stalls Over US Foreign Policy Considerations

The Washington Post has reported that the leak prosecution of retired Marine General James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, who allegedly disclosed information on the Stuxnet cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear program, has stalled. United States government officials are apparently concerned it may impact US-Israel relations or jeopardize a nuclear deal with Iran.

Cartwright, the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been a known suspect since June 2013. FBI agents reportedly believe they have a strong case against him. However, Israel and the United States have refused to acknowledge the sabotage, which Cartwright allegedly revealed to New York Times reporter David Sanger.

The Post report stems from unnamed current and former US officials. It suggests that Israel may oppose the government’s prosecution of Cartwright if it means information related to Stuxnet would have to be revealed in open court.

An attorney for Cartwright, Gregory B. Craig, who once served as White House counsel for President Barack Obama’s administration, told the Post he “has had no contact with prosecutors for more than a year.”

Unfortunately, the report lacks a number of specific details related to the prosecution. The Post was unable to find out whether the Justice Department will pursue a case against Cartwright. It mostly consists of comments from experts on how foreign policy and “national security” considerations may impact leak prosecutions.

While addressing how the prosecution likely stalled because of Israel or negotiations over an Iranian nuclear deal, it overlooks how that may not really be the case at all. Israel may benefit if Cartwright was prosecuted and desire a prosecution.

Journalist Marcy Wheeler astutely pointed out that the existence of Stuxnet was already known to the world prior to Cartwright’s alleged leak. An anti-virus company in Belarus discovered it. The operation lost control of Stuxnet, and it “escaped.”

Possibly, the Justice Department suspected Cartwright leaked details that pinned the blame on Israel for losing control of Stuxnet. Wheeler noted that prior to the Stuxnet leak investigation, the “House tried to legally mandate investigations into leaks that ‘degrad[e] Israel’s ability to defend itself.’”

“Have we gotten to the point where America’s most fiercely guarded secrets — the kind that could put a retired general in legal jeopardy — concern not America, but Israel?” Wheeler asked.

If how Israel stands to benefit is considered in the political calculation the Justice Department might make, it seems far more likely that the prosecution has stalled until a nuclear deal is finalized.

There is a lot that is still unknown. What is publicly known is that Cartwright was considered to be “Obama’s favorite general.” He “impressed the White House with his intellect and expertise on the modern technology of national security, including on nuclear weapons, missile defense and cyber warfare.”

Cartwright was a part of the culture of access journalism in Washington. He would talk to reporters regularly (perhaps, even to provide them with “authorized leaks”).

It is possible Sanger knew details and managed to get Cartwright to confirm certain facts for his story on Stuxnet, which caused quite an uproar among Republican senators in 2012.

What evidence is there that the leak of information related to Stuxnet risked or impacted US national security?

There does not seem to be any proof the person who leaked this information deserves to be the subject of an aggressive prosecution and charged with violating the Espionage Act.

The National Security Agency recognizes that Iran learns from these acts of sabotage. They may potentially use these methods against the US or other countries. So, Stuxnet revelations force the US and Israel to consider how their covert operations are making the world less safe.

Finally, in the two-tiered system where decorated war generals like David Petraeus get sweetheart plea deals and former lower-level CIA officers like John Kiriakou or Jeffrey Sterling face prison time for unauthorized disclosures, Cartwright will more than likely escape prosecution. If this happens, it is the appropriate outcome.

The Justice Department should not serve the global security state by selectively and vindictively pursuing prosecutions. Talking to a reporter is not espionage and should not be treated as a serious crime.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."