Sterling’s Lawyers Finally Invoke Cartwright, Petraeus Double Standards

James Carwright testifies before the Senate; 2010 defense imagery photo.

James Carwright testifies before the Senate; 2010 defense imagery photo.

Seven months ago, ExposeFacts noted the similarity between the cases of James Cartwright, who allegedly served as David Sanger’s source for details on US efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear program with StuxNet, and Jeffrey Sterling.



Sanger’s StuxNet story is, then, just like Risen’s account of Merlin, a story of the dangerous unintended consequences caused by covert US efforts to combat Iran’s claimed nuclear program. Both are issues the American public deserves to debate. Should the US risk further proliferation in its effort to counter proliferation? Should NSA launch offensive attacks against an adversary we’re not at war with? What kind of blowback do such operations invite?

Both stories have been critical to bringing necessary public attention to the bungling behind our Iran policy.

Yet the alleged leakers in the two stories have thus far been treated differently. Sterling has been fighting prosecution for 3.5 years. Cartwright has lost his security clearance but, two years after the Sanger story, DOJ has not charged him or anyone else.

Yesterday, citing a recent Washington Post story, Sterling’s lawyers were finally able to make that comparison as part of its effort to have Sterling’s verdict set aside.

The story provides in depth details — obviously emanating from the U.S. Government — as to why the prosecution of Retired General James Cartwright for leaking classified information has allegedly stalled. The charges faced by General Cartwright could not be more similar to what Mr. Sterling faced.  The article explains that “[f]ederal investigators suspect that retired Marine Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright leaked to a New York Times reporter details about a highly classified operation to hobble Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability through cyber-sabotage — an effort not acknowledged by Israel or the United States.” Ex. 1. at 1. The article goes on to report that “[d]etails of the joint program, including its code name, Olympic Games, were revealed by Times reporter David E. Sanger in a book and article in June 2012. The sabotage of Iranian nuclear centrifuges by the computer worm dubbed Stuxnet had emerged two years earlier, and security experts speculated that it was the work of the United States and Israel.” Id. at 3.

Here, ironically, the Government has leaked to the press the details of problems it allegedly faces in bringing a leak case involving the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The point for Mr. Sterling is that General Cartwright’s case presents evidence of a leak involving the sabotage of the Iranian nuclear weapons program, in which code names are disclosed as well as the alleged cooperation of a foreign government, and no prosecution is initiated. The only difference between the two cases — aside from the minor detail that the Stuxnet story was published by a different New York Times [sic] writer than Mr. Risen — is that General Cartwright is a white high-ranking official and Jeffrey Sterling is an African-American man who became an outcast at the CIA following his publicly filed employment discrimination claim. This showing plainly supports the need for the requested discovery and should give this Court pause as this case proceeds.

The filing goes on to note Petraeus’ plea deal as well, ending with the plea, “The Government must explain why the justice meted out to white Generals is so different from what Mr. Sterling faced.”

Of course, the government may well have already explained this in the filing to which this one replies. Eric Holder is granted broad discretion in setting prosecutorial priorities, the government has argued. And prosecuting whistleblowers just seems to be a higher priority for Holder than prosecuting insiders who work the press.

About Marcy Wheeler

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler wrote the "Right to Know" column for ExposeFacts. She is best known for providing in-depth analysis of legal documents related to "war on terrorism" programs and civil liberties. Wheeler blogs at and publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon and the Progressive. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Wheeler won the 2009 Hillman Award for blog journalism.