What the Petraeus deal tells us about privilege in the US

The fact that US has a two-tiered justice system in which the rich and influential are treated gently while the poor and powerless get the book thrown at them was revealed yet again in the plea bargain deal that was offered to David Petraeus after he admitted that he gave his lover books containing highly classified information.

All eight books “collectively contained classified information regarding the identifies of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings… and discussions with the president of the United States.”

The books also contained “national defense information, including top secret/SCI and code word information,” according to the court papers. In other words: These weren’t just ordinary secrets. This was highly, highly classified material.

Peter Maass of The Intercept compares Petraeus’s offence and punishment with what others received.

According to the plea deal, Petraeus, while leading American forces in Afghanistan, maintained eight notebooks that he filled with highly-sensitive information about the identities of covert officers, military strategy, intelligence capabilities and his discussions with senior government officials, including President Obama. Rather than handing over these “Black Books,” as the plea agreement calls them, to the Department of Defense when he retired from the military in 2011 to head the CIA, Petraeus retained them at his home and lent them, for several days, to Paula Broadwell, his authorized biographer and girlfriend.

In October 2012, FBI agents interviewed Petraeus as part of an investigation into his affair with Broadwell — Petraeus would resign from the CIA the next month — and Petraeus told them he had not shared classified material with Broadwell. The plea deal notes that “these statements were false” and that Petraeus “then and there knew that he previously shared the Black Books with his biographer.” Lying to FBI agents is a federal crime for which people have received sentences of months or more than a year in jail.

Under his deal with prosecutors, Petraeus pleaded guilty to just one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified information, a misdemeanor that can be punishable by a year in jail, though the deal calls only for probation and a $40,000 fine. As The New York Times noted today, the deal “allows Mr. Petraeus to focus on his lucrative post-government career as a partner in a private equity firm and a worldwide speaker on national security issues.”

Maass then compares this and the other sweetheart deals given to other well-connected political insiders like Alberto Gonzalex, John Deutch, and Sandy Berger to how harshly ‘outsiders’ accused of leaking secrets were treated, people such as Stephen Kim, John Kiriakou, and Chelsea Manning, even if some of those secrets were much less sensitive.

Incredibly, it appears that Petraeus has not even as yet lost his security clearance and may not have it revoked.


  1. ianeymeaney says

    I am an ex-Navy Nuke. All the training I went through and systems I worked on were classified material. I got out in ’99, and I still don’t talk about that stuff, except with other ex-Nukes, out of respect. Eff this guy. Let him rot in a gulag.

  2. lanir says

    … Wait.

    After this people pay him for his security knowledge? Seriously? That’s his new livelihood? This whole mess is one big demonstration of complete incompetence in that regard. The only halfway competent thing he did was hire a good lawyer after the fact.

    I’m a system administrator and while I’ve never had a job title with “security” in the name I make security recommendations fairly frequently. People that do the sorts of obviously bad, hair brained things that got this guy in trouble? I barely trust them to read their own email much less do anything sensitive or advise me on how security works.

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