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Editorial

A double standard on government secrets for David Petraeus

A leader at Petraeus' level should be held to a higher standard than lower-level officials or contractors

As a result of the Obama administration's unprecedented war on national-security leaks, some obscure government officials and contractors who divulged classified information to reporters have been sentenced to prison. But David H. Petraeus, the retired general and former director of the CIA, won't serve a day behind bars if the government has its way.

Petraeus has agreed to plead guilty to a simple misdemeanor for giving classified information to Paula Broadwell, his biographer and mistress, in 2011. But the Justice Department has asked a judge to sentence him to probation rather than prison. Not only that. It seems Petraeus can look forward to returning in short order to the role of Washington wise man.

Other targets of leak investigations have been less fortunate. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department intelligence advisor, was sentenced to 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to disclosing a report about North Korea to a reporter. John Kiriakou, a 14-year CIA veteran, got 30 months for disclosing to a reporter the identity of an undercover operative who subjected suspected terrorists to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, including waterboarding.

The whiff of a double standard is overwhelming. If anything, a leader at Petraeus' level should be held to a higher standard than lower-level officials or contractors.

Petraeus' defenders will note that none of the classified information in several “black books” provided to Broadwell showed up in the biography she wrote. But Petraeus couldn't have been sure of that when he shared the notebooks, which, he told Broadwell, were “highly classified” and contained “code word stuff.”

And there is another factor that weighs against this lenient disposition: According to a statement of facts submitted to the court and stipulated to by Petraeus, he falsely told FBI agents — during an interview in his CIA office! — that he hadn't provided classified information to Broadwell. He told that untruth despite having acknowledged in writing on a previous occasion that “I understand that providing false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a violation of law.”

Petraeus is held in bipartisan esteem in Washington, and some notable figures seemed eager to treat his admission of guilt as an unfortunate footnote to a brilliant career. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he considered the matter closed and expressed the hope that “Gen. Petraeus will continue to provide his outstanding service and leadership to our nation.”

Other targets of the administration's war on leaks, including some who might reasonably be considered whistle-blowers for bringing to light government abuses, aren't likely to be given a similar fresh start, even after regaining their freedom. That may be the way of the world, but it's not justice.

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