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David Petraeus's treatment by federal prosecutors exemplifies the preferential treatment for high-level government officials over whistleblowers, say critics. (Photo: US Army/flickr/cc)

Petraeus Plea Deal a 'Profound Double Standard,' Says Whistleblower's Lawyer

Attorney for jailed government contractor calls for his immediate release

Nadia Prupis

The plea deal given to former CIA director David Petraeus, which will allow him to skip prison time despite leaking military secrets to his mistress and biographer Paula Broadwell, highlights a "profound double standard" in the Obama administration's treatment of whistleblowers, a lawyer for an imprisoned government contractor wrote in a letter to federal prosecutors on Monday.

The Justice Department should immediately release former State Department contractor Stephen Kim from prison, wrote Abbe Lowell, who represents the whistleblower sentenced to 13 months for disclosing classified information about North Korea. His letter was provided to the New York Times by Kim's sister, Yuri Lustenberger-Kim.

"The decision to permit General Petraeus to plead guilty to a misdemeanor demonstrates more clearly than ever the profound double standard that applies when prosecuting so-called 'leakers' and those accused of disclosing classified information for their own purposes," Lowell wrote in his letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Kim was charged under the Espionage Act in 2010 for unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, as well as a separate count of making false statements, stemming from allegedly telling Fox News reporter James Rosen that North Korea was planning a nuclear bomb test in 2009.

In 2014, Kim pleaded guilty to one felony count of disclosing classified national defense information to an unauthorized person. According to Lowell's letter, Kim's legal team sought a plea deal with the Justice Department similar to the one that Petraeus was given, but were rejected by federal prosecutors.

"The reasons that you provided to refuse our misdemeanor offer were grounded in motive and lying to the FBI," Lowell wrote. "There is no difference between the two cases in that respect. (If anything, General Petraeus’s motive was far less noble.)"

Lowell's call for fair treatment was echoed by Kim's sister, who told the Times on Monday, "Our family and our friends think it is just terribly unfair and not right that Stephen was given less consideration and different treatment for doing no more, and even less, than General Petraeus."

Petraeus is set to be sentenced next month for handing over to Broadwell several notebooks containing classified information designated Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information—a level higher than Top Secret—and including "identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings … and [his personal] discussions with the president of the United States," according to the indictment against him.

Earlier this month, famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg similarly criticized the Obama administration for its preferential treatment of those who leak classified information. In an interview with the Guardian's Trevor Timm, Ellsberg noted that the charges against NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed unlawful government spying operations, "are not more serious, as violations of the classification regulations and non-disclosure agreements, than those Petraeus has admitted to, which are actually quite spectacular."

Snowden faces charges under the Espionage Act if he returns home from political asylum in Russia.

Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who leaked classified military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, is serving 35 years in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, despite having disclosed lower-level clearance information than Petraeus, Timm noted at the time.

"The government had the chance to hold Petreaus out as an example on the same felony Espionage Act charges they’ve leveled (unfairly) against every conscientious whistleblower they’ve indicted," Timm concluded. "Their answer? Leaking should no longer be a felony. Let’s make sure we hold them to that, and not only for CIA Directors."

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