Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, his biographer with whom he had an affair, in this government photo.

Slap-on-the-Wrist Sentence for Petraeus Reveals 'Leak Prosecution Double Standard'

'If leaks were the real concern, Petraeus would receive punishment as harsh as the government demanded for other accused leakers'

Andrea Germanos

This post may be updated...

The light sentence a federal court gave Gen. David Petraeus on Thursday is indicative of the hypocrisy in the two-tiered justice system that aims to aggressively punish whistleblowers, rights groups have charged.

The former CIA head pleaded guilty at a federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina for leaking highly classified information, including identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, via "black books" with his biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell.

For the leak, a misdemeanor charge for violating the Espionage Act, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler's sentenced Petraeus to two years' probation and a $100,000 fine. The retired four-star general leader had reached a plea deal (pdf) with the Justice Department in March which also included two years' probation but a $40,000 fine. He was not sentenced to any time in prison.

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler writes that the higher fine, "issued to send a message," is equal to "about 75% of one speaker's fee for Petraeus."

Whistleblowers and their advocates have pointed out the discrepancy between the aggressive sentences the administration has pursued for high level officials and those who've blown the lid on government wrongdoing.

John Kiriakou, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer and the only government official to be punished in connection with the Bush-era torture program, said ahead of the sentencing that charging Petraeus under the Espionage Act was wrong, as it was in his own case.

"Both Petraeus and I disclosed undercover identities (or confirmed one in my case) that were never published. I spent two years in prison; he gets two years probation," Kiriakou stated.

Jesselyn Radack, head of National Security and Human Rights at the whistleblower advocacy organization Government Accountability Project (GAP), stated: "Petreaus' light sentence makes clear that the consequences for whistleblowing are far more severe than the negligible consequences for Petreaus' leaks."

"GAP's whistleblower clients lost their careers and spent millions on legal fees while Petraeus was able to retain his security clearance, advise the White House, make lucrative speeches across the globe, and pull in a massive salary as a partner in one of the world's biggest private-equity firms.

"The fact that Petraeus is the recipient of a such a comparatively light sentence is of particular significance considering that three most recent directors of the CIA—Leon E. Panetta, Petraeus and John O. Brennan—have all leaked classified information casually, regularly and with impunity.

"The leak prosecution double standard makes clear that the Obama administration's record breaking number of Espionage Act prosecutions has nothing to do with protecting classified information and everything to do with punishing and silencing whistleblowers. If leaks were the real concern, Petraeus would receive punishment as harsh as the government demanded for other accused leakers," Radack stated.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg previously noted that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's charges "are not more serious, as violations of the classification regulations and non-disclosure agreements, than those Petraeus has admitted to," and that CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling's "violations of security regulations were in no way more serious than what Petraeus has now admitted to."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Omar Leads Charge Against Baby Formula Monopolies Amid US Shortage

Democrats urge the FTC to probe "any unfair or unsustainable practices, like deceptive marketing, price gouging, and stock buybacks, that may be weakening our nutritional formula supply."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Arbitrary, Racist, and Unfair': Judge Blocks Biden From Ending Title 42

"Only the coyotes profiteering off of people seeking protection have reason to celebrate this ill-reasoned ruling," said one migrant rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'This Is a War' for Democratic Party's Future, Says Sanders of AIPAC's Super PAC

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," said the senator.

Julia Conley ·


Ginni Thomas Pressed Arizona Lawmakers to Reverse Biden's 2020 Win: Report

"Clarence Thomas' continued service on the Supreme Court is a scandalous and appalling breach of judicial ethics," said one observer. "He is implementing the exact same theories that his wife used to try to steal the 2020 election for Trump."

Brett Wilkins ·


Millions More Kids Going Hungry Since GOP, Manchin Killed Expanded Child Tax Credit

"Even brief disruptions in access to food can have lasting consequences," wrote the authors of a new analysis of worsening hunger among U.S. families.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo