Petraeus Deal Cited in Sterling Leak Defense

03.20.15 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Attorneys for former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who was found guilty on nine felony counts involving unauthorized disclosure of classified information, argued yesterday that the Sterling verdict should be set aside in view of the misdemeanor plea agreement that was recently offered to former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus for mishandling classified information.

Sterling’s attorneys suggested that the disparate treatment of the two cases was attributable to improper considerations of rank and race.

They noted that Petraeus had acknowledged providing his mistress unauthorized access to “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberate discussions from high level National Security Council meetings, and […] discussions with the President of the United States of America.”

“For these transgressions, General Petraeus pled guilty to a misdemeanor violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1924 and will not serve a single day in jail. No espionage charge was made. Equally stunning is that General Petraeus admits to making false statements to the Government about his criminal activity and yet avoids a perjury or obstruction charge.”

“On the other hand, Mr. Sterling was charged with espionage and obstruction and faces a prison term. The defense submits again that the principal difference between Mr. Sterling and Generals Petraeus and Cartwright [who was reportedly suspected of leaks concerning the Stuxnet program] are their respective races and rank. Like General Cartwright, General Petraeus is a white, high-ranking official.” Mr. Sterling is African-American.

“The Government must explain why the justice meted out to white Generals is so different from what Mr. Sterling has faced,” the Sterling attorneys wrote in a March 19 filing.

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times today, attorney David E. Kendall said that the Petraeus case differed from other leak cases in that Gen. Petraeus had not intended to publicly release classified information and that the information in question had not in fact been made public.

Yesterday, the Sterling attorneys also urged the court to dismiss the case against Sterling because they said that the government had failed to produce any direct evidence that he committed the crimes he is charged with.

“In this case, not even one witness was called with direct evidence of Mr. Sterling’s guilt on a single charge,” they wrote in another March 19 filing. “The Court can search the record with a fine tooth comb and find no evidence that beyond a reasonable doubt identifies Mr. Sterling as the source” for classified information that appeared in James Risen’s book State of War.

Government attorneys, citing precedent, argued this month that “a conviction may rely entirely on circumstantial evidence.”