How the mighty have fallen. Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend thirteen months behind bars. Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside US Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history—the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program. A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of The New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public. It was considered a serious breach of national security. On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a US district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was "a very serious one" and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass." It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had the president’s ear.
In fact, General James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains—as yet—a grim Washington fairy tale. There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to The New York Times, but that's all. He remains quite active in private life, as the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.
A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the thirteen-month jail term. Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to “an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.” He stood before US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009.