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Kaplan writes: "In one way, it's a big surprise that the Justice Department is investigating retired Gen. James 'Hoss' Cartwright for allegedly leaking classified information about the Stuxnet computer virus."

Gen. James E. Cartwright. (photo: Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)
Gen. James E. Cartwright. (photo: Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)



Did Obama's Favorite General Betray Him?

By Fred Kaplan, Slate Magazine

30 June 13

 

Why retired Gen. James Cartwright is facing allegations - and could be the first higher-up to go down.

n one way, it's a big surprise that the Justice Department is investigating retired Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright for allegedly leaking classified information about the Stuxnet computer virus, which briefly disabled Iran's nuclear program a few years back.

In another way, though, it's not a surprise at all.

It's surprising because four-star generals, active or retired, aren't the usual targets of such probes. This is especially so of a general like Cartwright, who, from 2007-11, was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - the U.S. military's second-highest-ranking officer - and who, in his final years, was known as "Obama's favorite general." Officers of this stature tend to build layers of insulation around themselves.

But Cartwright was unusual in that respect. As one former senior defense official described him, he was "a lone wolf." He was very smart, a policy intellectual on the level of Gens. David Petraeus and James Mattis, but he had no protective layers, no inner circle of loyalists, and no talent (or desire) for building alliances with his fellow officers. To the contrary, he would often work up his own ideas, his own position papers, and brief them to his civilian superiors outside the military chain of command. As vice chairman, several officials say, he would sometimes brief Obama himself - the two had a similar style of crisp, analytical thinking - then come back to the Pentagon without telling his boss, the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, what he'd said.

The big rupture came in the fall of 2009, during the National Security Council meetings on how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan. President Obama kept asking the chiefs for more options on troop levels, something in between Vice President Joe Biden's pitch for just 10,000 more troops and Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendation of at least 40,000 more. Mullen never provided them. Cartwright wrote a paper, on his own, for what could be done with 20,000 more and 30,000 more. Mullen suppressed the study and chewed Cartwright out for doing it. In an end-run, Cartwright gave the study to one of Biden's aides. Mullen and the other chiefs were furious.

Two things drove Cartwright to take that step. First, he was a straight shooter (he was nicknamed "Hoss," after an honest character named Hoss Cartwright on the old TV show Bonanza). He thought the military should respond to a president's request, and since nobody else was doing it, he did it himself. But most other generals in his position would first try to get other officers, or maybe the secretary of defense, to buy in. Cartwright, the lone wolf, didn't do that.

As a result, whenever Cartwright got into trouble, there was nobody who felt compelled to stand up for him. Around the same time as the flap over Afghanistan policy, the military's inspector general investigated Cartwright on charges of having an affair with a female subordinate. The IG report accused him of misconduct. The secretary of the Navy, a civilian, took no disciplinary action, but the report alienated Cartwright still further from his military colleagues, many of whom regard such behavior as a serious breach of the military code.

When Mullen prepared to step down as JCS chairman in 2011, rumors flew that Obama would appoint Cartwright as his successor. But several advisers, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, warned the president that Cartwright had no support from the other chiefs and no ability to craft consensus on military policy. Obama appointed Gen. Martin Dempsey to be chairman instead. Cartwright retired from the Marine Corps after a 40-year career.

Here's the biggest problem now with being the lone wolf: If the Justice Department continues its probe and winds up indicting Cartwright for violating his security oath, it's unlikely that any officers will leap to his defense in this crisis either. It's a fair guess, in fact, that some of those officers may have pointed prosecutors in his direction.

No evidence of his possible guilt or innocence has been publicized (Cartwright's lawyer issued a no-comment on the news reports), but the charge is not implausible. Cartwright was chief of U.S. Strategic Command, in Omaha, Neb., from 2004-07. (For the story of how a Marine general came to be head of StratCom - an unprecedented appointment, since StratCom deals mainly with the nuclear arsenal and the Marines have no nuclear weapons - click here.) At the time, the military's main cyber-warfare unit was embedded in StratCom. (In 2009, an independent U.S. Cyber Command was created at Fort Meade, Md., alongside the National Security Agency.) Operation Olympic Games, aka Stuxnet, was created in 2006. Cartwright was involved in its creation and briefed the program to Presidents Bush and, later, Obama.

Details about Stuxnet were first revealed on June 1, 2012, in a New York Times story by David Sanger. Cartwright was one of the few officials involved in the program that Sanger identified by name. In a book that Sanger subsequently wrote, Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, this intriguing passage appears on Page 269:

One of the creators of the government's offensive cyber strategy, Gen. James Cartwright, makes a compelling case that the secrecy [of the cyber program] may be working against American interests. "You can't have something that's a secret be a deterrent," he argued shortly after leaving his post as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Because if you don't know it's there, it doesn't scare you."

This doesn't prove that Cartwright was a source - and certainly not that he was the sole, or even main, source. In fact, Sanger wrote that his Times story was "based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts."

Nor is it clear what impact the Times story had on U.S. security. Jane Harman, a former California congresswoman who served on the House Intelligence Committee, said at the time that the leak was "very damaging" and had "devastating consequences." It is true, the Iranians eventually discovered and disabled the bug. More than that, they unleashed a retaliatory cyber-strike, known as the Shamoon virus, which destroyed the hard drives of 30,000 computers at the headquarters of Aramco, the global oil company based in Saudi Arabia, and beamed on all of its computer screens an image of a burning American flag.

But did the Iranians find the Stuxnet bug and unleash their own strike as a result of the Times story, whoever its source or sources might have been? Doubtful.

First, Sanger reports in his book that, as the result of an Israeli programming error, the Stuxnet virus leaked out across the global Internet in the summer of 2010 - two years before the Times story. Second, right after the intriguing passage in Sanger's book, where Cartwright says the cyber program shouldn't be kept secret, there is the following, equally intriguing paragraph:

An intelligence officer disagreed [with Cartwright]: "Everybody who needs to know what we can do, knows," he said. "The Chinese know." And the Iranians, he added, "are probably figuring it out."

One former cybersecurity official told me today, in response to a question about the impact of the leak, "Iran already figured it out" - that is, the Iranians knew about Stuxnet and figured out how to defeat it - before the Times story appeared.

The chronology tends to support that view. The Iranians launched the Shamoon virus on Aug. 15, 2012, only two and a half months after the Times story. It's possible that they could have found the Stuxnet bug, deactivated it, and planned an ambitious counterpunch in that short time span - but not likely.

None of this speaks to Cartwright's legal situation. If he did what the Justice Department suspects him of doing, he's in trouble, regardless of whether his actions damaged national security.

However, the whole episode should raise serious questions - it should prompt a real national debate - about the larger subject of leaks. As every Washington insider knows, the government runs on leaks. They operate on various levels. Presidents and their aides leak to float balloons or rally support for their positions. (Many people thought at the time that the Stuxnet leak came from the White House, to show that Obama was wrecking Iran's nuclear program without having to drop bombs.) Opponents leak to dampen support for those programs. Mid- to high-level bureaucrats leak to push their programs over competing programs. Finally, whistle-blowers or low-level functionaries, with no links in the power chain, leak for personal reasons or to call attention to activities that they think are wrong.

The whistle-blowers tend to get prosecuted. The higher-ups almost never do. If Cartwright is indicted, that will change, and it will mean that you can have power and still get hammered for freelance leaking. The key term here, though, is "freelance." The highest-level leaks will still get a pass, will still be a vital tactic in the Washington power games. Should the bar be raised higher? Should it be lowered? Should the whole enterprise be reassessed?

One thing that everyone knows: Way too much information is classified, and way too many people have clearances. Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official, recently wrote in Slate sister publication Foreign Policy that she once asked a colleague why some innocuous memo he'd written was classified Top Secret. He replied that if it weren't, no one would read it. This is the culture that's stifling debate, that's keeping the cloak of secrecy on matters that should be open - or at least open to discussion on whether they should be kept secret, and on what really is vital to national security and what isn't.

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+41 # jwb110 2013-06-30 10:17
This surveillance has gotten its heal on the necks of the population and now it stresses that the higher ups are no longer safe. This is another form of Stalinism, pure and simple. A population always in the dark spends its total life looking over its collective shoulder. These programs can be necessary and also can be ethically wrong. I, for one, will choose ethics over expediency every time. These programs, as in Stalinist Russia have the capacity to be turned on the American citizen. This is potentially electronic Joe McCarthyism.
his nation is not full of infants. We have fought and won wars all over the globe. The most important war we won was the War of Independence. That should be the measure for all of America's involvements worldwide. Does the involvement make our Constitutional rights stronger for the citizenry.
When the Patriot Act and FEMA came into existence Bin Laden had won his most significant victory. He planted a worm that would slowly degrade the Constitution. He imposed a western version of Sharia Law.
People can disappear off the streets. Americans can also be killed on the streets of their own country if "perceived" as a threat or terrorist.
This is the real issue not the patriots who made the program known.
 
 
+24 # MainStreetMentor 2013-06-30 11:47
Yes, jwb110, I agree. This administration, and the preceding one, "shoot the messenger, and disregard the message". If America and Americans want the truth, they must first take legal steps to repeal the Patriot Act and re-write the Espionage Act.
 
 
+4 # Walter J Smith 2013-07-01 06:48
The world remembers this, it seems, much more that we do: "The most important war we won was the War of Independence. That should be the measure for all of America's involvements worldwide."

And we are waging war on the world for having remembered this.

Why can we not ask ourselves collectively if that is the way we want the world to see us, because it is the way we force the world to see us.

And now the waging of that war on everybody in the world who remembers that it was our revolutionary war above all others that most inspires them to fight for their own independence, the waging of that war has turned its guns on the Americans who remember this. Obama is the Commander in Chief of this turning the guns on Americans.

Why is this so hard to believe?

Because it is so radically unAmerican. How could such an unAmerican activity be done by such a popular president?

Only such a popular president could do it and get away with it.
 
 
+37 # roger paul 2013-06-30 10:40
Head line from page B7 Thursday June 27 in the Corvallis OR GT: “Al-Qaida said to be changing ways after leaks.” The last sentence of the article states: “The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak about the intelligence matters publicly.”

Let me see if I have this straight. Intelligence officials speak anonymously, because they are not authorized to have the public (us citizens) know the information they are releasing. With this reasoning Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden only screwed up because they didn’t speak anonymously?

This type of behavior/speech /journalism is right out of the lexicon of George Orwell’s novel 1984, doublethink, newspeak and the later euphuism doublespeak. All are deliberately constructed for political purposes. Is this the height of hypocrisy or what?
 
 
+15 # FDRva 2013-06-30 12:14
Pres. Obama's financial community /intell community connections are much more important than his public pronouncements.

And they suggest an arrogant Bush-like fascist.

Unless you are really dumb.
 
 
+3 # Walter J Smith 2013-07-01 06:51
Yep, and we will see this more clearly when his environmental program gets plowed beneath the XL pipeline that he will be approving any day now.
 
 
+4 # Walter J Smith 2013-07-01 06:50
Has the US Government has become so radically schizophrenic that it has no choice but to simultaneously reveal the truth that it must eradicate or remove anyone else who tells the truth? Is this what we are seeing now?
 
 
+1 # mrbtfsplk 2013-06-30 11:00
In reference to the title of this article, yes, there was betrayal. But it was more like how Butch Cassidy might have betrayed the Sundance Kid.

Complicit? Guilty? Yes, both. On all counts.
 
 
+20 # Kathymoi 2013-06-30 11:08
I've said it before and I'm saying it again, we need to define the term "national security." What kind of protection does our country need? Does it need protection for the safety of its people, for their lives? Does it need safety for the freedoms of its human citizens, guaranteed by the bill of rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of press? Does it need protection of a system of representative government that has humans voting for people dedicated to support their needs and protect their freedoms in a fair and humane balance? Or, is national security something else altogether? Is it protection of the multibillion dollar multinational corporations based in the US to guarantee profitable returns for their stockholders? It is protection of these corporations' rights to destroy the air, water and land on which human life depends in order to increase their profitability more cheaply? Is it protection of the secrets that hide war crimes, assaults and plans against the people of the US for the profitability of corporations and for the maintenance of a government that upholds their profits over the welfare of human life or the environment that supports human life? What is "national security" and what compromises it? Then we can see if any of the people currently accused of compromising national security are guilty of doing so.
 
 
+10 # tomo 2013-06-30 13:12
This is an excellent comment, Kathymoi. It is specially poignant as we approach another 4th of July. Again, a few days from now we will hear speeches about our brave heroes who have placed themselves in harm's way in order to protect our freedoms. I have great sympathy for those stationed abroad who are in peril in every way imaginable--men tal and spiritual, no less than physical. But I cringe at the blythe assumption they are making all of us safer by their sacrifice. As terms like "blow-back" and "arms race" suggest, much of what we do is counter-product ive. And as you suggest, it is not being done on our behalf.

We really must stop mindlessly seeking--or acquiescing in the quest for--anything like absolute "national security." I realize (as you suggest) that national security is often a mere screen for things that can't be promoted on their own merits. Beyond that, the very notion becomes at some point a will-o-the-wisp . It is not given as a part of the human condition. As Hobbes suggested, if a man wanted perfect security in the town where he lived, he'd need to be able to assure himself that no other member of the town could possibly harm him--and the only way, says Hobbes, he could do that would be to murder all the other town-dwellers. Such an ambition is not a good formula for peace and happiness.
 
 
+6 # debbynicely 2013-06-30 15:35
Well said.
 
 
+4 # Walter J Smith 2013-06-30 19:07
Very good. It is also possible that Cartwright was & is a man of conscience and so possessed of good character that he is perfectly willing to make the ninnies in the DoJ come after him to prove they have no interest in doing anything more or besides eradicating truth telling.
 
 
+8 # FDRva 2013-06-30 12:04
This lefty intell hand wonders.

One day, Gen. Cartwright is the President's favorite general--and the next day he is being grilled by DOJ prosecutors.

How very like the mercurial Barry Obama.

I think Pres. Obama betrayed Gen. Cartwright--to save his own skin.

The policy--not the field commanders are the problem.
 
 
+9 # Caliban 2013-06-30 13:27
Doesn't the article make it clear that General Cartwright was (a) a policy wonk, not just a field commander and (b) that he also was a developer of Stuxnet and how it could be used--i.e. proposed and made policy?

It seems more likely to me--based on what's written above--that Cartwright is the victim of officers who respect the military chain of command and dislike people going over their heads on their own initiative, not "No-drama Obama".
 
 
+10 # tomo 2013-06-30 12:24
Points here are worth pondering.

"Everybody who needs to know what we can do, knows." In context, this was referring to foreigners; it was referring to rivals and enemies as well as other foreigners with an interest. While official denial may still serve a purpose in the game of manipulating foreigners, it suggests strongly that the main people who are to be kept from knowing what is going on are Americans.

Another important observation of the article is that the government, and rival parties within the government, have leaked confidential material routinely and with general immunity when it suited their purpose. When however, whistleblowers- of-conscience have taken up the game, they have been labeled "traitors." While Kaplan acknowledges that the leak-with-impun ity privilege within government may be undergoing curtailment, surely it is very interesting that in a country which alleges democratic aspirations, there should be this great disparity between more or less ordinary citizens and the high officials of their government.
 
 
+6 # tigerlille 2013-06-30 17:03
Exactly. The Chinese, for instance, already knew that the US gov't was hacking them; Snowden's leak was simply a glorious (for them) PR opportunity.
 
 
+4 # Walter J Smith 2013-06-30 19:05
You are correct, of course.

But your correct thinking is hardly of interest to those small-minded, self-promoting, rotten corrupt, ladder-climbing , petty little spirited bureaucrats in Washington, D. C., especially the elected ones who must hire technicians to trim their nails and put on their makeup for them.
 
 
+2 # Doubter 2013-06-30 13:28
Having read only the headline this WWII dogface that hates Generals on general principle says: "What's surprising about that?" (or "what else do you expect from a General?)
 
 
+6 # tigerlille 2013-06-30 17:00
How sad that indepedent thinking, honesty, and integrity are evidently unusual characteristics among the military higher ups, thus making Cartwright a "lone wolf."
My guess is that someone(s) are out to get him, or he never would have been brought up on charges of having an affair with a female subordinate to begin with. That is hardly unusual behavior in the military.
 
 
+1 # robcarter.vn 2013-06-30 18:27
7 Generals in 7 months?
Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn't know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been
relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War. A 1st since Harry Truman fired **** Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War. But were there more by Rendition? Brig. Gen. Terence Hildner died in Kabul, perhaps of natural causes 6/2/2012. He was 49 years old commanded
a logistics unit. Thus I am pretty sure he is the only general to die in theater in the post-9/11 wars.
cont'd....
 
 
+2 # robcarter.vn 2013-06-30 18:28
Then there was a press competition rating who was worst General in USA History? Candidates were:-
1. Douglas MacArthur
2. Benedict Arnold
3. Ned Almond
4. Tommy R. Franks
5. William Westmoreland
6. George McClellan
7. Ambrose Burnside
8. Horatio Gates
• Now we see in 7 months 2012/13:-
1. Gen. David McKiernan ****
2. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal ****
3. Gen. David Petraeus, ****
4. Marine General John Allen ****
5. Gen. William "Kip" Ward ***/**
6. Maj Gen Michael T Harrison **
7. Marine General James "Hoss" Cartwright ****

contd...
 
 
-1 # robcarter.vn 2013-06-30 18:34
Contd...
**** 1st Gen. McKiernan David Taking the advice of both the Pentagon & JCS, fired The Gen. – Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War. But were there more by Rendition? Brig. Gen. Terence Hildner died in Kabul, 6/2/2012.
USA History? Candidates were:-
1. Douglas MacArthur
2. Benedict Arnold
3. Ned Almond
4. Tommy R. Franks
5. William Westmoreland
6. George McClellan
7. Ambrose Burnside
8. Horatio Gates
Now we see 2012/13:-
1. Gen. David McKiernan ****
2. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal ****
3. Gen. David Petraeus, ****
4. Marine General John Allen ****
5. Gen. William "Kip" Ward ***/**
6. Maj Gen Michael T Harrison **
7. Marine General James "Hoss" Cartwright ****
Rob says: I am not inclined to this thinking, I am inclined to believe Obama Team & the Democrats policy is to change the GWB military mind-set to stop forcing new business to create greater profits (11% Growth in 1%'ers against average National 2.7% & 60% of population a down wastage no growth record 2012) and bribes to big USA Corporate War Industries. That means dump the old stars **-**** stars of old are "Cause War" minds, Obama wants "Cause Peach" minds to mend US image, for wider appeal and prosperity sharing from bottom class up and specially to "Save SME's wasting to Zero as Now trending.?
 
 
+7 # Replicounts 2013-06-30 18:47
The article explains why Cartwright was picked to be the human sacrifice. But what matters more for the public is why the secret government needed such a high-level sacrifice in the first place.

If he can be prosecuted, then the argument is easier that The New York Times (or any other publication) can be prosecuted for publishing almost anything the government doesn't like. So much is classified today that the public could be kept in a state of legally mandated ignorance of public affairs, not just the voluntary ignorance prevailing now.
 
 
+4 # Walter J Smith 2013-06-30 19:01
While the US wallows in its national insecurity cancer, it is perfectly in character for the Israelis to have been the first leakers about Stuxnet. Israel's generals are about as sophisticated as the US generals & admirals. Not much.

It is also ironic that the Iranians could do this: "It is true, the Iranians eventually discovered and disabled the bug. More than that, they unleashed a retaliatory cyber-strike, known as the Shamoon virus, which destroyed the hard drives of 30,000 computers at the headquarters of Aramco, the global oil company based in Saudi Arabia, and beamed on all of its computer screens an image of a burning American flag." The irony is that the US generals couldn't accomplish something like that in a year, with all the resources and access to even more resources than the Iranians can even dream of possessing, much less in a few months.

But, maybe if Cartwright falls from his glorious uniform into ordinary routine US peasant life like the rest of us, maybe, just maybe, it will offer a hint of what is to come to all the other primping clerks wearing more stars on their shoulders than they can count.
 
 
+5 # Erdajean 2013-06-30 19:43
Am thinking that General Cartwright, bless his soul (and his conscience), may be the first olive out of the bottle.
Our military is not made up of fools -- though alas they are under the thumb of fools (or criminals) at the top of this government.
Nor are a lot of these young people who were deluded by recruiters still believing that they are fighting and dying in the Middle East to save the freedom of Granny and Baby Sister, back home.
Can we not wonder how long before the TRUTH inspires legions of these young people to respect and follow the courageous example of Manning, Assange, Snowden and their former leader-at-arms, General Cartwright?
Military coups are certainly not the preferred (or wisest) way to achieve change. But if it is the ONLY way -- when elections are criminally corrupted, and a bought-off Congress pays no mind whatever to the will or well-being of the people,and the nation's descent into Evil is moving like an overloaded freight, into a Hell of no return, well -- come what may.
 
 
+1 # Walter J Smith 2013-07-01 07:01
Well, I guess one could argue that Egypt is a recent example of a military coup having resulted in a democracy.

But just because it can happen is no proof it will happen.

Yet, there are only a very few indications from Congress, either house, that there is any inclination for that institution to return to America. They are overwhelmingly, both parties, so happily partying down with Wall Street they have no compelling reason to return to America.
 
 
+3 # Texan 4 Peace 2013-07-01 18:40
I think we ARE having "a real national debate about the larger subject" of leaks, secrecy, and their impact on national security. Unfortunately, Washington isn't paying attention.
 
 
0 # Activista 2013-07-03 01:08
Gen. James Cartwright and Pentagon are sick of fighting Israeli wars.
aka Kerry Wanted to Bomb Syria - Defense - GovExec.com
www.govexec.com/defense/2013/06/kerry-wanted-bomb-syria/65171/‎
Jun 19, 2013 - Kerry\'s insistence on an airstrike reportedly was not well received by the military brass...
Maybe military should give Obama ultimatum as they did in Egypt over the same issue .. Syria (proxy war on Iran)
 

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