With prosecutions of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and several others, the Obama administration is by far the most aggressive in history when it comes to punishing leaks. But is there a double standard when it comes to who is punished and who walks free? That is the question being raised after a lenient plea deal for David Petraeus, the retired four-star general and former head of the CIA. Unlike the others, Petraeus did not release information to expose perceived government wrongdoing. Instead, Petraeus gave classified material to his girlfriend, Paula Broadwell, who was writing his biography. Petraeus let Broadwell access his CIA email account and other sensitive material, including the names of covert operatives in Afghanistan, war strategies, and quotes from White House meetings. Earlier this month, he reached a plea deal, admitting to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified information. Prosecutors will not seek prison time, but instead two years probation and a fine. He remains an administration insider, advising the White House on the war against ISIS. We speak to Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project. A former ethics adviser to the U.S. Department of Justice, Radackis the lawyer for Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou — three whistleblowers all charged under the Espionage Act. She recently wrote an article for Foreign Policy magazine, “Petraeus, Snowden, and the Department of Two-Tiered Justice.” TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. AARON MATÉ: With prosecutions of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and several others, the Obama administration is by far the most aggressive in history when it comes to punishing leaks. But is there a double standard when it comes to who is punished and who walks free? That’s the question being raised after a lenient plea deal for David Petraeus, the retired four-star general and former head of the CIA. Unlike the others, Petraeus did not release information to expose perceived government wrongdoing. Instead, he gave classified material to his mistress, Paula Broadwell, who was also writing his biography. Petraeus let Broadwell access his CIA email account and other sensitive material, including the names of covert operatives in Afghanistan, war strategy, and quotes from White House meetings. Petraeus then lied to the FBI, telling investigators he never gave Broadwell any classified information. After an investigation that raised eyebrows for its slow pace, the FBI and federal prosecutors recommended felony charges. But unlike other leakers, Petraeus was not indicted. Instead, earlier this month, he reached a plea deal, admitting to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified information. Prosecutors won’t seek prison time, but instead two years probation and a fine. His sentencing is next month. Meanwhile, after being forced to resign in 2012, Petraeus remains an administration insider, advising the White House on the war against ISIS. AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the administration’s ongoing consultations with Petraeus. PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: He is, I think, legitimately regarded as an expert when it comes to the security situation in Iraq. So I think it’s—it makes a lot of sense for senior administration officials to, on occasion, consult him for advice. REPORTER: And any particular security precautions that you take in this situation, given his legal entanglements? PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: Not that I’m aware of. AMY GOODMAN: As General David Petraeus avoids jail time and advises the White House, a lawyer for imprisoned government contractor Stephen Kim is accusing the Obama administration of blatant hypocrisy and demanding Kim’s immediate release. In a letter to the Justice Department, Abbe Lowell says, quote, “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,” unquote. Kim was convicted earlier this year for sharing information from an intelligence report on North Korea with a reporter from Fox News. The famed lawyer Abbe Lowell says prosecutors dismissed his offer to have Kim plead guilty to the same misdemeanor they ended up offering to Petraeus. He writes, quote, “You rejected that out of hand, saying that a large reason for your position was that Mr. Kim lied to FBI agents.” But since Petraeus also lied to the FBI, Lowell concludes, quote, “Lower-level employees like Mr. Kim are prosecuted under the Espionage Act because they are easy targets and lack the resources and political connections to fight back. High level officials (such as General Petraeus) … leak classified information to forward their own agendas (or to impress their mistresses) with virtual impunity,” unquote. The lenient treatment of Petraeus falls in line with similar responses to leaks from other administration insiders. CIA Director Leon Panetta helped provide secret information to the filmmakers of Zero Dark Thirty, the Hollywood film about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but never faced punishment. And just last week, it emerged that a long-running investigation of a former top-ranking Pentagon general for leaking the information that publicly exposed a U.S. cyberwarfare operation against Iran has stalled. According to The Washington Post, General James Cartwright had authorization to speak to reporters, and defense attorneys, quote, “might try to put the White House’s relationship with reporters and the use of authorized leaks on display, creating a potentially embarrassing distraction for the administration,” unquote. Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., and we’re joined by Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project. She’s former ethics adviser to the U.S. Department of Justice. She is one of the lawyers for Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou—three whistleblowers all charged under the Espionage Act. She recently wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine headlined “Petraeus, Snowden, and the Department of Two-Tiered Justice.” Why don’t you lay out what that two-tiered Department of Justice looks like, Jesselyn Radack? JESSELYN RADACK: Well, I think the two-tiered justice is simply that if you are powerful or politically connected, you can leak regularly with impunity. And we’ve seen that, because the top three past CIA directors, including Leon Panetta, including General David Petraeus, including Brennan, have all leaked covert identities and suffered no consequence for it. And meanwhile, the victims in Obama’s war on whistleblowers have all been low-level employees and, again, people who have been whistleblowers whose disclosures were not meant for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, but instead were meant to reveal fraud, waste, abuse and illegality, and all of whom revealed far less than Petraeus ever did. AARON MATÉ: What about the use of the Espionage Act against some of your clients? With using that law, they can’t mount a defense that takes into account their intent. I imagine when investigators and prosecutors were looking into the case with Petraeus, they took into account what his intent was, which was to give material to his girlfriend. But someone like Edward Snowden can’t mount the same defense. It makes no difference, according to the Espionage Act, whether he gave documents to journalists versus whether he had given them to a foreign intelligence agency, which of course he did not do. JESSELYN RADACK: That’s exactly right. The Espionage Act is effectively a strict liability offense, meaning that you can raise no defense. It does not matter whether you were leaking secrets to a foreign enemy for profit or whether you were giving information to journalists in the public interest to give back to the people who have a right to know what’s been done in their name. And the fact that the Espionage Act has been used on Tom Drake and John Kiriakou, on Edward Snowden, Stephen Kim, Jeffrey Sterling, Chelsea Manning, Shamai Leibowitz, to suddenly have Petraeus charged under a completely different law just smack of hypocrisy. Moreover, under the Espionage Act—I mean, technically, Petraeus should be charged under the Espionage Act but also with one count of making false statements and three counts under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. And instead, he’s not charged under the Espionage Act, and, in fact, he’s not charged or indicted at all. He’s able to strike a sweetheart plea deal under Section 1924, which is far more lenient, far less punitive and under which he is able to mount a defense, unlike any of the people that I’ve represented. AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to General Petraeus in his own words. In 2010, at the time NBC’s David Gregory interviewed him on Meet the Press. DAVID GREGORY: There’s another developing story that the military’s very unhappy about, and that is the leaking of secret war documents that were put on the Internet by WikiLeaks. There’s another 15,000 documents that are coming out. What’s in those documents? How damaging will they be? GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, this is beyond unfortunate. I mean, this is a betrayal of trust, I mean, someone who had—apparently had access to highly classified material, albeit not top secret, I don’t believe, and not the codeword and so forth. And, in fact, a lot of this, when we first looked at it, we saw it as what we call first reports. It’s undigested. It’s not the final analysis. However, as we have looked through it more and more, there are—there are source names, and in some cases there are actual names, of individuals with whom we have partnered in difficult missions in difficult places. And, obviously, that is very reprehensible. AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s David Petraeus in 2010. Broadwell’s book—his mistress and biographer—came out in 2012, so this would have been right, perhaps, around the same time. Your response to what the general was saying? JESSELYN RADACK: You know, the general has also made similar hypocritical statements vis-à-vis my client, John Kiriakou. And the way the Espionage Act has been interpreted is that it does not in fact matter if harm occurred. Nevertheless, the government has gone to great lengths in every single case of whistleblowing to claim that great harm occurred from the disclosures of Chelsea Manning. Since the general was referring to the Manning leaks in particular, I went to the court-martial, and when it came time for the government to present a damage assessment, it in fact could not come up with one. So, although in all of these cases, Snowden—Tom Drake was said—he was going to have blood of soldiers on his hands. John Kiriakou was said to have caused untold damage now and into the future. The government waves its hands and screams and cries about damage, when none has occurred. And in fact, as the government well knows, the way the Espionage Act has been interpreted, it doesn’t in fact matter if damage happens. AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re talking to Jesselyn Radack, who is National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project, former ethics adviser to the U.S. Department of Justice under George W. Bush. She’s the lawyer for Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou—Kiriakou who’s just come out of jail but under house arrest. And she recently wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine headlined “Petraeus, Snowden, and the Department of Two-Tiered Justice.” Stay with us.
It’s been a tough few weeks for Monsanto. Late last week, companies “such as Monsanto” were implicated in a watchdog group’s petition to the US Department of Agriculture on behalf of anonymous scientists within the agency who say their research is suppressed when it upsets powerful agrichemical interests.Protester holds sign at the March Against Monsanto in Washington, DC, October 12, 2013 (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian) It’s been a tough few weeks for Monsanto. Late last week, companies “such as Monsanto” were implicated in a watchdog group’s petition to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on behalf of anonymous scientists within the agency who say their research is suppressed when it upsets powerful agrichemical interests. The allegations enraged the industry’s critics, who have been busy touting recent reports linking popular herbicides often used in tandem with genetically engineered crops, or GMOs, to cancer and antibiotic resistance. Both controversies are renewing calls for tougher restrictions on certain herbicides and mandatory packaging labels for groceries containing GMO ingredients. “If true, this is a major scandal at the USDA,” wrote Gary Ruskin, director of the pro- labeling group US Right to Know, in a March 30 letter to the US House and Senate agricultural committees demanding an investigation. “It is not the proper role of the USDA to engage in a cover up for Monsanto and other agrichemical companies.” Is the USDA Suppressing Science? The petition, filed by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), demands that the USDA reform its so-called “scientific integrity policy,” which PEER claims contains broad language that enables the agency’s managers to suppress and alter research that has negative policy implications for big business, regardless of its merit. The petition alleges that companies like Monsanto “have access to top agency managers” and are “invited to lodge complaints” about the work of USDA scientists. In response, USDA scientists told PEER that managers order employees not to publish data and even rewrite and retract some scientific papers, while indefinitely delaying the approval of others. Scientists producing work that could cause regulatory headaches for the industry faced disciplinary actions and lengthy, intimidating investigations. “Scientists who are submitting works on neonicotinoids or the long-term effects of GMO crops, trigger corporate complaints back through the chain of command, and finally find that their careers are in jeopardy,” said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch. Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides thought to be at least partially responsible for declining populations of pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies. Ruch told Truthout that the USDA’s integrity policy lacks clear procedures for protecting whistleblowers and those who file internal complaints or produce work that is controversial, so it should come as no surprise that the agency’s embattled scientists are choosing to remain anonymous. “They are worried about backlash and the fact that there are no protections,” Ruch said. “And so it would be career ending, so I don’t think that anyone would come forward unless they are in the process of leaving the agency.” A senior scientist in the USDA’s agricultural research service seemed to confirm the allegations in a recent interview with Reuters. “Your words are changed, your papers are censored or edited or you are not allowed to submit them at all,” said the scientist, who asked not to be named. The USDA did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment on the petition by the time this article was published, but last week a spokesman told Reuters that the allegations have no merit and the agency values the work of its scientists. Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Marie did not specifically comment on the petition’s allegations that Monsanto and other companies are putting political pressure on federal regulators, but said that, “we believe that those conducting objective and data-driven scientific work should be allowed to do so without undue influence from others.” Cancer and Antibiotic Resistance The allegations are certain to become cannon fodder for environmentalists and food safety advocates who have been on the offensive since mid-March, when the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research arm classified glyphosate, the world’s most popular herbicide and main ingredient in Monsanto’s blockbuster weed killer Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a panel composed of cancer experts from across the world, reviewed existing studies on glyphosate and found “limited” evidence that linked the herbicide to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and DNA damage in human cells, along with “convincing evidence” that the chemical causes cancer in animals. The announcement quickly made headlines across the globe. Farmers and consumers in hundreds of countries use glyphosate to kill weeds, and the vast majority of GMO crops grown worldwide are engineered to tolerate the herbicide, including more than 90 percent of the corn and soy grown in the United States. Monsanto quickly dismissed the findings and accused IARC of “cherry picking” data to fit its “agenda-driven bias.” The company said the conclusion is inconsistent with decades of ongoing safety reviews conducted by regulatory agencies in governments across the world. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to conduct its regular safety review of glyphosate, and, with Monsanto’s influence over regulatory agencies already in question, environmentalists and even lawmakers are demanding that the WHO findings be taken seriously. On March 30, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting that the agency include the IARC findings in the reassessment. Environmental and GMO labeling groups sent similar letters to the EPA in late March. “Senator Markey’s call for the EPA to weigh this new evidence in its own assessment of the toxic herbicide is absolutely the right call,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It campaign. “The explosion of GMO crops has resulted in a surge in glyphosate use on millions of acres of farmland throughout the US.” Small amounts of glyphosate and other herbicides can be found on foods, but most herbicide-resistant GMO crops are processed into biofuel, animal feed and junk food, and farm workers are considered most at risk of overexposure to the chemicals. It remains to be seen if the EPA will place tougher restriction on glyphosate, but environmental advocates say any changes would most likely only impact the way the chemical is handled by farm workers. Combining Glyphosate With 2,4-D Environmentalists also want the EPA to reconsider Enlist Duo, a controversial combination of glyphosate and the herbicide 2,4-D developed by Dow Chemical to combat the epidemic of so-called “superweeds” that have developed a resistance to glyphosate alone. The agency recently approved the herbicide for use in six states and is poised to extend the approval to 10 more. Studies have also linked 2,4-D to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and a study released in late March by a team of scientists in New Zealand found that 2,4-D, glyphosate and another common herbicide called dicamba all caused E. coli and salmonella bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics. The New Zealand team concluded that the “combination of high use of both herbicides and antibiotics in proximity to farm animals and important insects” could potentially be a factor in the increased use of antibiotics, adding that further research is needed because their study is one of the first of its kind. Marie said Monsanto is taking a “closer look” at the antibiotic study. Environmentalists say that Enlist Duo is simply a chemical solution for a problem caused by the overuse of chemicals in the first place. In the United States, the dependence on GMO crops treated with glyphosate has caused many weeds to become resistant to the poison, and now the industry is turning to older, more toxic chemicals to address the problem. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist and director of sustainable agriculture at the Center for Food Safety, said products like Enlist Duo are part of a “pesticide treadmill,” and scientists are already seeing weeds that are resistant to multiple herbicides. “Even those conventional weed scientists are concerned that we are running out of options, kind of like what’s happening with antibiotics, because there are no really good, effective new herbicides in the pipeline,” Gurian-Sherman said. “That’s one reason why they are going back to chemicals like 2,4-D and dicamba, which are new versions of old chemicals.” Instead of using more chemicals, Gurian-Sherman said, farmers should turn to more sustainable farming methods such as crop rotation to control weeds. “It’s beyond even a question of what’s better to do for the environment and public health, which should be paramount anyway, but even in terms of effectiveness in even the immediate and longer term, we may be faced with substantially reduced effectiveness if they don’t transition to these ecologically based farming systems,” Gurian-Sherman said. Sustainable farming techniques don’t generate profits for chemical companies like Dow and Monsanto, and that’s why advocates are currently fighting at both the state and federal level to put labels on products containing GMOs. Labels, they say, would allow consumers to vote with their dollars. “In a free market, consumers have the right to know and choose how their food is made, especially if it’s contributing to cancer risks among people,” Hirshberg said. “Only mandatory labeling guarantees that right.”