He wasn’t alone.
“After I blew the whistle on the CIA's waterboarding torture program in 2007,” former CIA agent John Kiriakou wrote, “I was the subject of a years-long FBI investigation. The Justice Department charged me with ‘disclosing classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.’ I had revealed no more than others who were never charged, about activities—that the CIA had a program to kill or capture Al Qaeda members—that were hardly secret. Eventually the espionage charges were dropped and I pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: confirming the name of a former CIA colleague, a name that was never made public.”
He got two and half years in prison.
Meanwhile, “Former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed the name of the Navy SEAL unit that carried out the Osama bin Laden raid and named the unit’s ground commander at a 2011 ceremony attended by ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ filmmaker Mark Boal. Panetta also discussed classified information designated as ‘top secret’ and ‘secret’ during his presentation at the awards ceremony, according to a draft Pentagon inspector general’s report published Wednesday by the Project on Government Oversight.” He said he didn’t realize the filmmaker was present and was not punished.
Then there’s John Brennan.
“In 2012,” Jack Shafer wrote, “then-national security adviser John Brennan went a tad too far counter-leaking in his attempt to nullify an Associated Press report about the foiled underwear bomber plot. In a conference call with TV news pundits, Brennan offered that the plot could never succeed because the United States had ‘inside control’ of it, which helped expose a double-agent working for Western intelligence. Instead of being prosecuted for leaking sensitive, classified intelligence, Brennan was promoted to director of the CIA; that’s the privilege of the policy leak.”
If Hillary Clinton did knowingly keep classified documents on her home server, or stored them there unwittingly but negligently, it was presumably with confidence that her fate would be more like Brennan or Panetta than Drake or Kiriakou. After all, she was well aware of what happened to Sandy Berger when he mishandled classified documents. One of Bill Clinton’s most influential foreign policy advisors, he walked into the National Archives and willfully absconded with sensitive documents so that he could destroy them for unknown reasons.
Even caught red-handed, he only got a slap on the wrist.
If Clinton is innocent, laws surrounding classified documents are once again victimizing an undeserving target; if she is guilty, then either she will be spared the fate of the less powerful by virtue of her connections, or she will be tried and jailed on the cusp of a presidential campaign, a punishment so out of proportion to anything others like her usually face as to make one wonder about a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Whatever the endgame of this legal matter, changing the underlying laws is long overdue. Outcomes would be less uneven and capricious if being charged criminally for mishandling state secrets required a review of whether the secrets were properly classified, evidence of willful misbehavior, and plausible harm to national security. Without such reforms, these laws will continue to be abused with impunity.