The Obama administration has named Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a key suspect in an investigation into who leaked details of Stuxnet to the media.
According to sources for NBC News and ABC News, Cartwright has been served a "target letter" indicating that he'll be investigated, and possibly charged. Cartwright was revealed by The New York Times as a major figure in the development and fielding of the Stuxnet computer virus, which sabotaged Iran's nuclear-enrichment facilities in 2010.
Cartwright could be indicted under the Espionage Act, putting him in the same predicament as Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. If so, he'd be Obama's ninth such target—and among the highest-ranking officials ever to be charged in the law's 96-year history.
But Obama may have unwittingly put himself in a compromising position by going after Cartwright. The retired general has on his side the White House's former top legal adviser, Greg Craig. Craig served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations before being forced out in 2009, in part over his unsuccessful attempt to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
It'll likely mean huge headaches for Obama if he chooses to battle Craig, who represented Clinton during his impeachment trial and John Hinckley Jr., who allegedly carried out the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. Both cases led to acquittals.
As daunting a challenge as it might be to try Cartwright, it could be even worse for Obama if he ultimately decides not to. Anything short of an indictment would open the president up to accusations that he only pursues leaks when it involves ordinary federal employees and not distinguished public servants.
The appearance of a double standard for espionage charges would likely only increase the pressure on Obama, who's been criticized for invoking the Espionage Act more often than any other president.
It seems that if there's one lesson Obama is learning in his second term, it's that old leaks die hard.
- James Cartwright