Earlier this year, General David Petraeus was sentenced to two years’ probation and fined $100,000 for mishandling classified information and giving it to his biographer and mistress. During an investigation related to this, the FBI asked Petraeus whether he had given Paula Broadwell classified information; he denied that he had, lying to the FBI investigators. The $100,000 fine, a drop in the bucket for the General who routinely brings in more than that for just one speaking engagement, was more than double what the Justice Department suggested Petraeus pay.
Contrast the sentence of General Petraeus with that of Major Jason Brezler, a Marine who will be separated from the Corps for not correctly handling classified information. The Major had sent a classified briefing document to a Marine colleague about a credible threat to units stationed in Afghanistan. Seventeen days after Brezler sent the document, a teenager tied to the credible threat killed three Marines.
This scenario may seem like déjà vu: lower-ranked service member harshly punished for “mishandling” information in the pursuit of protecting fellow troops or the public while high-level officials receive a slap on the wrist for doing the same for personal benefit. That’s because this happens time and time again. There is something inherently broken about a system that punishes the actions of public servants like Major Brezler more harshly than it does self-serving officials such as General Petraeus. The problem as we see it is that there is both a lack of accountability for the political elite and a lack of balancing the public interest against the release of information.