One man provided his mistress secret information for use in a biography about himself and then lied about it. The other openly shared secrets to stop what he saw as improper mass surveillance, spawning Supreme Court-bound lawsuits, presidential policy pivots and global concern about privacy.
The former – disgraced ex-CIA Director David Petraeus – won a generous plea deal made public Tuesday, in which he agreed to serve two years probation and plead guilty to one misdemeanor.
Now, supporters of exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden say he deserves a similar slap on the wrist, not the possibility of decades behind bars.
Snowden has been living in Russia, where he received asylum after the U.S. government canceled his passport in 2013. Through attorneys, he's expressed fear about an unfair trial if he returns to the U.S., but has said he's willing to return in exchange for a no-jail deal.
“Snowden would be amenable to coming back to the United States for the kind of plea bargain that Gen. Petraeus received,” Jesselyn Radack, an attorney for Snowden who works at the Government Accountability Project, told Politico Tuesday.
Another attorney for Snowden, Ben Wizner, who has worked on thus-far unsuccessful negotiations with the government, tells U.S. News the apparent motivation for generosity in the Petraeus case should apply to his client.
“If Petraeus deserves exceptional treatment because of his service to the nation, then surely the same exception should be offered to Edward Snowden, whose actions have led to a historic global debate that will strengthen free societies,” Wizner says.
But Wizner, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, isn’t optimistic that will happen.
“The problem is that leniency is only extended to officials with friends in high places,” he says.
According to plea documents filed in court Tuesday, Petraeus gave mistress Paula Broadwell – author of his biography, “All In” – access to eight “black books” that collectively contained classified information from his time leading military efforts in Afghanistan. He then lied about doing so to FBI investigators.
The books included “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and [Petraeus’] discussions with the President of the United States of America," the court documents say.
The books also contained "national defense information, including Top Secret//SCI and code word information,” the documents state.
Before the plea deal, there was a significant outpouring of sympathy for the retired four-star general from tough-on-leaks politicians like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said Petraeus should not face charges because he had "suffered enough."
“He made a mistake,” Feinstein said. “He lost his job as CIA director because of it. I mean, how much do you want to punish somebody? It’s done. It’s over. He’s retired. He’s lost his job. How much does [the] government want?”
A spokesman for the senator, who previously described Snowden’s actions as traitorous, did not respond to a request for comment on whether the whistleblower deserves leniency.
Meanwhile, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who has opposed mass surveillance programs Snowden exposed, bristled at the idea of comparing the criminal conduct of Petraeus and Snowden.
“Gen. Petraeus violated the law to impress a girlfriend,” he says. “Edward Snowden released confidential information in order to bring attention to overwhelming and pervasive constitutional violations.”