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Gen. Cartwright: Latest Stuxnet casualty

Stuxnet, the computer virus that wrecked an estimated 1,000 of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges back in 2010, is still doing damage, if indirectly. Now it’s claimed the reputation of retired Marine Corps General James Cartwright. His guilty plea to making false statements to the FBI could land him in the clink for six months.

Many years ago I had a friend, a member of the clergy. My family moved away, we lost touch. Then a couple of years ago we learned he had to quit his prominent pulpit amid lurid allegations both financial and sexual. It was all over the local papers. Another clergy friend, when hearing about it, told me he couldn’t bring himself to read the details, saying, “I don’t stare at car wrecks.”

Cartwright didn’t leak the information about the Stuxnet program to reporters, but he did confirm it.  He falsely told the FBI he didn’t speak to them at all. His lawyer, Greg Craig, a former White House counsel, says Cartwright, in confirming the Stuxnet story to the reporters, was trying to get them to not publish national security secrets.

Naturally, it was an e-mail to a Newsweek reporter that tripped up Cartwright.

No run-of-the-mill general, Cartwright rose to vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was favored by political leadership. He escaped an administrative censure over a possible relationship with a female subordinate, but Navy Secretary Ray Mabus nixed the conclusions of the investigation. Several reports say the incident took Cartwright out of the running for when Obama had to choose a new chairman.

When the Justice Department began investigating the Stuxnet leak, Cartwright became a suspect and lost his security clearance, two years after retirement. Meanwhile he was doing what retired generals at his level do — being faculty at think tanks and colleges, board members of technology and consultant companies. And, interestingly, Cartwright became something of a nuclear disarmament proponent. Now he’ll face sentencing and could get just a fine. Regardless, he’ll have a rap sheet.

Another car wreck.

These episodes occur regularly, but it’s always hard to watch. Imagine, a former four-star Marine standing before a District Court judge, who, as reported in Politico, told him after the guilty plea, “You’re in a little different status now that you were when you entered the room. You’re under the court’s supervision. It’s best for you to stay on the straight and narrow.”

I don’t feel sorry for Cartwright so much as astonished that someone with 40 years of service and adherence to rules, would even answer a phone call from a reporter about such a sensitive national security matter, much less jump into it. He put himself in a position from which it was impossible to extricate. If he confirmed talking to reporters, he would have been implicated in the leak itself. In denying it, he had to fib.

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