A former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff is facing an investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly leaking classified information about a cyberattack sponsored by the U.S. government on Iran’s nuclear facilities, NBC News and Washington Post reported on Thursday.
Retired Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, the second highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. armed forces from 2007 to 2011, was a key player in the U.S. cyber operation against Iran, christened the Olympic Games, which began under former President George W. Bush, and continued by President Barack Obama, according to a New York Times report in June 2012.
The Times reported at the time that the Obama administration targeted Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant with a computer worm, which spread on the Internet due to a programming error in 2010, and was named Stuxnet by computer security experts. Despite the error, the Obama administration decided to step up the attacks, and unleashed a series of computer worms to target Iranian nuclear activity.
The Times report created a furor in Congress, which demanded an investigation into the leak, while Republicans accused officials in the Obama administration of leaking details of the attacks against Iran to the media, to help the president’s re-election campaign by boosting his national security credentials.
Two sources told NBC News on Thursday that prosecutors in an investigation ordered in June 2012 by Attorney General Eric Holder have now identified Cartwright as a target in leaking information about the attacks on Iran to the Times.
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Prosecutors use the term “target” to refer to someone who has been linked to a crime with substantial evidence and is likely to be charged. Eight people have already been charged or prosecuted in the probe under the Espionage Act.
Cartwright, who was once a leading contender to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resigned from the military in August 2011. His chances for a promotion were said to have suffered a blowback, after he opposed a plan in 2009 to dispatch tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, which put him at odds with fellow senior generals.
NBC News said Cartwright and his attorney, Greg Craig, who was a former White House counsel to Obama, declined to comment, as did the White House and the Justice Department.
The Stuxnet attacks, a National Security Agency operation in liaison with Israel, was one of the most-guarded intelligence activities by the U.S.