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Why Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination, and Perjury Are No Longer Punished in Washington

These 7 crimes are apparently going unpunished in Washington, yet leaking information deemed relevant to national security will without a doubt land you time.

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 2:58 PM EDT

Too Big to Fail, National Security-Style

All in all, as with the banks after the meltdown of 2007-2008, even the most obvious of national security state crimes seem to fall into a "too big to fail"-like category. Call it "too big to jail." The only crime that repeatedly makes it out of the investigative phase and into court—as with Stephen Kim, Chelsea Manning, and John Kiriakou—is revealing information the national security state holds dear. On that, the Obama administration has been fierce and prosecutorial.

Despite the claims of national security breaches in such cases, most of the leakers and whistleblowers of our moment have had little to offer in the way of information that might benefit Washington's official enemies. What Kim told Fox News about the North Korean nuclear program was hardly likely to have been news to the North Koreans, just as the Iranians are believed to have already known what General Cartwright may have leaked to the Times about the origins of the Stuxnet virus.

Of course, leaking is a habit that's often considered quite useful by those in power. It's little short of a sport in Washington, done whenever officials feel it to be to their advantage or the advantage of an administration, even if what's at stake are "secret" programs like the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan. What's still up in the air—and to be tested—is whether leaking information in the government's supposed interest could, in fact, be a crime. And that's where General Cartwright comes in. If there is, in fact, but a single crime that can be committed within the national security state for which our leaders now believe jail time is appropriate, how wide is the category and is knowledge always a crime when it ends up in the wrong brains?

If there were one man of power and prominence who might join Kim, Kiriakou, Manning, and Edward Snowden (should the US government ever get its hands on him), it might be Cartwright. It's a long shot, but here's what he doesn't have going for him. He was an insider who was evidently an outsider. He was considered "a lone wolf" who went to the president privately, behind the backs of, and to the evident dismay of, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense. He seems to have had few supporters in the Pentagon and to have alienated key Republican senators. He could, in short, prove the single sacrificial lamb in the national security state.

In Washington today, knowledge is the only crime. That's a political reality of the twenty-first century. Get used to it.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

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