(Updates with details from court hearing)
By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON Oct 17 A retired U.S. Marine Corps
general who last served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court to making false
statements to the FBI during an investigation into leaks of
Four-star General James Cartwright was questioned by the
Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2012 over a book written by
New York Times reporter David Sanger, which exposed a malicious
computer software program known as "Stuxnet" designed to disrupt
Iran's nuclear program.
Cartwright also in 2012 confirmed classified information
about an unnamed country to Daniel Klaidman, then a reporter for
Newsweek, according to his plea agreement.
He retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in September 2011,
four months before he began providing information to Sanger, the
plea agreement said.
"I knew I was not the source of the story, and I didn't want
to be blamed for the leak," said Cartwright of his effort to
mislead FBI agents in a statement released after he pleaded
guilty on Monday. "My only goal in talking to the reporters was
to protect American interests and lives."
Cartwright's guilty plea was for his false statements to
FBI agents, not for speaking to the reporters, said Cartwright's
attorney Gregory Craig, in a statement: "His effort to prevent
publication of information that might harm American lives of
national security does not constitute a violation of any law."
Federal prosecutors declined to comment on the hearing. A
false statements conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of
five years. Prosecutors and Cartwright's attorneys agreed his
offense merited a sentence ranging from zero to six months.
Reuters and several other news outlets previously reported
that Stuxnet was developed jointly by U.S. and Israeli forces.
Both the United States and Israel have never publicly admitted
responsibility for Stuxnet.
Stuxnet was a sophisticated computer virus deployed covertly
in 2009 and 2010 to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. The worm,
parts of which spread publicly across the internet in 2010 due a
programming error, is believed to have destroyed a thousand or
more centrifuges that were enriching uranium.
Cartwright has long been the target of a Justice Department
probe investigating the source of leaks about Stuxnet to the New
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Monday tentatively
scheduled Cartwright's sentencing for Jan. 17, 2017, and
acknowledged that part of the sentencing might be closed to
allow for discussion of classified information.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards and Dustin Volz; Editing by Tom
Brown and Andrew Hay)