Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked tens of thousands of documents revealing that the American government has spied on its own citizens, told Katie Couric on Yahoo News on Monday that retired Gen. David Petraeus, Donald Trump's potential pick for secretary of state, disclosed far more classified information despite receiving a much lighter punishment.
"We have a two-tiered system of justice in the United States," Snowden said to Couric, "where people who are either well-connected to government or they have access to an incredible amount of resources get very light punishments."
Snowden went on to juxtapose how he was treated by the federal government with the punishments received by Petraeus, who shared classified information with his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.
"Perhaps the best-known case in recent history here is Gen. Petraeus — who shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did with journalists," Snowden said. "And he shared this information not with the public for their benefit, but with his biographer and lover for personal benefit — conversations that had information, detailed information, about military special-access programs, that’s classified above top secret, conversations with the president and so on."
Snowden went on to say that, "When the government came after him, they charged him with a misdemeanor. He never spent a single day in jail, despite the type of classified information he exposed."
In a Yahoo News piece on Monday discussing the Snowden interview, Michael Isikoff disputed Snowden's analysis. Although he acknowledged that Petraeus only received two years' probation and a $100,000 fine — while Snowden was compelled to become a fugitive from the law and obtain asylum at an airport in Moscow — Isikoff wrote that Petraeus's actions weren't as serious as Snowden's because Broadwell never used the information, none of it was ever publicized, and the book containing it was returned three days later.
"Snowden, by contrast, disclosed tens of thousands of highly classified NSA documents to multiple journalists, who published them and caused what U.S. intelligence officials have consistently said was harm to national security, in part by making it more difficult for the NSA to intercept the communications of terrorist groups," Isikoff wrote.
In an interview with Salon in March, retired Army Col. Larry Wilkerson — who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell under President George W. Bush — disputed the notion that Snowden had harmed America's national security interests.
“There’s a logic to what he has done that is impressive,” Wilkerson told Salon. “He really has refrained from anything that was truly dangerous, with regard to our security — regardless of what people say. He has been circumspect about what he’s released, how he’s released it, who he’s released it to."
Petraeus' past leaks to Broadwell have come under new scrutiny as reports have circulated that he's in the running to be Trump's next secretary of state, a position Petraeus has sent clear signals of being interested in obtaining.