Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Retired U.S. Army general and former CIA chief David H. Petraeus appears on his way to receiving light punishment for taking home and handing to his mistress, who was writing his biography, highly classified intelligence documents.

The law prohibits Petraeus from carrying such documents around or passing them to someone such as Paula Broadwell, who was not cleared to see them. Beyond obeying the law lies the importance of the information contained in the documents and the lives that might be endangered if they came to light.

Petraeus’ action also sets a poor example for others when they see the CIA director and former senior military commander disregard the law on handling classified material, particularly as part of an extramarital affair.

All this raises the question of what penalty Petraeus should receive. In reaching an agreement with the federal government to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials even after he lied about it to the FBI, Petraeus is not likely to see prison time. Prosecutors want him to serve two years’ probation and to pay a $40,000 fine.

Part of the argument for going easy on Petraeus is that his reputation has already been damaged by what he did and by his consequential departure from the CIA in 2012. His post-CIA income, from speaking fees and lucrative employment at New York investment firm KKR, suggests otherwise.

A prison term is in order, to make clear the gravity of his offenses and to serve as an example to others who might consider playing fast and loose with the nation’s most closely held secrets.