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Retired US general pleads guilty to lying in Iran probe

Retired Marine Corps Geneneral James Cartwright arrives for a hearing at US District Court, October 17, 2016 in Washington, DC (AFP Photo/Mark Wilson)

Washington (AFP) - A retired top US general pleaded guilty Monday to making a false statement during an FBI probe into a classified intelligence leak about a cyberattack against Iran's nuclear program in 2010.

Marine Corps General James Cartwright, 67, formerly the vice chairman to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was accused of lying to investigators when he said he had not confirmed classified information to New York Times journalist David Sanger.

Sanger wrote a book describing a joint US and Israeli operation that deployed a virus called "Stuxnet" that reportedly destroyed or damaged centrifuges being used by Iran to enrich uranium in 2010.

The malicious code reportedly dealt Iran's disputed nuclear program a serious blow.

"After investigators showed Cartwright a list of quotes and statements from David Sanger's book, a number of which contained classified information, Cartwright falsely told investigators that he was not the source," prosecutors said on a charge sheet.

Prosecutors also said Cartwright had spoken with journalist Daniel Klaidman.

"It was wrong for me to mislead the FBI on November 2, 2012, and I accept full responsibility for this," Cartwright said in a statement provided by his lawyer.

"I knew I was not the source of the story and I didn't want to be blamed for the leak. My only goal in talking to the reporters was to protect American interests and lives; I love my country and continue to this day to do everything I can to defend it."

The judge in the case set a sentencing hearing for January 17.

A letter from prosecutors said Cartwright could theoretically face a maximum of five years in prison.

As part of the plea deal, however, the sentence will likely be between zero and six months, and prosecutors will not pursue additional charges.

Cartwright, who retired with four stars in 2011, was considered a close military advisor to President Barack Obama.