It is hard to know what to make of FBI agents hauling a computer and crates of documents out of Paula Broadwell’s house as if she were a mafia don or a terrorist kingpin. That the bureau is devoting these kinds of resources to this case suggests that there must not be a lot of crime or terrorism to deal with anymore. What’s going on? My theory: The FBI is on a fishing expedition to justify what looks to be its increasingly untenable decision to treat a few annoying emails, sent by Paula Broadwell to Jill Kelley, as quite literally a federal case.
As the Washington Post notes: “The surprise move by the FBI follows assertions by U.S. officials that the investigation had turned up no evidence of a security breach — a factor that was cited as a reason the Justice Department did not notify the White House before last week that the CIA director had been ensnared in an e-mail inquiry.”
If, in fact, there was no national security breach, then the FBI looks pretty suspect for outing the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, bringing down the CIA director, and causing great personal suffering to both families. So now, it seems, the FBI is intent on proving that there really was some national security justification for this whole investigation—that it wasn’t simply the work, as it appears to be, of one shirtless agent who was overly friendly with Kelley and happy to do her a favor by looking into emails that annoyed her. If press reports are accurate, the new focus of the FBI investigation is whether Broadwell has in her possession classified documents, and if so, whether they came from Petraeus.
Let us stipulate that it is quite possible that Broadwell (whom I don’t know) does have some classified information. If so, there is nothing particularly surprising or threatening about this. There are many different levels of classification and much of the routine paperwork that gets stamped “confidential” or “secret” or “nofor” (no foreign) should not be classified at all. The really sensitive stuff is protected by top secret and code-word clearances. But there is a vast amount of overclassification. To take one obvious example: the CIA has never publicly admitted that its training facility, known as The Farm, is located near Williamsburg, Virginia. If Petraeus were to casually mention its location to Broadwell, he would technically be in breach of the law—even though anyone who wants to know where The Farm is located can look on Wikipedia and find out.
I suspect that Broadwell may have access to such classified but non-sensitive information. So do countless other people who have any connection to the government or military. If the FBI is intent on nailing someone, it can do so by focusing on such trivial breaches. I hope that is not what is happening here.
For all of the investigation going on of Petraeus, Broadwell, Kelley and John Allen, I cannot help but conclude that what we desperately need is an investigation of the investigators. What on earth is the FBI up to? That is a question that Congress should address urgently.