Commentary Magazine


Topic: CIA

Brennan’s Quest for a Moderate Hezbollah

President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.

It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:

The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.

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President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.

It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:

The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.

I have added the emphasis regarding Brennan’s suggestion that U.S. policy should be to build up “moderate” Hezbollah elements rather than seek that group’s destruction. The question should be especially important now, because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall could starve Hezbollah of the oxygen it needs; never has Hezbollah’s future been so tenuous.

While back in 2010, I took a tongue-in-cheek approach to figuring out what a Hezbollah moderate might be, the questions senators should ask first would be whether a second term Obama administration will outstretch its hands not only to adversarial regimes, but also to terrorist groups, and second, what Brennan’s instincts would mean for a CIA under his leadership.

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Secrecy, National Security, and the Case of John Kiriakou

Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a long and somewhat awkward article about the indictment, plea bargain, and federal prison sentencing of former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Long, because the story is complicated, and Shane must recount about a decade’s worth of national security history and policy to get us from A to Z. Awkward, because Shane is a prominent element in the federal indictment against Kiriakou.

At the heart of this case is information Kiriakou provided to Shane for a story, and to another reporter for a second story. We often see such stories play out through a drama in which reporters protect their sources and risk jail time to do so. But in this case, Shane could not protect Kiriakou, nor was it at all clear that Kiriakou would have needed such protection. Kiriakou became a minor media star in 2007 when he spoke out about the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. Kiriakou defended the decision to waterboard in 2002 (“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he told Shane) but was against the practice going forward. Shane asked Kiriakou about another CIA officer. Kiriakou said he knew the officer, and that the two had worked together in pursuit of Abu Zubaydah. The officer never agreed to talk to Shane, and had never been undercover. But Kiriakou’s email to Shane turned up in the indictment against him for revealing the identity of an agent.

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Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a long and somewhat awkward article about the indictment, plea bargain, and federal prison sentencing of former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Long, because the story is complicated, and Shane must recount about a decade’s worth of national security history and policy to get us from A to Z. Awkward, because Shane is a prominent element in the federal indictment against Kiriakou.

At the heart of this case is information Kiriakou provided to Shane for a story, and to another reporter for a second story. We often see such stories play out through a drama in which reporters protect their sources and risk jail time to do so. But in this case, Shane could not protect Kiriakou, nor was it at all clear that Kiriakou would have needed such protection. Kiriakou became a minor media star in 2007 when he spoke out about the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. Kiriakou defended the decision to waterboard in 2002 (“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he told Shane) but was against the practice going forward. Shane asked Kiriakou about another CIA officer. Kiriakou said he knew the officer, and that the two had worked together in pursuit of Abu Zubaydah. The officer never agreed to talk to Shane, and had never been undercover. But Kiriakou’s email to Shane turned up in the indictment against him for revealing the identity of an agent.

Kiriakou is accused of revealing the name of that agent to Shane and one other agent to a different reporter. There are obvious questions here about the nature of the reporter-source relationship. Neither man in this case thought he was doing something unlawful or unethical. Nothing came of the disclosure. As Max wrote with regard to the scandal surrounding David Petraeus, some information remains officially classified or secret long after it has been revealed in the media. Thus, such information becomes common knowledge, yet discussing it is not decriminalized. The decision to investigate and prosecute such conversations, then, can smack of political motivation–all the more so for someone like Kiriakou, who became an uncommonly public figure for a CIA agent by leaving the agency and going public with his opinions about the CIA’s methods.

However, Shane remains an interested party here, with a clear preference for Kiriakou’s exoneration, both legally and personally, since Shane wants continued access to such sources and a clear conscience to do so. Thus, Shane’s readers will be subject to justifications and false choices that conveniently absolve him of guilt. In that vein, Shane writes on the Obama administration’s increased push for combating leaks it sees as unhelpful to the White House:

The resulting chill on officials’ willingness to talk is deplored by journalists and advocates of open government; without leaks, they note, Americans might never have learned about the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping. But for supporters of greater secrecy, the chill is precisely the goal.

This is, clearly, an overly simplistic view of the issue. First of all, not all leaks are created equal: some are legal and others break federal law. Second, some leaks are clearly damaging to national security, and thus put Americans in unnecessary danger. Some don’t. The press coverage of Washington is built around the use of leaks and unnamed sources, much of which is perfectly legal. The Times takes this practice to such an obsessive degree that reading the Times, one often expects to hear the week’s weather forecast followed by “according to an unnamed satellite who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized by the sun to discuss these matters.”

A good example of a damaging leak is the New York Times’s decision to publish in 2006 the details of a highly successful secret program used by the government to track the finances of terrorist activity. The program was legal and constitutional, but the Times saw an opportunity to damage the Bush administration’s national security efforts, and took it—safety of Americans be damned. Democrats and Republicans, experts and officials, pleaded with then-Times Executive Editor Bill Keller not to publish the story. Keller ignored them.

The point here is that neither the government nor the crusading journalist is always right. Rather, they both err in judgment or in law—and sometimes both. Shane asked a source for information that would land the source in a federal prison and nearly bankrupt his family, costing his wife her job as well. So the neat categories into which Shane seeks to divide the voices in this scandal are understandable, but that doesn’t make them any less mistaken or self-serving.

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The CIA’s Big Year on the Big Screen

This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012’s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

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This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012’s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

What controversy the movies have aroused has been mainly about the torture scenes depicted at the beginning of “Zero Dark Thirty,” because the movie is hardly out to make even the brutal CIA interrogators out to be bad guys; it is noncommittal in its depiction of them and might even be said to skew the audience’s perspective in their favor by beginning the movie with the sounds of 9/11 to remind viewers of why they are willing to manhandle detainees.

But both films, while focusing on successful operations, also highlight some of the agency’s problems.

Ben Affleck and Jessica Chastain play dedicated, highly effective, if relatively junior, CIA personnel based on real-life models–he a clandestine service operative who specializes in exfiltrations, she an analyst working the Osama bin Laden file. Both are convinced, rightly, that they have figured out the solution to a difficult problem: how to get the diplomats out and how to track down bin Laden, respectively. And both consistently find that they are stymied by their own managers who are risk averse to a fault. Affleck nearly has his plan scuttled while carrying it out; Chastain has to constantly badger and harass her superiors to get them to devote the necessary resources to the manhunt amid many other distractions.

Thus both movies highlight the real problem with the CIA. It is not an agency made up of ruthless killers with goon squads standing by to dispose of troublesome agents, as shown in the “Bourne” movies. It is actually a hyper-cautious bureaucracy that too often fails to take chances because superiors are more motivated by covering their collective derrieres than by getting the job done. Thank goodness there are passionate risk-takers like the ones depicted by Affleck and Chastain who really do work for the Agency. Problem is, top Agency executives need to prune back the bureaucracy to let their stars shine.

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Senate Report Raises Benghazi Questions

One of the many unanswered questions of the Benghazi attack is why it took so long for CIA backup forces to get from Tripoli to Benghazi. According to a new Senate report, this may have been an intentional delay by the Libyan government. Eli Lake reports:

The biggest recent development—which was overshadowed by the fiscal cliff negotiations—came on New Year’s Eve, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report that raised the question of whether Libyan officials assisted the Benghazi terrorists. The report found that a team of CIA contractors dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attacks waited at least three hours after arriving at the Benghazi airport before departing to the scene because of negotiations with Libyan government officials. According to the report, members of Congress still don’t know the exact reason for the delay. “Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?” the report asks. 

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One of the many unanswered questions of the Benghazi attack is why it took so long for CIA backup forces to get from Tripoli to Benghazi. According to a new Senate report, this may have been an intentional delay by the Libyan government. Eli Lake reports:

The biggest recent development—which was overshadowed by the fiscal cliff negotiations—came on New Year’s Eve, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report that raised the question of whether Libyan officials assisted the Benghazi terrorists. The report found that a team of CIA contractors dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attacks waited at least three hours after arriving at the Benghazi airport before departing to the scene because of negotiations with Libyan government officials. According to the report, members of Congress still don’t know the exact reason for the delay. “Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?” the report asks. 

As Eli goes on to note, the night of the attack was chaotic. Still, based on this first-hand account in the Daily Beast, there were indications that bad actors were among the Libyan group that met the CIA team in Tripoli. The Senate report simply raises the question of whether Libyan government officials were somehow involved.

Of course, with the Libyan government in transition, it’s hard to pinpoint who would have been responsible for this. There wasn’t really anyone in charge at that point. But if it turns out there was a faction inside the government that was preventing American help from reaching the diplomatic mission, that raises additional concerns about Obama’s Libya policy, his light-footprint intervention, and the future of America’s relationship with the Libyan government.

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At DIA, Focus Should Be on Improving Intel

Apparently I am not the only one skeptical of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s plan to double the size of its human spy force. (I argued in this Los Angeles Times op-ed that we already have enough intelligence personnel–we need to focus on improving their quality.) The Senate has put a temporary hold on the DIA initiative pending a Defense Department explanation of how it will fix existing problems with its attempts to gather “human intelligence”–as opposed to the kind of technical intelligence capabilities at which the Pentagon and the entire U.S. government excel.

The Senate language says that the DIA “needs to demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine [human intelligence] before undertaking any further expansion.” The same might be said of the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community: They expanded tremendously after 9/11 and in the process they did manage to improve certain capabilities–in particular the kind of targeted intelligence needed to identify and eliminate terrorist kingpins. But there is little sign that our ability to gather broader strategic intelligence has improved and considerable reason for skepticism about the intelligence community’s ability to comprehend, much less affect, fast-moving, complex events such as the Arab Spring. Witness failures from the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the claim made by a now-discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had stopped its nuclear program.

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Apparently I am not the only one skeptical of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s plan to double the size of its human spy force. (I argued in this Los Angeles Times op-ed that we already have enough intelligence personnel–we need to focus on improving their quality.) The Senate has put a temporary hold on the DIA initiative pending a Defense Department explanation of how it will fix existing problems with its attempts to gather “human intelligence”–as opposed to the kind of technical intelligence capabilities at which the Pentagon and the entire U.S. government excel.

The Senate language says that the DIA “needs to demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine [human intelligence] before undertaking any further expansion.” The same might be said of the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community: They expanded tremendously after 9/11 and in the process they did manage to improve certain capabilities–in particular the kind of targeted intelligence needed to identify and eliminate terrorist kingpins. But there is little sign that our ability to gather broader strategic intelligence has improved and considerable reason for skepticism about the intelligence community’s ability to comprehend, much less affect, fast-moving, complex events such as the Arab Spring. Witness failures from the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the claim made by a now-discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had stopped its nuclear program.

More than a decade after the last round of intelligence reorganization–which created a new layer of bureaucracy at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence without giving that office the actual ability to direct existing intelligence agencies–it is high time for a new round of reform that will prune bureaucracy and focus on bringing talented individuals into the ranks, especially those with knowledge of important languages and cultures. Simply expanding the existing bureaucracy, as DIA apparently contemplates, is not the answer.

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Why Is Gen. Allen Still Under Investigation?

General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

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General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

Unless there is some bombshell here waiting to explode, the answer is a definitive no. So why did Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller permit the FBI to waste time on this investigation—and why is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wasting time on it now? I can’t answer those questions, but Congress should ask for itself and demand answers.

The biggest scandal in the whole Petraeus-Allen affair is that we are wasting taxpayer resources hounding two great generals who have dedicated their lives to defending our country over purely personal matters of no concern to their public duties.

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Did White House Edit CIA Talking Points?

David Petraeus reportedly told Congress on Friday that the original CIA talking points linked the Benghazi attack to terrorism, but that part was edited out by unknown officials before distribution. The question is, who edited the talking points, and was it politically motivated?

According to Senator Saxby Chambliss, every agency that could have made these changes also pleaded ignorance at Friday’s closed-door hearing. The one entity that wasn’t at the hearing and could have changed the talking points? The White House

Leaders from the State Department, FBI, CIA, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, testified on Thursday and Friday. Regarding the allegations that the original CIA talking points had been changed so that terrorist involvement was not included, Sen. Chambliss said, “Everybody there was asked do you know who made these changes; and nobody knew. The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House.”

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David Petraeus reportedly told Congress on Friday that the original CIA talking points linked the Benghazi attack to terrorism, but that part was edited out by unknown officials before distribution. The question is, who edited the talking points, and was it politically motivated?

According to Senator Saxby Chambliss, every agency that could have made these changes also pleaded ignorance at Friday’s closed-door hearing. The one entity that wasn’t at the hearing and could have changed the talking points? The White House

Leaders from the State Department, FBI, CIA, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, testified on Thursday and Friday. Regarding the allegations that the original CIA talking points had been changed so that terrorist involvement was not included, Sen. Chambliss said, “Everybody there was asked do you know who made these changes; and nobody knew. The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House.”

That’s not exactly proof the White House made the edits. It could turn out the FBI, State Department or CIA weren’t being totally up-front at the hearing, and one of them was responsible for the changes. Both the State Department and CIA would have had at least some motive to play up the “spontaneous demonstration” narrative. State, because of all the security red flags it ignored prior to the attack, and the CIA because it didn’t want its Benghazi assets exposed.

Spokesman Ben Rhodes also denied the White House was involved in a briefing Saturday (h/t Erika Johnson):

Now, in terms of — I think the focus of this has often been on the public statements that were made by Susan Rice and other administration officials in that first week after the attack.  Those were informed by unclassified talking points that we — that were provided to the Congress and to the interagency — the rest of the administration by the intelligence community. …

What we also said yesterday, though — because this question came up as to whether the White House had edited Susan Rice’s points and the points that were provided to Congress and the administration — the only edit that was made to those points by the White House, and was also made by the State Department, was to change the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility” since the facility in Benghazi had not — was not formally a consulate.  Other than that, we worked off of the points that were provided by the intelligence community.  So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made within the intelligence community.

This should be fairly easy to clear up, especially if the only entities that reviewed the talking points were the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and the White House, as Chambliss indicates. If the White House knows that the State Department changed “consulate” to “diplomatic facility” — a relatively minor technical edit — then surely somebody at one of these agencies knows who removed the references to terrorism.

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Petraeus’s Phony Critics

The most unseemly aspect of the scandal surrounding David Petraeus is the gleeful Schadenfreude being exhibited by so many who are eager to kick a great man when he is temporarily down. One of the most egregious and nauseating examples is this New York Times op-ed by Lucian Truscott IV entitled “A Phony Hero for a Phony War.” It is insulting not only to Petraeus but to all those men and women who have served valiantly and at great risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Truscott is a West Point graduate with a famous name–his grandfather, Lucian Truscott Jr., was a notable general in World War II. Truscott IV, to judge by his preening description of himself, has rather less achievements to his name; he did not last long in the army and has made a career as a freelance writer and screenwriter, often sniping at the military establishment. He is apparently so in thrall to his grandfather and his contemporaries that he seems to think that no modern general can possibly measure up. “Iraq wasn’t a real war at all,” he sneers, which will come as news to the thousands of Americans killed there and the tens of thousands injured.

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The most unseemly aspect of the scandal surrounding David Petraeus is the gleeful Schadenfreude being exhibited by so many who are eager to kick a great man when he is temporarily down. One of the most egregious and nauseating examples is this New York Times op-ed by Lucian Truscott IV entitled “A Phony Hero for a Phony War.” It is insulting not only to Petraeus but to all those men and women who have served valiantly and at great risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Truscott is a West Point graduate with a famous name–his grandfather, Lucian Truscott Jr., was a notable general in World War II. Truscott IV, to judge by his preening description of himself, has rather less achievements to his name; he did not last long in the army and has made a career as a freelance writer and screenwriter, often sniping at the military establishment. He is apparently so in thrall to his grandfather and his contemporaries that he seems to think that no modern general can possibly measure up. “Iraq wasn’t a real war at all,” he sneers, which will come as news to the thousands of Americans killed there and the tens of thousands injured.

Then he attacks Petraeus for supposedly not leading “his own Army to win anything even approximating a victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan,” which rather ignores that Petraeus actually did deliver something close to victory in Iraq under extremely difficult circumstances in 2008–only to have his achievements squandered by the Obama administration. As for Afghanistan, he set the campaign on a course toward success even if he was not given the time–or resources–to see it through to as successful a conclusion as the campaign in Iraq.

Truscott continues: “It’s not just General Petraeus. The fact is that none of our generals have led us to a victory since men like Patton and my grandfather, Lucian King Truscott Jr., stormed the beaches of North Africa and southern France with blood in their eyes and military murder on their minds.” It seems that Patton and old man Truscott “were nearly psychotic in their drive to kill enemy soldiers and subjugate enemy nations”; they “chewed nails for breakfast, spit tacks at lunch and picked their teeth with their pistol barrels,” while “General Petraeus probably flosses.”

There is more of this same risible name-calling, including the truly astonishing claim that Petraeus is too concerned with his personal appearance (“never has so much beribboned finery decorated a general’s uniform”)–as if Petraeus were remotely in the same league as Patton who was known for his riding breeches, highly polished helmet, and ivory-handled pistols.

I search in vain for a serious point here. There is none. Rather this is sheer animus against Petraeus animated by runaway nostalgia for the Greatest Generation, which ignores the fact that most wars before and since World War II could not be ended by marching on the enemy’s capital to demand unconditional surrender. Where, after all, is the capital of the Taliban or al-Qaeda in Iraq? Petraeus and the troops under his command did extremely well in dealing with in dealing with a more diffuse enemy that could not simply be pounded into submission with massive firepower because he did not wear a uniform or control a well-defined territory.

“Guerrilla war is more intellectual than a bayonet charge,” T.E. Lawrence said. Petraeus was smart enough, dedicated enough, and capable enough to rise to the challenge of understanding and fighting that type of war. In the annals of counterinsurgency he is one of the all-time greats. Now, as payback for a lifetime of service, he gets insulted by sideline spitballers like Lucian Truscott IV.

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AP: Petraeus Testified CIA Talking Points Were Altered

During closed-door hearings with the House and Senate intelligence committees today, David Petraeus reportedly told lawmakers that the CIA “talking points” issued after the attack — which supported the “spontaneous demonstration” narrative — were altered by other agencies prior to distribution. AP reports:

Lawmakers said Petraeus testified that the CIA’s draft talking points written in response to the assault on the diplomat post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. But Petraeus told the lawmakers that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn’t sure which federal agency took out the reference. …

Petraeus testified that the CIA draft written in response to the raid referred to militant groups Ansar al-Shariah and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but those names were replaced with the word “extremist” in the final draft, according to a congressional staffer. The staffer said Petraeus testified that he allowed other agencies to alter the talking points as they saw fit without asking for final review, to get them out quickly.

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During closed-door hearings with the House and Senate intelligence committees today, David Petraeus reportedly told lawmakers that the CIA “talking points” issued after the attack — which supported the “spontaneous demonstration” narrative — were altered by other agencies prior to distribution. AP reports:

Lawmakers said Petraeus testified that the CIA’s draft talking points written in response to the assault on the diplomat post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. But Petraeus told the lawmakers that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn’t sure which federal agency took out the reference. …

Petraeus testified that the CIA draft written in response to the raid referred to militant groups Ansar al-Shariah and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but those names were replaced with the word “extremist” in the final draft, according to a congressional staffer. The staffer said Petraeus testified that he allowed other agencies to alter the talking points as they saw fit without asking for final review, to get them out quickly.

The references to a terrorist attack, Ansar al-Shariah and al-Qaeda were apparently replaced with the line: “There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” That changes the entire meaning of the talking points, yet Democrats quickly downplayed the notion that the alteration was politically-motivated:

Democrats said Petraeus made it clear the change was not made for political reasons during President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

“The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “He completely debunked that idea.”

OK, but if Petraeus doesn’t even know which agency or official altered the talking points, how would he possibly know if the change was political or not? Here’s more from the Democrats:

Schiff said Petraeus said Rice’s comments in the television interviews “reflected the best intelligence at the time that could be released publicly.”

“There was an interagency process to draft it, not a political process,” Schiff said. “They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or source or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information.

It’s one thing to remove specific details to protect sensitive information. But the draft references to Ansar al-Shariah and al-Qaeda are evidence that at the very least the administration strongly suspected these groups were involved from the beginning. In that case, why not just say the investigation into the terrorist attack was ongoing, and leave it at that until more information could be shared? It seems totally irrational to just chalk it up to a spontaneous demonstration, and then cling to that story for nearly two weeks.

Petraeus’s testimony is puzzling for other reasons. As director of the CIA, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t know who altered the talking points and wouldn’t look them over before distribution. This is the memo that sets much of the “official” narrative in the wake of an attack. And it’s not like these were minor edits. The gulf between calling it a terrorist attack involving al-Qaeda and calling it a spontaneous demonstration is enormous. As with much of what we learn about Benghazi, we’re left again with more questions than answers.

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Petraeus to Testify “CIA Talking Points” Didn’t Come From CIA?

CNN reports that David Petraeus will testify today in a closed-door hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee that he knew the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism carried out by Ansar al Sharia “almost immediately.” What’s more, he will reportedly distance himself from Susan Rice’s “spontaneous demonstration” talking points, which were ostensibly given to her by the CIA. Video and partial transcript below (h/t The Weekly Standard’s Dan Halper):

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CNN reports that David Petraeus will testify today in a closed-door hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee that he knew the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism carried out by Ansar al Sharia “almost immediately.” What’s more, he will reportedly distance himself from Susan Rice’s “spontaneous demonstration” talking points, which were ostensibly given to her by the CIA. Video and partial transcript below (h/t The Weekly Standard’s Dan Halper):

David Petraeus is going to tell members of Congress that he “knew almost immediately after the September 11th attack, that the group Ansar al Sharia, the al Qaeda sympathizing group in Libya was responsible for the attacks,” CNN reports. …

“When he looks at what Susan Rice said,” CNN reports, “here is what Petraeus’s take is, according to my source. Petraeus developed some talking points laying it all out. those talking points as always were approved by the intelligence community. But then he sees Susan Rice make her statements and he sees input from other areas of the administration. Petraeus — it is believed — will tell the committee he is not certain where Susan Rice got all of her information.”

We’ve known since early October that the initial CIA talking points referred to a “spontaneous reaction” and downplayed the possibility of terrorism. But that clashed with reports that the intelligence community had early indications that it was a terrorist attack involving Ansar al-Sharia. There has been speculation that the unclassified CIA talking points (handed out to members of Congress and administration officials) were more of a political document than an informational one, and may not have originated from the CIA at all. If CNN is right and Petraeus does testify that he had nothing to do with the talking points, the next question is, where did they come from and why didn’t they match the intelligence?

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Petraeus Betrayed the Team

I had meant to write this a couple days ago, but as I was doing so, the motherboard on my 3-month-old laptop died. It’s fixed now, and so I’ve gotten my work back, and I think some of these points remain relevant, even as the story moves on. Jonathan Tobin has argued that Petraeus was right to resign, and I largely agree with his excellent points, but want to add one: I’m not so concerned about how unfair it is that more senior leaders like Bill Clinton not only cheated on their wives, but survived politically with even greater popularity. A military officer like Petraeus should be held to a higher standard than even the commander-in-chief.

Every officer and his or her spouse are a team. At every level of David Petraeus’s career, Holly Petraeus was his often unacknowledged partner not only in terms of personal support, but also in career. Officers’ wives are active not only in the military community, but also in the entertaining and diplomacy, which form an important part of any flag officers’ duties. Had Holly Petraeus not been so capable, her husband may not have achieved such a rapid rise. For an officer to betray his wife reflects not only a personal failing, which is more the business of the Petraeus family and few others, but also the betrayal of a long-standing, professional teammate.

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I had meant to write this a couple days ago, but as I was doing so, the motherboard on my 3-month-old laptop died. It’s fixed now, and so I’ve gotten my work back, and I think some of these points remain relevant, even as the story moves on. Jonathan Tobin has argued that Petraeus was right to resign, and I largely agree with his excellent points, but want to add one: I’m not so concerned about how unfair it is that more senior leaders like Bill Clinton not only cheated on their wives, but survived politically with even greater popularity. A military officer like Petraeus should be held to a higher standard than even the commander-in-chief.

Every officer and his or her spouse are a team. At every level of David Petraeus’s career, Holly Petraeus was his often unacknowledged partner not only in terms of personal support, but also in career. Officers’ wives are active not only in the military community, but also in the entertaining and diplomacy, which form an important part of any flag officers’ duties. Had Holly Petraeus not been so capable, her husband may not have achieved such a rapid rise. For an officer to betray his wife reflects not only a personal failing, which is more the business of the Petraeus family and few others, but also the betrayal of a long-standing, professional teammate.

Max Boot is right to highlight the contributions Petraeus made to the United States and its security. He messed up badly in Iraq when he commanded the 101st Airborne based out of Mosul, but he learned from his mistakes. Certainly, history will thank the general for his subsequent success. But it is important to remember that Petraeus did not achieve his successes alone.

While on one level, Holly Petraeus was one partner, Petraeus was also part of another team: Many of his colleagues—Ray Odierno, Peter Chiarelli, and others—are as responsible, if not more, for the successes the U.S. Army achieved. The major difference between these men and Petraeus is that his colleagues did not spend nearly as much time cultivating the press or think-tankers, or giving public speeches in Washington and New York to be seen and reported upon. That is not to diminish Petraeus; outreach has value. But the hagiography which Petraeus long cultivated necessarily diminished some of his equally talented peers and so could, perhaps, suggest a subtle betrayal of team spirit.

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Report: Petraeus Clashed With Agency Heads in Final Days

This morning’s Wall Street Journal sheds light on why the FBI’s discovery of David Petraeus’s affair may have been enough to lead to his downfall

In David Petraeus’s final days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, his relations with chiefs of other U.S. agencies, including his boss, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, took a contentious turn. …

Mr. Petraeus wanted his aides to push back hard and release their own timeline of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and a nearby CIA safe house, seeking to set the record straight and paint the CIA’s role in a more favorable light. Mr. Clapper and agencies including the Pentagon objected, but Mr. Petraeus told his aides to proceed, said the senior officials.

By all accounts, the driving force behind Mr. Petraeus’s departure last Friday was the revelation about his extramarital affair with his biographer. But new details about Mr. Petraeus’s last days at the CIA show the extent to which the Benghazi attacks created a climate of interagency finger-pointing. That undercut the retired four-star general’s backing within the Obama administration as he struggled with the decision to resign. 

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This morning’s Wall Street Journal sheds light on why the FBI’s discovery of David Petraeus’s affair may have been enough to lead to his downfall

In David Petraeus’s final days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, his relations with chiefs of other U.S. agencies, including his boss, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, took a contentious turn. …

Mr. Petraeus wanted his aides to push back hard and release their own timeline of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and a nearby CIA safe house, seeking to set the record straight and paint the CIA’s role in a more favorable light. Mr. Clapper and agencies including the Pentagon objected, but Mr. Petraeus told his aides to proceed, said the senior officials.

By all accounts, the driving force behind Mr. Petraeus’s departure last Friday was the revelation about his extramarital affair with his biographer. But new details about Mr. Petraeus’s last days at the CIA show the extent to which the Benghazi attacks created a climate of interagency finger-pointing. That undercut the retired four-star general’s backing within the Obama administration as he struggled with the decision to resign. 

This makes a lot more sense. The internal discovery of Petraeus’s affair by the FBI could have been handled two ways: quietly or not quietly. The administration may have decided to go the second route–asking Petraeus to submit his resignation–because of the extent to which he was clashing with officials like Clapper and Panetta in his final month.

It also explains why this very favorable profile of Petraeus, which his office clearly cooperated with, turned up in the New York Times just a week before his resignation. The article quoted friends of Petraeus defending him from criticism over his Benghazi response, praising his management style, and playing up his supposedly warm relationship with President Obama. Petraeus, being the smart media operator that he is, may have been trying to rehabilitate his name through the press. But it wasn’t enough to save his job one week later.

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Why Does Clinton Still Have Her Job?

President Obama held a press conference this afternoon, and both the questions and the answers about the Benghazi consulate attack and the scandal surrounding David Petraeus were revelatory in their omission of one aspect of the story. Obama offered a tetchy response to a question about UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was tasked with selling the administration’s line that it was an anti-Islam filmmaker who was responsible for the events that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others that night. The president’s defense of Rice was another salvo in the ongoing fight over whether she should even be nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Obama’s defiant air seemed to suggest he does plan to submit that nomination.)

And the Petraeus affair is sordid and steamy–a combination we simply cannot expect the press corps to ignore. But the events of the last week have made clear that Clinton is off the hook for what may have been the most consequential mistake of anyone in this episode. Yes, the CIA seems to have made mistakes in Benghazi, and yes, Susan Rice misled the American people (on the administration’s orders, we can presume). But the State Department was responsible for handling the diplomatic mission’s request for more security–a request they denied. Yet no one is suggesting Clinton should tender her own resignation.

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President Obama held a press conference this afternoon, and both the questions and the answers about the Benghazi consulate attack and the scandal surrounding David Petraeus were revelatory in their omission of one aspect of the story. Obama offered a tetchy response to a question about UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was tasked with selling the administration’s line that it was an anti-Islam filmmaker who was responsible for the events that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others that night. The president’s defense of Rice was another salvo in the ongoing fight over whether she should even be nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Obama’s defiant air seemed to suggest he does plan to submit that nomination.)

And the Petraeus affair is sordid and steamy–a combination we simply cannot expect the press corps to ignore. But the events of the last week have made clear that Clinton is off the hook for what may have been the most consequential mistake of anyone in this episode. Yes, the CIA seems to have made mistakes in Benghazi, and yes, Susan Rice misled the American people (on the administration’s orders, we can presume). But the State Department was responsible for handling the diplomatic mission’s request for more security–a request they denied. Yet no one is suggesting Clinton should tender her own resignation.

It’s true that Clinton plans to leave her post soon, but that’s no reason for her to avoid continuing scrutiny over this debacle. What’s more, if Petraeus’s actions deserve his resignation, and Rice’s actions warrant insistence from John McCain and Lindsey Graham that they’ll block her nomination (thus costing Rice the job she expects and covets), it’s hard to imagine how Clinton, who owns the lion’s share of responsibility for this fiasco, can keep her job.

The State Department has responded to the revelation that they denied the security request by saying that no one knows for sure whether the requested security would have saved Stevens and the three others killed that night. But that doesn’t change the fact that, as Jake Tapper reported at the time, the whole episode smacked of unpreparedness and incompetence:

But the question – both for the State Department, which is conducting an internal investigation, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is holding hearings next week – is whether officials in Washington, D.C., specifically at the State Department, were as aware as they should have been about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, and whether officials were doing everything they could to protect Americans in that country.

Just so. Whatever the mistakes of the CIA personnel at the annex and their superiors, the State Department left its ambassador woefully underprotected in a war-torn country and ignored pleas for protection and warnings of danger. Because of the nature of the CIA mission in Benghazi, there is much we still don’t know about the annex. And Rice was almost surely just repeating talking points she was given. That doesn’t exonerate Rice or Petraeus, but it certainly doesn’t exonerate Clinton, who has slipped quietly–and irresponsibly–from the conversation over the ramifications of a tragedy that began with her failure.

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What on Earth Is the FBI Doing?

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.”

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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.

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Broadwell Under Scrutiny for Possible Security Breach

According to ABC News, the FBI is currently investigating Paula Broadwell for possessing classified information in her home and on her computer: 

A source familiar with the case also told ABC News that Broadwell admitted to the FBI she took documents from secure government buildings. The government demanded that they all be given back, and when federal agents descended on her North Carolina home on Monday night it was a pre-arranged meeting.

Prosecutors are now determining whether to charge Broadwell with a crime, and this morning the FBI and military are pouring over the material. The 40-year-old author, who wrote the biography on Gen. Petraeus “All In,” is cooperating and the case, which is complicated by the fact that as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Military Reserve she had security clearance to review the documents.

The FBI found classified material on a computer voluntarily handed over by Broadwell earlier in the investigation. Prosecutors will now have to determine how important the classified material is before making a final decision. Authorities could decide to seek disciplinary action against her rather than pursue charges.

I agree with Max about the government’s tendency to overclassify. For all we know, the information Broadwell had could have been completely mundane. There are conflicting stories about whether she had a security clearance, but given her military and intelligence background, it’s seems likely she did. In that case, she would have been allowed access to classified information on her own, regardless of her relationship with Petraeus.

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According to ABC News, the FBI is currently investigating Paula Broadwell for possessing classified information in her home and on her computer: 

A source familiar with the case also told ABC News that Broadwell admitted to the FBI she took documents from secure government buildings. The government demanded that they all be given back, and when federal agents descended on her North Carolina home on Monday night it was a pre-arranged meeting.

Prosecutors are now determining whether to charge Broadwell with a crime, and this morning the FBI and military are pouring over the material. The 40-year-old author, who wrote the biography on Gen. Petraeus “All In,” is cooperating and the case, which is complicated by the fact that as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Military Reserve she had security clearance to review the documents.

The FBI found classified material on a computer voluntarily handed over by Broadwell earlier in the investigation. Prosecutors will now have to determine how important the classified material is before making a final decision. Authorities could decide to seek disciplinary action against her rather than pursue charges.

I agree with Max about the government’s tendency to overclassify. For all we know, the information Broadwell had could have been completely mundane. There are conflicting stories about whether she had a security clearance, but given her military and intelligence background, it’s seems likely she did. In that case, she would have been allowed access to classified information on her own, regardless of her relationship with Petraeus.

Without knowing more details, it’s impossible to say if the FBI investigation is proper and necessary. But it is interesting that it’s being taken up again now, especially if the AP’s timeline is accurate:

Late Summer 2012— Attorney General Eric Holder is notified. By this time, the FBI has long since concluded there was no national security breach, but continues investigating whether Petraeus had any role in the harassing emails sent to Kelley.

If the FBI already determined there was no security breach over the summer, why rehash this again now? Were they initially mistaken, and has something new been discovered? It’s one thing if there is truly a national security concern, but I’m curious as to why a reportedly “concluded” issue has been reopened.

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Report: Petraeus to Testify on Benghazi Friday

The theory that David Petraeus was pushed out at the CIA because someone didn’t want him testifying at this week’s Senate hearing never made much sense. He was going to have to testify eventually anyway, whether voluntarily or dragged there by a subpoena. And as we saw from his resignation last week, Petraeus seems like someone who prefers taking preemptive action rather than waiting for the hatchet to fall

Former CIA Director David Petraeus has agreed to testify about the Libya terror attack before the House and Senate intelligence committees, Fox News has learned. …

The logistics of Petraeus’ appearance are still being worked out. But a source close to Petraeus said the former four-star general has contacted the CIA, as well as committees in both the House and Senate, to offer his testimony as the former CIA director. 

Fox News has learned he is expected to speak off-site to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday about his Libya report.

The House side is still being worked out. 

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The theory that David Petraeus was pushed out at the CIA because someone didn’t want him testifying at this week’s Senate hearing never made much sense. He was going to have to testify eventually anyway, whether voluntarily or dragged there by a subpoena. And as we saw from his resignation last week, Petraeus seems like someone who prefers taking preemptive action rather than waiting for the hatchet to fall

Former CIA Director David Petraeus has agreed to testify about the Libya terror attack before the House and Senate intelligence committees, Fox News has learned. …

The logistics of Petraeus’ appearance are still being worked out. But a source close to Petraeus said the former four-star general has contacted the CIA, as well as committees in both the House and Senate, to offer his testimony as the former CIA director. 

Fox News has learned he is expected to speak off-site to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday about his Libya report.

The House side is still being worked out. 

The White House and the State Department may come to regret that month and a half they spent shifting blame for the Benghazi attack to Langley. Petraeus could easily become the administration’s biggest nightmare. He has two of the most dangerous things you can have in Washington: information and nothing to lose. 

According to Bill Kristol, Petraeus privately told a member of Congress after a closed hearing in September, “This is what happened in Benghazi. Do you want the official line or do you want the real truth?” The Senate Intelligence Committee may finally hear the real truth in their closed hearing on Friday. The rest of us will have to wait for it to leak out, but, for once, the media will have no excuse but to cover it.

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Enough Already About Military Groupies

I, for one, am beginning to long for the days when people, including generals and other public officials, were allowed to conduct their indiscretions discreetly. 

I just don’t think I can stand to hear another word about David Petraeus’s embarrassing mid-life crisis. Or about a hot mama (Jill Kelley) getting harassing notes from a not-quite-as-hot mama (Paula Broadwell) about a man neither of them had any business being proprietary about.

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I, for one, am beginning to long for the days when people, including generals and other public officials, were allowed to conduct their indiscretions discreetly. 

I just don’t think I can stand to hear another word about David Petraeus’s embarrassing mid-life crisis. Or about a hot mama (Jill Kelley) getting harassing notes from a not-quite-as-hot mama (Paula Broadwell) about a man neither of them had any business being proprietary about.

Half-baked insinuations about how many thousand pages of emails John Allen sent to Jill Kelley, and whether he called her “sweetheart” and/or “dear”? No, thanks.

Please, don’t fill me in about the custody case–or the Newport, Rhode Island cavortings–of Jill Kelley’s twin sister (yet another hot mama). I couldn’t care less that Paula Broadwell’s driver’s license was found in Rock Creek Park. And imagining those “topless” photos from an FBI agent to Jill Kelley is putting me right off my breakfast.

If the president decided that the CIA should be led by someone whose judgment is perhaps a bit more sound, so be it. And if Congress wants to wax indignant about who informed whom, and when, fine. That’s their prerogative. 

But leave me out of it. So . . .

Note to FBI: Stop leaking stuff! Note to anonymous sources: Shut up! Note to self: Stop reading about it!

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Petraeus’s Downfall and U.S. Iran Policy

At Tablet, Lee Smith explains what the Petraeus affair could mean for U.S. Iran policy:

According to former Petraeus aides, leading military officials, policymakers, and analysts close to the four-star general that I spoke to this week, Petraeus understood, more than anyone else in our national-security apparatus, that the Islamic Republic is at war with the United States. By Petraeus’ reckoning, they said, it’s not possible to strike a grand bargain with Iran over its nuclear weapons program because the larger problem is the regime itself, whose endgame is to drive the United States from the region. And no arm of the regime is more dangerous than its external operations unit, the Qods Force, whose mastermind, Qassem Suleimani, is considered by Petraeus to be a personal enemy.

In seeing Iran as a threat to vital U.S. interests, Petraeus bucked the mainstream of more than 30 years of U.S. foreign policy. Presidents and legislators from both parties, as well as military and civilian officials, have tended to downplay the Iranian threat, seeking engagement with Tehran in the vague hopes of reaching a deal that might lead the regime to finally call off its dogs and leave us in peace. Petraeus, on the other hand, fought the Iranians.

As Smith goes on to explain, that fight was literal; while leading U.S. Central Command, Petraeus battled Iranian proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan. “During the course of almost a decade, Petraeus became Washington’s institutional memory of all of Iran’s activities directed against the United States and its allies,” writes Smith.

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At Tablet, Lee Smith explains what the Petraeus affair could mean for U.S. Iran policy:

According to former Petraeus aides, leading military officials, policymakers, and analysts close to the four-star general that I spoke to this week, Petraeus understood, more than anyone else in our national-security apparatus, that the Islamic Republic is at war with the United States. By Petraeus’ reckoning, they said, it’s not possible to strike a grand bargain with Iran over its nuclear weapons program because the larger problem is the regime itself, whose endgame is to drive the United States from the region. And no arm of the regime is more dangerous than its external operations unit, the Qods Force, whose mastermind, Qassem Suleimani, is considered by Petraeus to be a personal enemy.

In seeing Iran as a threat to vital U.S. interests, Petraeus bucked the mainstream of more than 30 years of U.S. foreign policy. Presidents and legislators from both parties, as well as military and civilian officials, have tended to downplay the Iranian threat, seeking engagement with Tehran in the vague hopes of reaching a deal that might lead the regime to finally call off its dogs and leave us in peace. Petraeus, on the other hand, fought the Iranians.

As Smith goes on to explain, that fight was literal; while leading U.S. Central Command, Petraeus battled Iranian proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan. “During the course of almost a decade, Petraeus became Washington’s institutional memory of all of Iran’s activities directed against the United States and its allies,” writes Smith.

What does that mean for the U.S.’s Iran policy? Not much directly. But Smith argues that Petraeus was one of the few people at the top of the administration who truly understood the Iranian threat. He understood that the regime was the problem, and that negotiations weren’t going to solve it. Losing someone like that means losing an advocate at the top levels of government who could bring that perspective to the table. That’s a loss that won’t be easy to make up for.

On a lighter note, in case you were wondering what Iranian hardliners have to say about this whole mess, Max Fisher flags this bizarre article from Iran’s Serat News:

When the Terrible Organization kneels before a woman! 

The forces that the CIA can bring to accompany it, the most elite of which can be seen with the existence of individuals like Petraeus, who even though the head of an important organization kneeled [when] confronted with an infiltrator and a woman whose spirit of militarism had distanced her from her family for years.

Paula Broadwell for close to ten years cooperated with the American military forces. Even though she has a husband and two children, but she enthralled herself to militarism and was present in countries like Afghanistan following Petraeus who was at the time the American commander in Afghanistan. … If we look at the course of the lives of the past leaders and managers of the CIA it can be seen to be full of these type of people in positions of power with a brutal soul. 

I guess that’s what America gets for allowing women to leave the home without a male relative supervising.

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Benghazi Clues in Petraeus Scandal?

Via NRO’s Eliana Johnson, Charles Krauthammer provides a possible explanation for why the CIA supported the “spontaneous protest” narrative on the Benghazi attack.

Here’s Paula Broadwell’s reference to a potential secret CIA prison in Benghazi, which she made during a Denver University speech in October:

“They were requesting the – it’s called the C-in-C’s In Extremis Force – a group of Delta Force operators, our very, most talented guys we have in the military. They could have come and reinforced the consulate and the CIA annex. Now, I don’t know if a lot of you have heard this but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner, and they think that the attack on the consulate was an attempt to get these prisoners back. It’s still being vetted.”

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Via NRO’s Eliana Johnson, Charles Krauthammer provides a possible explanation for why the CIA supported the “spontaneous protest” narrative on the Benghazi attack.

Here’s Paula Broadwell’s reference to a potential secret CIA prison in Benghazi, which she made during a Denver University speech in October:

“They were requesting the – it’s called the C-in-C’s In Extremis Force – a group of Delta Force operators, our very, most talented guys we have in the military. They could have come and reinforced the consulate and the CIA annex. Now, I don’t know if a lot of you have heard this but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner, and they think that the attack on the consulate was an attempt to get these prisoners back. It’s still being vetted.”

As Krauthammer notes, Obama signed an executive order banning CIA detention centers right after he took office. The CIA can hold detainees temporarily without violating the order — which, based on Broadwell’s comments, may have been the case — but it can’t operate an actual prison. Obviously most of the media doesn’t find this worthy of investigation, but Fox News has a source who seems to support the “actual prison” scenario:

A well-placed Washington source confirms to Fox News that there were Libyan militiamen being held at the CIA annex in Benghazi and that their presence was being looked at as a possible motive for the staged attack on the consulate and annex that night.

According to multiple intelligence sources who have served in Benghazi, there were more than just Libyan militia members who were held and interrogated by CIA contractors at the CIA annex in the days prior to the attack. Other prisoners from additional countries in Africa and the Middle East were brought to this location.

The Libya annex was the largest CIA station in North Africa, and two weeks prior to the attack, the CIA was preparing to shut it down. Most prisoners, according to British and American intelligence sources, had been moved two weeks earlier.

Fascinating, if true. If detainees were being sent there from other countries for interrogation, wouldn’t that be a legitimate black site rather than a short-term holding cell for local jihadis?

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Report: Petraeus Resigned Because Affair Was Going Public

The Washington Post has some interesting details from friends of David Petraeus:

But some of his closest advisers who served with him during his last command in Iraq said Monday that Petraeus planned to stay in the job even after he acknowledged the affair to the FBI, hoping the episode would never become public. He resigned last week after being told to do so by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. on the day President Obama was reelected.

“Obviously, he knew about the relationship for months, he knew about the affair, he was in it, so yes, he was not going to resign,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and Petraeus’s executive officer during the Iraq “surge,” who spoke Monday with the former general for about half an hour. “But once he knew it was going to go public, he thought that resigning was the right thing to do. There is no way it would have remained private.”

Steven Boylan, who served as Petraeus’s public affairs officer during that same period in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, said the retired four-star general “felt he had to [resign] once he knew it would be made public. He didn’t feel he could lead the organization with this being out there.”

Even after Petraeus admitted the affair to the FBI, he still thought it would be kept under wraps. According to friends, he only stepped down once he “knew” it would be made public. What changed between late October and early November that led him to that conclusion?

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The Washington Post has some interesting details from friends of David Petraeus:

But some of his closest advisers who served with him during his last command in Iraq said Monday that Petraeus planned to stay in the job even after he acknowledged the affair to the FBI, hoping the episode would never become public. He resigned last week after being told to do so by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. on the day President Obama was reelected.

“Obviously, he knew about the relationship for months, he knew about the affair, he was in it, so yes, he was not going to resign,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and Petraeus’s executive officer during the Iraq “surge,” who spoke Monday with the former general for about half an hour. “But once he knew it was going to go public, he thought that resigning was the right thing to do. There is no way it would have remained private.”

Steven Boylan, who served as Petraeus’s public affairs officer during that same period in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, said the retired four-star general “felt he had to [resign] once he knew it would be made public. He didn’t feel he could lead the organization with this being out there.”

Even after Petraeus admitted the affair to the FBI, he still thought it would be kept under wraps. According to friends, he only stepped down once he “knew” it would be made public. What changed between late October and early November that led him to that conclusion?

Around that time, an FBI whistle blower informed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor about the affair, apparently out of concern there was a security breach. But at that point the FBI had already concluded this wasn’t the case. Was Petraeus worried the affair would be exposed through a congressional investigation? Did he have reason to think the whistle blower was going to spill the beans to the media?

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