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.
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.”
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?
The scandal that has already claimed David Petraeus’s job as CIA director is now engulfing his onetime deputy at Central Command, John Allen, who is now the senior commander in Afghanistan and slated to become the next NATO military commander. Because he exchanged a lot of emails with Jill Kelley, the woman whose complaints about cyber-harassment started the FBI investigation that brought down Petraeus, Allen too is now suspected of some unspecified impropriety. It is hard to say too much based on the skimpy information provided so far, but this is, I fear, another tragedy in the making–on many levels.
First there is the personal angle which must never be forgotten: A lot of individuals–not only David Petraeus but also his onetime mistress, Paula Broadwell, and the Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, not to mention all of their spouses and offspring–are being dragged through the mud, subject to a searing national humiliation that you would not wish on your worst enemy, much less one of the greatest generals in our history. That Allen is being linked in would be particularly unfair if (as he says) he had no improper relationship with Kelley. Even if he did, it is not clear how this affects the public performance of his duties, or why the FBI is rooting around in this whole affair based on nothing more than one woman’s complaints about getting some nasty emails that, as far as we know, contained no actual threats of violence (usually the threshold for law enforcement involvement).
After the Benghazi attack and before the Paula Broadwell scandal exploded, David Petraeus made a trip to Libya to conduct his own investigation of the attack. Now the CIA is denying the existence of a trip report Petraeus may have written afterward, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein is threatening a subpoena:
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says she will seek testimony from former CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned Friday as CIA director after acknowledging an extramarital affair, about the September attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. …
[Feinstein] also may subpoena reports on a trip Petraeus took to Libya in the last year.
“I believe that Director Petraeus made a trip to the region shortly before this (Petraeus affair) became public,” Feinstein said on “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” “We have asked to see the trip report. One person tells me he’s read it, and then we try to get it and they tell me it hasn’t been done. That’s unacceptable.”
“It may have some very relevant information to what happened in Benghazi,” Feinstein said.
The Petraeus scandal continues to get stranger. The Wall Street Journal now reports that both Gen. John Allen–the leading candidate to command NATO in Europe–and the FBI agent who took up the initial investigation have been caught sending “inappropriate” emails to Florida socialite Jill Kelley. The FBI began the investigation over the summer after Kelley told them that she received harassing emails, which were eventually linked to Paula Broadwell. This is turning into a soap opera:
KABUL—U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Tuesday asked the Senate to put on hold the confirmation of the top commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, as the new NATO supreme allied commander for Europe following the discovery of allegedly inappropriate communications between the general and a Tampa social planner.
The planner, Jill Kelley, is at the center of a scandal involving Gen. Allen’s predecessor as the top coalition commander in Kabul, Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director last week after acknowledging an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. …
As part of this inquiry, the FBI also uncovered some 30,000 pages of emails between Ms. Kelley and Gen. Allen, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Mr. Panetta. The official declined to say whether these allegedly inappropriate emails contained discussions of a sexual nature, or classified information, according to the Associated Press.
As I wrote on Friday, I agree with Max Boot that the resignation of David Petraeus is a tragedy. That such a distinguished career should end on such a tawdry note is appalling, especially since Petraeus’s place in our military history ought to guarantee him the nation’s highest accolades rather than to be subjected to the sort of tabloid scrutiny that is usually reserved for the denizens of reality television shows. Yet as much as I regret the circumstances, I disagree with those like Max who take the position that the former general’s resignation was unnecessary. Petraeus stumbled badly when he engaged in extramarital activity that wound up involving him in a bizarre harassment case that was investigated by the FBI. But he was right to assume that the only honorable course of action once it was uncovered was for him to leave the CIA.
Whenever public figures are driven from office as a result of private misconduct, the decision is often followed by a chorus of criticism about the puritanical nature of American society. We are also inevitably asked to compare the actions of the wrongdoer to those of former President Bill Clinton, whose outrageous behavior and lies didn’t put a dent his popularity let alone cause him to step down, even after impeachment. A better argument is that made by those, like Max, who ask us how much the country would have lost if the same standards were applied to heroes of the past who were also guilty of similar bad judgment. Yet in spite of that, I think Petraeus would have been wrong to “brazen it out” by attempting to hold on to his office. Doing so would have been an unpardonable distraction for the CIA at a time when it is under fire for the Benghazi fiasco. Moreover, no man, no matter how great he might be, is indispensable. While the general may well serve his country again in some capacity in the future, having called his judgment into question in this manner, it was impossible for him to remain at the CIA.
It’s a good thing that current political standards for handling adultery were not in place during World War II. Otherwise Dwight Eisenhower, who was notoriously close with his attractive English chauffeur, Kay Summersby, would never have remained as supreme allied commander, much less been elected to the presidency. These days, by contrast, sexual misconduct is one of the few sins that can bring down a senior military officer or civilian officeholder, such as David Petraeus.
We do not, of course, have a consistent standard of disqualifying adulterers. But unless you are as brazen and charming as Bill Clinton, you are likely to be toast. Whether this makes sense is another question. Given how many of our greatest leaders, from Alexander Hamilton to Franklin Roosevelt, have been guilty of sexual impropriety, it is hard to imagine how American history might have turned out if today’s Puritanical standards had been enforced in the past.
Reuters has a rundown of the timeline for the Petraeus investigation:
2011-2012: Broadwell and Petraeus extramarital affair started after he left military service and ended about four months ago.
Sometime within the past four or five months – one official said “early summer” – a woman complained to the FBI about harassing emails that were later determined to have been written by Broadwell. In the course of investigating that complaint, the FBI discovered an affair between Broadwell and Petraeus.
The Washington Postreports that the FBI investigation stumbled across David Petraeus’s affair while investigating threatening emails allegedly sent by his mistress Paula Broadwell — some of them from Petraeus’s own email account:
The collapse of the impressive career of CIA Director David H. Petraeus was triggered when a woman with whom he was having an affair sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him, according to three senior law enforcement officials with knowledge of the episode.
The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said. …
The law enforcement officials did not provide an exact timeline for the investigation, but they said the inquiry started several months ago. They said investigators thought they were dealing with a routine harassment case until some communications were traced to a private e-mail account belonging to Petraeus.
The administration spent almost two months releasing as little public information as possible about the Benghazi attack, presumably for reasons both strategic and political–it is sensitive information from a national security standpoint and from a campaign standpoint. But now a deluge of new information is pouring out of the government, thanks in part to what looks like finger-pointing between the State Department and CIA over who bears responsibility for not preventing or stopping the attack which left four Americans dead.
The Wall Street Journal is in the forefront with this long article, which has an anti-Petraeus spin because it leads with the information that the CIA director did not attend the funerals of two of his security contractors who were killed in Benghazi (he did not want to blow their covers, even posthumously). See also this David Ignatius column and an article in the New York Times.
Yet more amazing revelations continue to emerge about the Benghazi attack.
Foreign Policy magazine has a story on its website by two Dubai-based Arabic TV reporters who visited the site of the former U.S. consulate on Oct. 26 and found important documents lying around that were left behind by an FBI team that visited a month ago. These included a document claiming that on the morning of September 11 one of the consulate security guards spied a police officer charged with guarding the compound photographing it instead. Sean Smith, one of the slain diplomats, wrote hours just before his death in an online forum: “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”
FNC’s Catherine Herridge reports that the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center told lawmakers the Benghazi assault appeared to be an al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-affiliated attack in a Sept. 13 briefing, contradicting a briefing by CIA Director David Petraeus that took place the next day:
Two days after the deadly Libya terror attack, representatives of the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center gave Capitol Hill briefings in which they said the evidence supported an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated attack, Fox News has learned.
The description of the attack by those in the Sept. 13 briefings stands in stark contrast to the now controversial briefing on Capitol Hill by CIA Director David Petraeus the following day — and raises even more questions about why Petraeus described the attack as tied to a demonstration. …
On Capitol Hill, Petraeus characterized the attack as more consistent with a flash mob, where the militants showed up spontaneously with RPGs. Petraeus downplayed to lawmakers the skill needed to fire mortars, which also were used in the attack and to some were seen as evidence of significant pre-planning. …
Fox News is told that Petraeus was “absolute” in his description with few, if any, caveats. As lawmakers learned more about the attack, including through raw intelligence reports, they were “angry, disappointed and frustrated” that the CIA director had not provided a more complete picture of the available intelligence.
Earlier today I wrote about the baffling failure to call in the U.S. military to rescue our diplomats besieged in Benghazi. That failure becomes even more puzzling if this Fox News article is right. Reporter Jennifer Griffin writes that former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were working as CIA security personnel at a CIA annex not far from the consulate, and they not only saw the entire attack unfold, but communicated what they saw to Washington in real time.
They wanted to aid the diplomats at the consulate but were told to “stand down”; they ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate and brought back the remaining diplomats, minus the ambassador, who was already dead. Then they took more fire at the CIA annex–this was where Woods and Doherty were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after the initial assault began. But their urgent cries for help were not answered. Griffin writes:
According to the latest White House-advancing spin, the CIA thought there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate for 11 entire days after the attack. This is amazing. Apparently the media has access to better intelligence than the CIA, since the general public found out the protest didn’t exist just two days after the attack, via McClatchy.
Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that our intelligence officials are so clueless that they clung to the idea that there were protests outside the consulate, even after savvier Obama advisors became skeptical and started raising questions:
President Barack Obama was told in his daily intelligence briefing for more than a week after the consulate siege in Benghazi that the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest, despite conflicting reports from witnesses and other sources that began to cast doubt on the accuracy of that assessment almost from the start.
New details about the contents of the President’s Daily Brief, which haven’t been reported previously, show that the Central Intelligence Agency didn’t adjust the classified assessment until Sept. 22, fueling tensions between the administration and the agency. …
That weekend, officials at the office of the Director of National Intelligence began to seriously question the accuracy of the assessment after receiving new information Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 from sources that suggested the consulate attack wasn’t preceded by a protest.
Despite the building doubts at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA stuck by its assessment during a deputies-level meeting at the White House on Sept. 17.
Even after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reportedly began to question the CIA’s account on September 15, the CIA allegedly refused to back down on the “spontaneous protest” claim until September 22. Question: The DNI compiles the presidential daily briefings from CIA intel, so how could it conclude the “spontaneous protest” line was wrong before the CIA did? And why would the CIA cling to a narrative if it had a preponderance of evidence contradicting it?
Not surprisingly (for anyone familiar with the ways of Washington) the intelligence community is fighting back against the common assumption that there was an intelligence failure in Benghazi–not only in preventing the attack but in describing it afterward as the work of a spontaneous mob rather than a planned jihadist terrorist attack.
Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press writes: “The CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month’s deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press.”
There are conflicting reports about whether Badruddin Haqqani, a senior commander in the Haqqani network founded by his father Jalaluddin and led by his elder brother Sirajuddin, has been killed in a CIA drone strike in North Waziristan. Afghan and Pakistani intelligence officials believe he is dead, and so does at least one Taliban commander, but another Taliban spokesman denies it. We will see if there is more definitive evidence forthcoming soon.
If he is indeed dead, it is a small but significant victory against the most malign terrorist organization operating in Afghanistan–a group responsible for the worst attacks in Kabul itself. The Long War Journal reports: “Badruddin was also one of several handlers for the fighters involved in the June 28, 2011 assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. Badruddin was recorded while he issued instructions to one of the fighters, and was heard laughing during the attack that killed 11 civilians and two Afghan policemen as well as nine members of the attack team.”
There seems to be a popular notion in Washington that it will be possible to dramatically reduce, or even remove, the conventional U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, while maintaining a substantial diplomatic-intelligence-Special Operations contingent to buttress the Afghan security forces and target high-level terrorists. How has that idea worked out in Iraq after the U.S. military withdrawal? Not so well.
We already know the U.S. embassy is having to dramatically scale back its ambitious plans for 16,000 or so personnel (mainly contractors but including a couple of thousand career employees) to take some of the slack from the U.S. military mission which ended at the beginning of this year. Now the CIA is following suit, withdrawing some 60 percent of the personnel from its giant station in Iraq even though numerous threats—from al-Qaeda in Iraq to Iranian agents—remain very much alive. Here is how the Wall Street Journal, which broke this news, explains the U.S. shift:
Late last year, the CIA and Pentagon were considering several options for CIA and special-operations commandos to team up in Iraq, according to current and former officials. One option was to have special-operations forces operate under covert CIA authority, similar to the arrangement used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
“There was a general consensus,” said a former intelligence official, “that there was a need for this in Iraq.”
But as it became clear that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and that the Iraqi government was less inclined to accept an expansive CIA-special operations role, those plans were tabled. “It’s not going to happen,” said a U.S. official….
“Half of our situational awareness is gone,” said one U.S. official.
News that the CIA had foiled yet another attempt by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb U.S. airliners using some sort of new “underwear bomb” further confirms the big shift that has occurred in terrorist circles during the past decade: al-Qaeda “central,” based in Pakistan, has gotten less and less important even as its fellow travelers and affiliates have gotten more sophisticated and dangerous.
AQAP is at the forefront of these off-shoots in trying to attack the American homeland, but it is hardly alone–the Pakistan Taliban, a group sympathetic to al-Qaeda but not formally allied with it, was also discovered trying to attack Times Square with a car bomb. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq piled up carnage on a level undreamt of by other terrorist groups–so much killing that even Osama bin Laden thought it was counterproductive because most of the victims were fellow Muslims. AQI now appears to be expanding its sphere of operations into Syria.
The evidence of a major expansion of Iran’s nuclear program is a matter of record as far as the CIA is concerned, but the spy agency is still claiming Tehran hasn’t decided to build a bomb. Yesterday, COMMENTARY contributor Bill Gertz wrote in the Washington Free Beacon about the CIA’s official report to Congress on arms proliferation which was delivered in February but which hasn’t come to the attention of the public until now. The report states the bare facts about Iran’s program that are by now a matter of public knowledge since the International Atomic Energy Agency has been putting out regular bulletins about their damning findings.
The acknowledged facts are these: the Iranians have expanded their nuclear infrastructure and continued nuclear enrichment. They have constructed advanced nuclear centrifuges and bringing them online. Even more ominously, a new underground nuclear facility at Fordow has begun production of “near-20 percent enriched uranium,” the material that can be used to produce bombs. But as Gertz noted, the CIA’s report did not note the questions raised by the IAEA about weaponization research that is believed to be going on in Iran.