Commentary Magazine


Topic: CIA

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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Will Afghan Security Fall Victim to Petraeus/Allen Scandal Too?

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).

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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).

This whole affair does not, of course, concern movie stars or musicians; it involves officials making national security decisions at the highest levels and those decisions are being affected by this sordid drama. Already the administration has lost in David Petraeus a man of wide experience in the Middle East and a keen appreciation of who are our enemies are and how to wage war against them that will be hard to replicate. Certainly the new national security team that is being touted by administration leaks–John Kerry at Defense, Susan Rice at State–could use some leavening by someone with Petraeus’s background and experience.

Now the vague charges being lodged against John Allen are imperiling his standing to provide objective advice to the administration as it decides how quickly to draw down troops in Afghanistan and how many to leave after 2014. Many senior voices in the administration, led by Vice President Biden, will counsel for the smallest commitment possible. It is Allen’s job as the U.S. military commander to provide objective advice and realistic options, including presenting the risks of maintaining too few forces. But his ability to push the best military advice is imperiled by the cloud hanging over his head. His nomination to be supreme allied commander, Europe, is already on hold and could be withdrawn altogether. If that were to happen, he would have to retire in disgrace. He is thus hardly in a good position to push back against senior administration officials dedicated to the illusion that a few thousand troops will be sufficient to safeguard long-term U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

It would be beyond unfortunate–it would in fact be a cosmic tragedy–if one of the victims of this unfolding scandal were thus to be the entire nation of Afghanistan, which is in real danger of being abandoned to the ravages of a civil war that various warlords are already preparing to fight.

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Feinstein Could Subpoena Petraeus’s Report on Benghazi

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.

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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.

If the report does exist, the CIA’s reaction suggests there is something interesting in it. If it doesn’t exist, that’s yet another reason Petraeus should still testify and provide details about what he saw on his trip. According to ABC, Petraeus wants to avoid that:

But now Petraeus is telling friends he does not think he should testify.

Petraeus has offered two reasons for wanting to avoid testifying: Acting CIA Director Morell is in possession of all the information Petraeus gathered in conducting his review and he has more current information gathered since Petraeus’ departure; and it would be a media circus.

The first point is irrelevant. Morell is going to testify anyway, so it’s not as if Congress has to choose between Morell and Petraeus. Morell may have all the information from Petraeus’s trip to Benghazi, but he can’t give a firsthand account of it. As for the media circus, the hearing would likely be closed to the public and press anyway. The hallways would be staked out, but it’s not like Petraeus has never been at the center of a media storm before.

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Gen. John Allen, FBI Agent Ensnared in Scandal

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. 

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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. 

According to the Journal, the FBI agent (and whistle blower) reportedly sent Kelley shirtless photos:

The FBI agent who started the case was a friend of Jill Kelley, the Tampa woman who received harassing, anonymous emails that led to the probe, according to officials. Ms. Kelley, a volunteer who organizes social events for military personnel in the Tampa area, complained in May about the emails to a friend who is an FBI agent. That agent referred it to a cyber crimes unit, which opened an investigation.  

However, supervisors soon became concerned that the initial agent might have grown obsessed with the matter, and prohibited him from any role in the investigation, according to the officials.

One official said the agent in question sent shirtless photos to Ms. Kelley well before the email investigation began, and FBI officials only became aware of them some time later. Eventually, supervisors told the agent he was to have nothing to do with the case, though he never had a formal role in the investigation, the official said. 

Both of these stories are odd for different reasons. We don’t know what kind of “inappropriate” emails the married Gen. John Allen was sending to the married Jill Kelley. But assuming they were just of the romantic nature and included no security breaches, why did such an embarrassing revelation go public? It sounds like something that could have just as easily been swept under the rug by the FBI and the Pentagon. Military laws against adultery are rarely enforced, and there’s no indication as of now that adultery technically took place.

As for the second story, the allegations seem to be that the FBI agent sent a shirtless photo to Kelley, a friend of his, well before the investigation began. What is the point of leaking that detail to the media, other than to embarrass him publicly? Remember, this guy was the whistle blower who initially tipped off Eric Cantor about the investigation. Now he’s suddenly under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility for reasons that are unclear at best? Very disturbing.

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Petraeus Was Right to Resign

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.

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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.

The notion that there is something wrong with a standard of conduct that treats infidelity as warranting nothing more than a scolding is one that seems to be increasingly popular. It is argued that the privacy of public officials should be respected just as much as that of private citizens. Viewed from that perspective, David Petraeus’s private life is none of our business. Unlike Bill Clinton, who committed perjury in order to cover up his affairs, Petraeus appears to have broken no laws. So long as that remains the case, why should the nation be deprived of the services of the man who was arguably the ablest American general in more than half a century?

It all sounds quite reasonable, but there are serious problems with this line of thought.

Although it is true that a number of famous Americans in the past have also been guilty of sexual indiscretions, it is incorrect to say the American people gave them a pass for it. For example, had John F. Kennedy’s disgusting conduct in the White House with multiple partners — including interns — been made public, it is doubtful he would have survived the furor. If there is something puritanical about a society in which promiscuous goings-on in the presidential mansion is considered beyond the pale, then so be it. As much as we know that human beings are fallible, there is nothing unreasonable about expecting leaders to behave as if their high office requires them to be on their best behavior while being so honored.

Indeed, the one prominent philanderer who is often cited as a precedent for a man surviving such a scandal — Alexander Hamilton — only did so because he exposed his own private misbehavior so as to make it clear that he was innocent of any public malfeasance, as his critics had charged.

Being the head of the CIA is also a circumstance that should also have made it more, rather than less, important that Petraeus not engage in this sort of behavior. It is a given that intelligence officials ought not do anything that renders them vulnerable to blackmail of any sort. Once he was told of the affair, the immediate response of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was that Petraeus must step down. That was in keeping with that standard. The idea that Petraeus is so uniquely talented that his presence in his post obligates us to ignore his bad judgment doesn’t hold water. As a battlefield and theater commander, Petraeus had no peers in the armed forces. But as important as his work in Langley was, he cannot make the same claim in the field of intelligence.

David Petraeus had a unique status in our public life. That was not just because of his brilliance in Iraq but because he had come to exemplify the ideals of military honor, sacrifice and public service. It may be unfair to expect a hero to behave like one, but that is the price you pay for the sort of applause the general deservedly received. Indeed, unlike his many supporters who are right to mourn his retirement, Petraeus understood that the only proper thing to do once his predicament had become public was to withdraw from his office. This exile from responsibility need not be permanent. But in stepping down, Petraeus has reaffirmed the notion that misconduct warrants more than a shrug. In doing so, he has rendered the country a service that should be applauded.

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Petraeus Needn’t Have Resigned

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.

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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.

Certainly it makes sense to hold officers and officials responsible for other misconduct arising out of a sexual situation, whether it’s committing perjury or creating a hostile workplace environment. But in the case of Petraeus, at least to judge by what has come out so far, there is no sign that he did anything wrong beyond violating his marriage vows.

If newspaper reports are to be believed, the FBI only became involved when his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he had an extramarital relationship, sent anonymous harassing emails to a Tampa socialite named Jill Kelley, who, along with her husband, was friends with Petraeus and his wife. The case was then investigated by an FBI agent who was apparently a friend of Kelley’s; certainly it is hard to imagine the FBI getting involved in a random case of cyber-harassment. In the course of their investigation, the FBI found out that Broadwell had sent the messages and that she and Petraeus were involved in a relationship. The FBI seems to have investigated further to see if there was a breach of national security, but, based on what has come out so far, there was none. Yet this did not stop the agents from notifying their superiors about Petraeus’s private affairs.

There is not even a credible allegation in the public domain that Petraeus shared classified information with Broadwell although, given the way that the government overclassifies even routine information, that is hard to avoid in normal interactions, much less amorous ones, involving someone as privy to as many secrets as the director of central intelligence. (To take but one ridiculous example of many: the existence of Delta Force, the nation’s elite counter-terrorist unit, is officially secret. You can read all about Delta’s exploits in numerous books and articles, but if a government official mentions that Delta exists he is technically breaking the law.)

No charges have been lodged against Petraeus, nor are there likely to be. He cannot even be accused of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice by committing adultery since he was apparently already retired from the military when he had his relationship with Broadwell. Adultery is not against the law for a CIA director or a CIA employee, although intelligence operatives are supposed to disclose all of their relationships so as to avoid the possibility of blackmail. Even in the military, charges of adultery are seldom prosecuted unless the relations occurred with a subordinate to the detriment of the general command climate or there was some other evidence of wrongdoing. Thus Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, an army officer, is currently on trial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, because his former mistress accused him of forcible sodomy and other crimes; it is doubtful if he would ever have been prosecuted if their relationship had ended amicably.

A similar standard is followed in corporate America, where a number of high-level executives, most recently Lockheed Martin President Christopher Kubasik, have been fired for inappropriate relationships with subordinates. But Broadwell never worked for Petraeus. He certainly made a mistake in having a relationship with her (not least because of her bizarre conduct with Kelley), and he forthrightly admitted as much in resigning, but it is far from clear that it should have been a firing offense.

Petraeus might very well have survived in office if he had decided to brazen it out. Instead, he apparently chose to fall on his sword, samurai-style, because he thought he had disgraced himself and his family. That speaks well to his standard of honor, but our government will suffer if we lose the services of such extraordinary public servants over such personal peccadilloes.

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No Need for Conspiracy Theories in Petraeus Timeline

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.

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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.

Week of October 21: Federal investigators interview Broadwell.

Week of October 28: Federal investigators interview Petraeus. Prosecutors conclude afterward they likely will not bring criminal charges.

Tuesday, November 6, Election Day, at about 5 p.m.: the FBI notifies Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who oversees the CIA and other intelligence agencies, about Petraeus. Clapper speaks to Petraeus that evening and again Wednesday and advises him to step down.

Wednesday, November 7: Clapper informs White House National Security Council official that Petraeus may resign and President Barack Obama should be informed. The president is told about it later that day.

Thursday, November 8: At 11 a.m. a Petraeus meeting with foreign dignitaries scheduled for 2:30 p.m. is canceled and his visitors are informed he has to go to the White House to meet with Obama. Petraeus meets with Obama at the White House and offers his resignation, explaining the circumstances behind it. Obama did not immediately accept the resignation.

Friday, November 9 – Obama calls Petraeus and accepts his resignation.

There have been some questions raised about the timing of Petraeus’s resignation, but this timeline seems reasonable. The FBI and Attorney General Eric Holder knew about the affair as early as late summer, according to the Wall Street Journal, but there’s no indication they believed there was a security breach at that point. They may not have informed other intelligence officials or the president about it over the summer because they thought they had discovered an affair, and nothing more.

There is also no evidence Petraeus was pushed out because of his role in the Benghazi response. The fact that he resigned right after the election and right before another closed-door Benghazi hearing is interesting, to say the least, but it could be just that — a coincidence. There is no need for conspiracy theories in this case.

That still doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t question the administration’s account, particularly why Congress and the director of national intelligence weren’t informed of the investigation by the FBI when classified information was discovered on Paula Broadwell’s computer. There are also questions about the FBI whistle-blower who tipped off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in October — what was this person’s motivation, and what was he concerned about? But from what we know so far, it doesn’t sound like there is anything sinister going on here.

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