Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Petraeus

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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WaPo: Broadwell Sent Threatening Emails

The Washington Post reports 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.

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The Washington Post reports 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.

Broadwell wasn’t charged for accessing Petraeus’s email account, and WSJ reports that the two my have shared access to it:

Over the course of the probe, prosecutors realized there wasn’t a cyber-breach. Instead, Mr. Petraeus had shared some access to the account with Ms. Broadwell, possibly to exchange messages, these people said. 

A shared email account would be one way to communicate without actually sending the messages (you could just save them as drafts) and leaving a digital trail that could be intercepted by spouses, the FBI, or other intel agencies.

We don’t know all the details, but sending anonymous email threats sounds like pretty erratic behavior. Perhaps that was a bigger concern to the FBI than the affair itself. The shared account reportedly included a trove of personal messages, which could have caused a lot of problems in the hands of someone in an emotionally unsteady state.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that classified information was also found on Broadwell’s computer (Petraeus said he was not the source), and Arutz Sheva notes that she discussed potentially secret details about the Benghazi attack during a recent speech.

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Petraeus Deserves Thanks, Not Obloquy

I am saddened to read about David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA Director, citing an extramarital affair. I know nothing about the circumstances and suspect we will learn more before long. What I do know is that the hyenas are now circling his political carcass, ready to rip him to shreds, now that he is already wounded. What I also know is that this is a depressing fate to befall one of America’s greatest generals—probably the greatest we have had since the World War II generation passed from the scene.

Imagine Winfield Scott, U.S. Grant, William Sherman, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower or Matthew Ridgway resigning over an affair. It’s simply impossible to imagine; standards have changed so much over the years that now sexual peccadilloes are about the only thing that can bring down senior military commanders. Petraeus did not have as big a war to fight as his predecessors did but what he achieved in Iraq was one of the most impressive turnarounds ever seen in any counterinsurgency campaign that I am familiar with.

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I am saddened to read about David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA Director, citing an extramarital affair. I know nothing about the circumstances and suspect we will learn more before long. What I do know is that the hyenas are now circling his political carcass, ready to rip him to shreds, now that he is already wounded. What I also know is that this is a depressing fate to befall one of America’s greatest generals—probably the greatest we have had since the World War II generation passed from the scene.

Imagine Winfield Scott, U.S. Grant, William Sherman, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower or Matthew Ridgway resigning over an affair. It’s simply impossible to imagine; standards have changed so much over the years that now sexual peccadilloes are about the only thing that can bring down senior military commanders. Petraeus did not have as big a war to fight as his predecessors did but what he achieved in Iraq was one of the most impressive turnarounds ever seen in any counterinsurgency campaign that I am familiar with.

Field Marshal Gerald Templer’s success in Malaya in the 1950s is usually cited as the gold standard of counterinsurgency. Well Iraq in early 2007, when Petraeus took over as commander, was in far worse shape than Malaya in 1952 when Templer arrived on the scene. Few thought there was any chance of stopping Iraq’s slide into ever-more violent civil war. Certainly not with a mere 20,000 or so surge troops–numbers widely dismissed as inadequate for the size of the task. Petraeus did not bluster and he did not boast, but he arrived with a quiet confidence that he could still save the day–and he did.

He did not do it alone, needless to say. The contributions of Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the day to day operational commander, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were particularly important–not to mention the firm backing of President George W. Bush. But the odds are that the surge would have failed were it not for the inspired leadership displayed by Petraeus.

He had already studied the principles of population-centric counterinsurgency; he had quite literally written the book on the subject. And he proceeded to implement everything he had learned not only from his study of history but from the more than two years he had previously spent in Iraq, first as commander of the 101st Airborne Division and then as the top general charged with training Iraqi forces. He faced not only multiple foes on the ground–most prominently Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdist Army–but also constant sniping from the home front where some derided him as “General Betray Us.” Throughout the ordeal of 2007-2008 he stood firm, constantly pushing his subordinates to do better, while defending their conduct in a stream of media interviews and in pivotal congressional testimony that prevented anti-war legislators from pulling the plug prematurely on the entire effort.

I was privileged to see some glimpses of Petraeus in action, not only in Iraq but also later in Afghanistan; I served as an informal adviser to him in both places. Never have I seen more effective leadership in action. He was a maestro at using all the instruments of governmental power, combing multiple “lines of operation” to wage a war far more diffuse and harder to grasp than a conventional campaign. In Afghanistan he did not preside over the kind of quick turnaround he managed to pull off in Iraq but he once again, building on the fine work done by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, helped to implement a strategy that substantially improved the situation.

Petraeus spent most of the past decade deployed—first in Bosnia, then in Iraq, finally in Afghanistan. In between the last two commands he served as Central Command chief, constantly jetting around the Middle East to carry on high-level negotiations. He maintained a grueling pace that would have been hard to do for men half his age, yet he never seemed to flag, not even when he was treated for cancer.

Petraeus devoted his life to serving his country. Few have ever done it as well. He now deserves the thanks of a grateful nation—rather than obloquy that is more likely to be visited on him instead.

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Will it Take an Affair to Get the Media Interested in Benghazi?

For a military hero and able public servant such as David Petraeus to have to end his service to the country on the sort of disturbing note that his letter of resignation sounded is nothing short of a tragedy. For anyone in charge of U.S. intelligence to behave as he said did shows poor judgment that rightly required the president to accept his resignation. But that ought not to detract from a career that deserves to be remembered with honor by a grateful country.

But the avalanche of press coverage that Petraeus attracted in the hours after his announcement ought to bring into focus a far more important story that most of the same media has ignored: the Benghazi fiasco. It speaks volumes about the current state of contemporary American journalism that  a sex scandal generated far more interest from broadcast networks and the press than the questions of whether the administration failed to aid Americans besieged in Libya or why the government stuck to a bogus story about a video instead of admitting that terrorists were responsible.

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For a military hero and able public servant such as David Petraeus to have to end his service to the country on the sort of disturbing note that his letter of resignation sounded is nothing short of a tragedy. For anyone in charge of U.S. intelligence to behave as he said did shows poor judgment that rightly required the president to accept his resignation. But that ought not to detract from a career that deserves to be remembered with honor by a grateful country.

But the avalanche of press coverage that Petraeus attracted in the hours after his announcement ought to bring into focus a far more important story that most of the same media has ignored: the Benghazi fiasco. It speaks volumes about the current state of contemporary American journalism that  a sex scandal generated far more interest from broadcast networks and the press than the questions of whether the administration failed to aid Americans besieged in Libya or why the government stuck to a bogus story about a video instead of admitting that terrorists were responsible.

The juxtaposition of Petraeus’s fall with the ongoing investigation of who knew what and when about what happened in Benghazi is bound to attract more interest than the scandal has generated in the past two months. The refusal of many in the media to push hard on this story has understandably generated accusations of liberal media bias, since the relative silence on the issue from many important outlets was extremely helpful to President Obama’s re-election campaign.

But now that the president’s cheerleaders in the press box no longer need to worry about endangering his chances of a second term, there are signs that the contradictions about the administration’s Benghazi story are beginning to elicit some attention from news organizations. One imagines that the Petraeus angle and a resignation letter that seems to have raised more questions than it answered will only feed their curiosity.

While there is little doubt that Petraeus’s affair will be the most famous Washington indiscretion since l’affaire Lewinsky, perhaps some of that 24/7 news cycle attention will also be devoted to what the intelligence apparatus was doing in the last months. That is especially true since senior administration figures have thrown the intelligence community under the bus in their effort to divert attention from their own shortcomings. At any rate, let us hope that the hype about Petraeus’ personal life won’t divert anyone from a more important story with far reaching implications for American security.

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Who Had the Dirt on Petraeus?

In a Friday afternoon bombshell, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned, citing an extramarital affair. Petraeus has been under fire recently for the CIA’s response to the Benghazi attack. The Cable’s Josh Rogin posted the letter of resignation:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.

Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,

David H. Petraeus

This is completely out of nowhere. Just last week, the New York Times published a fawning profile of Petraeus (which the administration cooperated with), clearly an attempt to boost his image as the Benghazi criticism heated up. Here is the final paragraph:

Mr. Petraeus’s future has inevitably been the subject of rumors: that he would be Mitt Romney’s running mate, or, more plausibly, that he was interested in the presidency of Princeton. In a statement in late September, he did not rule that out for the future, but said that for the time being he was “living the dream here at C.I.A.” That was before the recriminations this week over Benghazi.

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In a Friday afternoon bombshell, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned, citing an extramarital affair. Petraeus has been under fire recently for the CIA’s response to the Benghazi attack. The Cable’s Josh Rogin posted the letter of resignation:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.

Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,

David H. Petraeus

This is completely out of nowhere. Just last week, the New York Times published a fawning profile of Petraeus (which the administration cooperated with), clearly an attempt to boost his image as the Benghazi criticism heated up. Here is the final paragraph:

Mr. Petraeus’s future has inevitably been the subject of rumors: that he would be Mitt Romney’s running mate, or, more plausibly, that he was interested in the presidency of Princeton. In a statement in late September, he did not rule that out for the future, but said that for the time being he was “living the dream here at C.I.A.” That was before the recriminations this week over Benghazi.

The recriminations over Benghazi notably include charges that Petraeus misled lawmakers during a closed congressional hearing in September. Petraeus was scheduled to testify at another closed hearing before the House Intelligence Committee next week. He sure isn’t scheduled anymore. Did the timing of his resignation have anything to do with that?

One last question. Typically when an official resigns because of an affair, it’s because the information has already been made public or is about to be made public. So who had the dirt on Petraeus?

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Benghazi Revelations Show Lack of Preparation After Gaddafi’s Fall

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.

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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.

The picture painted by all of these articles is complex but overall, despite the anti-Petraeus spin noted in the Journal piece, it serves to exonerate the CIA of culpability for the attack response–it turns out that pretty much all of the security response came from the CIA annex in Benghazi and from the CIA station in Tripoli. The CIA security personnel did what they could, but they obviously lacked transportation, heavy weaponry, and other essentials that the military could have provided. They were also hoping for assistance from Libyan militias that never arrived.

Why wasn’t there more military assistance? That remains murky, but the best explanation–and the one most exonerating to the administration–has come from none other than Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense. He writes, based on information that apparently comes from senior military figures (albeit second hand), that “decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward, as they should have been.” He goes on to to note that:

The military’s most capable rescue force, based on the East Coast, was deployed immediately (something that is very rarely done), but – given the distances involved – arrived at Sigonella only after the crisis was over.

Also, the European command (EUCOM) deployed its number one counter terrorism force, which was training in central Europe, as quickly as possible, but it arrived in Sigonella after the evacuation of the Annex was complete.

Other special forces deployed to Sigonella but arrived on the 12th after it was too late to make a difference in Benghazi.

There was no AC-130 gunship in the region. The only drone available in Libya was an unarmed surveillance drone which was quickly moved from Darna to Benghazi, but the field of view of these drones is limited and, in any case, this one was not armed.

The only other assets immediately available were F-16 fighter jets based at Aviano, Italy. These aircraft might have reached Benghazi while the fight at the Annex was still going on, but they would have had difficulty pinpointing hostile mortar positions or distinguishing between friendly and hostile militias in the midst of a confused firefight in a densely populated residential area where there would have been a high likelihood of civilian casualties. While two more Americans were tragically killed by a mortar strike on the Annex, it’s not clear that deploying F-16’s would have prevented that.

If accurate, Wolfowitz’s account would certainly explain why more wasn’t done and would appear to exonerate senior decision makers during the heat of the crisis. It is actually a much better defense of the administration action (or lack thereof) than the lame explanation offered by Defense Secretary Panetta that “you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.”

However, it still leaves major questions unanswered about why more wasn’t done to prepare for an emergency such as this, and in particular–a point I stressed in a recent Los Angeles Times oped–why wasn’t more done to help Libyan security forces stand up after Gaddafi’s fall? It also leaves unanswered the question about why the administration hasn’t been more forthcoming, at least until recently, about what exactly transpired. There is still a need for a major independent report that addresses these issues.

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Report: Petraeus Briefing Contradicted by FBI, NCTC?

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. 

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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. 

Without seeing a transcript, it’s hard to know exactly how absolute Petraeus’s description was, though FNC reports he “seemed wedded” to the spontaneous demonstration narrative.

NCTC director Matthew Olsen was the first administration official to call it a terrorist attack in a Sept. 19 congressional hearing, which makes sense if his office had told lawmakers about al-Qaeda evidence in an earlier briefing. But if the NCTC had evidence of al-Qaeda involvement from the beginning, why did the Office of the Director of National Intelligence say its initial assessment was that the attack was a spontaneous response to the protests? The NCTC reports to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as directly to the president. It’s hard to imagine this information wouldn’t have made it up either line, especially since the whole point of the NCTC is to act as a hub to integrate intelligence from across multiple agencies. 

This is also a key addition to the timeline: The FBI and the NCTC believed al-Qaeda or affiliates were linked to it as early as Sept. 13. Yet not a single administration official even publicly called it a “terrorist attack” until over a week later — and the White House didn’t call it that until September 26, via Jay Carney.

The silence on this story from the vast majority of the political media is deafening. It’s like they’re trying to marginalize it as a manufactured controversy, or at least deprive it of enough oxygen so that it fades before the election. It’s similar to what happened with the Fast and Furious and Solyndra scandals, both of which were broken by the Center for Public Integrity, hardly a conservative outlet. These stories never got the attention they deserved from the press, and they’re only kept alive by conservative reporters, a few serious mainstream journalists, and congressional Republicans. The Benghazi attack is more consequential, and more difficult for the press to ignore, but it looks like it’s getting the similar treatment.

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Why the Veep Speculation Game Matters

With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.

All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.

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With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.

All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.

The widespread longing for picks that would push the political envelope like Petraeus or Condoleezza Rice is not just a function of the press promoting headline-grabbing stories. It is a clear sign Romney needs to do more than just round up one of the usual colorless suspects who many political observers assume the would-be CEO-in-chief prefers.

There is a widespread assumption that Romney so fears a foolish attempt at a game-changing pick such as Sarah Palin that he will go in the other direction and pick a colorless but seemingly safe choice like Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. But Romney needs to understand that although his position is stronger than that of John McCain four years ago, he cannot afford to play it safe.

If you are spending this week doing your best to ignore the veep speculation, you are smart, as most of the stories you are likely to read about the topic in the days leading up to Romney’s announcement are probably bunk. But the subtext to this press frenzy is not insignificant. Romney needs a running mate who can help him win. Whether it is a more familiar face like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan or someone who comes in out of left (or should I say right) field, the interest in the subject is an indicator of how important the choice will be.

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