Monday, November 12, 2012

Ian M. MacIsaac: Sudden resignation of CIA director David Petraeus leaves unanswered questions and ruined careers

  The revelation of David Petraeus's extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell has dominated post-election Washington and news media, and brought President Obama's reelection honeymoon to an abrupt end.

  Many have exhibited shock at the sudden downfall of one of America's most decorated and celebrated generals and national security leaders. Even more have questioned why a full-on FBI probe was necessary to uncover something that had more to do with the CIA director's personal life than any issue of national security.

  Investigative reporting done primarily by Andrea Mitchell, who broke the story of Petraeus's resignation on Friday, and others at NBC has revealed that the FBI investigation into Petraeus and Broadwell's affair did not start with them.

  Rather, it began months ago and almost a thousand miles away in Tampa, Fla., when a State Department liaison employed in that city named Jill Kelly began receiving threatening emails--up to a dozen or more--from two different anonymous email accounts.

  (Tampa is home to MacDill Air Force Base, which houses the headquarters of United States Central Command, known as CENTCOM. Petraeus was CENTCOM's commander from 2008 until 2010.)

  Kelly informed an acquaintance, an FBI employee also residing in Tampa, of the threatening emails and apparently asked her Bureau acquaintance to investigate the threats. The unnamed agent began a local FBI probe into the source of the emails, beginning the same probe that eventually led investigators to the desk of the CIA director. 

  After discovering that the threatening emails to Kelly--the content of which has not been released--had been sent from Washington by an author and West Point graduate named Paula Broadwell, the FBI received permission to search Broadwell's email accounts as well. Upon viewing her email accounts, it became apparent that Broadwell had been receiving numerous anonymous emails as well. 

  The FBI was reportedly concerned that the anonymous emails may have contained leaks of classified information (the content of these emails has not been released either). At least, that is the Bureau's excuse for why they continued to dig--and eventually wound up at the door of CIA director Petraeus. 

  Reportedly, the FBI initially believed the director's email accounts had been hacked and the emails sent to Broadwell by a third party; or, perhaps, that Broadwell had been accessing Petraeus's email--and, thus, classified information--on her own. 

  But after the Bureau interviewed Director Petraeus and Mrs. Broadwell in mid-October, it turned out that Petraeus had indeed sent the emails to Broadwell from his own account. The anonymity had nothing to do with any sort of threat to national security or leaking of classified information. It was just two people covering up a year of cheating on their spouses. 

  Broadwell's emails to Jill Kelly, the Tampa resident, were apparently nothing more than standard "stay away from my man"-type fare from one married women to another. This would seem to mean that Petraeus had been conducting an affair with Kelly as well during his time in Tampa as CENTCOM commander, although all evidence points to nothing more than a longtime friendship between David Petraeus, Jill Kelly, and their two spouses.


  The investigation and discovery of the affair is only half the story. Although a complete timeline of events will likely not be available or clear for months, it is now understood that the local Tampa investigation into the emails to Jill Kelly began in June, and the FBI had confirmed the situation between Petraeus and Broadwell by early October at the very latest, probably by September. 

  From what has been reported so far, the situation would have likely ended there if not for an overzealous, inappropriate FBI agent--the very one that Jill Kelly knew and had originally reported the threatening anonymous emails to. For whatever reason, this agent was not satisfied by the discovery of the affair and the realization that there was no national security leak. 

  So, when the FBI moved to close its investigation of Petraeus in late October following their interviews of him and Broadwell, the agent decided he would use connections he had to members in the House Republican Caucus to spread the story there and attempt to ignite some sparks. 

  The agent informed Republican congressman Dave Reichert of Washington State of the affair and the FBI investigation sometime in mid-late October. Eric Cantor, the leader of the House Republican Caucus, was informed by either Reichert or a mutual associate in the House no later than Wednesday, October 31--almost a week before Election Day, November 6. 

  President Obama, however, would by all official accounts not be informed of the Petraeus situation under Thursday, November 8, the day before the story broke and Petraeus resigned. 

  How in the world did the Republicans' number two in the House of Representatives know about this a week before the President of the United States? How in the world did the news not get across all of Capitol Hill in those eight days between Cantor being told and Obama being told? Did the news indeed spread just like that, with the lowliest plebes on Capitol Hill a week ahead of the White House, and the smoke simply hasn't cleared enough for us to know yet? 

  If so, how does news of that magnitude--particularly if it is widely known on the Hill--not make its way, in all those days, into the White House's pipeline of information? Was the election so all-consuming, even for those lodged in the White House and not out on the campaign trail? 

  According to Andrea Mitchell, it was 5 p.m. on November 6, Election Day itself, when the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for the White House, James Clapper, was told of the situation. 

  The FBI officially closed its investigation on November 2, four days prior to Clapper's briefing, but the way things stand now, he seems to have been the first in the White House to know. It was the next morning, hours after Obama after had won re-election, when Clapper informed the White House national security team. They collectively informed the president the next day, November 8. 

  As the DNI for the White House, Clapper is the one man responsible for coordinating the work of the various intelligence agencies (CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, etc.) for the president and administration. Forget the president--how does James Clapper find out six days after the Republican stooges on Capitol Hill? 

  And, although not telling the president of the affair at 5 or 6 p.m. election night is perhaps understandable, there is no good reason it took the national security team another 24 hours after being informed Wednesday morning to tell their boss. If this author had been the president at that moment, heads would still be rolling. 

  Perhaps this is how things have always been done in Washington. Perhaps slow movement is the norm on these types of issues. In today's 24-hour media cycle/Twitterverse, however, it seems like both Director Clapper as well as President Obama both should have been briefed within hours of the FBI's November 2 conclusion of the investigation. The decision whether or not to publicize before the election should have been Obama's, not the FBI's.


  Concerning the impact the affair could have had on the election, Eric Cantor's six-day silence seems all the more curious and unusual. Reporters talk about the 'October surprise' that can destabilize a presidential campaign in the closing days; imagine the damage a 'November surprise' could have done if handled the wrong way, or leaked by the Republicans. 

  What kept Cantor quiet? It certainly wasn't pressure from the White House; nor was it pressure from the FBI, since they did not know Cantor had even heard in the first place. 

  Even more unusual than Cantor's silence through the conclusion of the investigation is the way the investigation began in the first place. As Joe Scarborough pointed out on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday, is it not unsettling that anyone with a friend in the FBI can have a federal investigation launched onto anyone else who sends a few angry emails without a name attached? 

  Furthermore, investigators must have realized, once they made the connection between Jill Kelly and Paula Broadwell, that further digging would eventually end up at Director Petraeus. 

  One of the two women is a well-known friend of David and Holly Petraeus; the other of the two had been embedded with the General in Afghanistan and had written a glowing biography of him. 

  Conflict between these two women, who had no record of prior contact or acquaintance, had to have raised mental red flags with investigators and researchers as sharp as those at the FBI. Simply by process of elimination the emails likely had something to do with the retired general. 

  In retrospect, it does not seem entirely unlikely that Bureau investigators knew at a certain point that the probe would likely uncover no national security leaks, and that a further 'fishing expedition' would lead to possible, but unrelated, dirt on Petraeus. 

  The men working this probe at the Bureau, with its long history of intra-governmental rivalry with the CIA for funding and assignments, might have relished the opportunity to embarrass a squeaky-clean, nigh-untouchable star general and CIA director in his professional life. 

  In the end, the CIA--not to mention the US government and military in general--has lost an exceptional leader who, regardless of one's opinion of him, had become the John Pershing, the Douglas MacArthur, the Colin Powell of our generation through bringing two wars back from the brink and restoring, to some degree, American confidence in our military capability. 

  In addition, an intelligent and promising author and Ph.D. student has had her professional career ruined permanently, at least in this country. 

  The president's post-reelection honeymoon was cut short three days in, and on the same day that he attempted to make big political hay with his willingness to sign into effect an extension of the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans--big political hay that he made for about two hours, before the Petraeus story broke and no one mentioned Obama again all day. 

  And, finally, there are two heartbroken spouses, forgotten in the political and media hullabaloo. Somewhere in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area right now, Holly Petraeus and Scott Broadwell are sitting in their homes with their hearts broken, their trust in their spouse shattered, and their names all over the news as part of a sordid, shameful affair in which neither of them hold any blame. 

  Was it worth it? 

  About the author: Ian M. MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University, and former co-editor of the AUMnibus, the official Auburn Montgomery student newspaper.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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