Tuesday, November 13, 2012

“David Petraeus – Another Cover-up?”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“David Petraeus – Another Cover-up?”
November 13, 2012

The world knows that David Petraeus, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), had an affair with Paula Broadwell. An affair in Washington deserves a yawn at best. What is more curious is the timing and the speed of his departure. Congress will try to determine when the affair became known, and by whom. They should also be looking into what happened in Benghazi, and if it played a role in Mr. Petraeus’ sudden departure. The DCI is one of the most powerful (and sensitive) jobs in the world. It is possible that nothing of a sensitive nature was disclosed while Paula and David shared an evening’s pillow, but should the man who has access to the state’s darkest secrets take that sort of a chance?

Stephen Kinzer, writing in Saturday’s New York Times suggests the relationship was innocent, at least when it came to classified material. He writes of a simpler time when powerful men had affairs and the press had the decency to look the other way. Mr. Kinzer, taking the words of Allen Dulles’ sister, writes that the bureau’s first director had “at least a hundred” affairs! I met Mr. Dulles once, as he was a friend and college classmate of my father-in-law. He was a charming man and it’s certainly is credible that he could have strayed from the marital bed, but a hundred times and based on reports from a sister? I don’t know. But there was a code, and the press adhered to it as, in retrospect, we now know of the affairs of Presidents Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

But we live in different times. We are all electronically tracked via our cell phones. Tweets, e-mails and YouTube will be the undoing of otherwise sensible, intelligent people, especially those who opt for public service. Extramarital affairs may be cause for divorce, but not necessarily for a firing. Not every woman is a Mata Hari. However, the DCI must take special care lest he unwittingly respond to sweet-nothings by giving away state secrets.

It is the sequence, however, of who knew what when that seems most troubling and why the episode was not revealed earlier. Diane Feinstein, Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to a front page article in Monday’s New York Times, said that her committee would “absolutely” demand an explanation as to the delay in their being notified of the FBI’s investigation into the David Petraeus’ admitted extramarital affair with Ms. Broadwell. Mr. Petraeus, a retired four-star general, has been DCI since September 2011. He submitted his resignation last Thursday, which was accepted by the President the next day. It is the time line of events that is curious.

Last May, the FBI began an investigation into unsolicited e-mails sent to a third woman – a family friend of David and Holly Petraeus, Jill Kelley – alleging “inappropriate behavior.” Using metadata footprints left by the e-mails, the FBI were able to determine the sender was Ms. Broadwell. From her e-mail account they then found the link to Mr. Petraeus. By “late summer,” according to the Wall Street Journal, senior officials at the FBI and the Justice Department, including Attorney General Eric Holder, were notified. The White House, according to reports in both the Times and the Journal, was not told of the investigation until Election Day, when National Intelligence Director James Clapper was informed by officials from the FBI and the Justice Department. However, the Times article states that the FBI agent who helped with the preliminary inquiry alerted the office of Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader of the House, “in later October.” Mr. Cantor then passed on the agent’s concerns to FBI Director, Robert S. Mueller.

The investigation, according to the Times, was initiated “several months ago,” and by “late summer” it was known that Mr. Petraeus had conducted (or was conducting) an illicit affair, posing a potential security risk. Despite the link to Mr. Petraeus, the Times’ suggests that he wasn’t interviewed by the FBI until the week of October 28. Since the DCI is a sensitive position, it is surprising that investigators waited so long, unless they had determined the affair was nothing more than an affair. While having an affair, in itself, is not a reason to resign; such relationships create the potential for blackmail. One would have expected that the Attorney General would have at least alerted the President as to the status of the investigation.

It appears to be generally accepted that the affair began after Mr. Petraeus had left the military, and ended four months ago. However, The London Telegraph claims they first met in the spring of 2006 at a Harvard University function. In 2008, Ms. Broadwell was pursuing a doctorate, which included a case study on the General’s leadership. Later she visited and observed him in Afghanistan, as she was writing his biography, All in: The Education of General David Petraeus. Despite the somewhat titillating title to her book, Ms. Broadwell did not apparently become the General’s paramour until he had retired his stars. Most stories suggest that Mr. Petraeus ended the relationship last summer.

If we assume that the Wall Street Journal was correct in their allegation that Mr. Holder was told of the affair last summer and did not inform the President, that would seem to be a serious breach. If he did tell the President, then the consequences are more dire, as they would imply that re-election took precedence over the nation’s security, even though there has been no indication that Ms. Broadwell received any classified reports from Mr. Petraeus. But it is curious that in a speech given by Ms. Broadwell on October 26 at the University of Denver, she claimed that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was to rescue Libyan militia members the CIA Annex had taken prisoner. Was that speculation, or did she know something? Also, her comments raise the possibility that some overseas prisons are still operational, despite Mr. Obama’s promises to close them.

Once we have been assured that secrets were never the subject of pillow talk between David and Paula, what will keep the story alive is the timeline of who knew what when and was a cover-up involved. Politicians from opposing parties are naturally skeptical of the motives of their opponents. Count on Republicans to press FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder as to why they kept their fellow Democrat Senator Feinstein, Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in the dark. Especially given that Mr. Mueller knew that Eric Cantor was aware of the situation.

Since the FBI and the Justice Department were fully aware of Mr. Petraeus’ indiscretions last summer, yet did nothing about it, one can only assume that they determined that the DCI was never compromised. What needs explaining is why, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack in Benghazi which killed two former Seals working for the CIA, did Mr. Petraeus’ infidelities take on more seriousness. Was there a cover-up as to why requests for help by the two men who were killed on the roof top (both ex-SEALS and now CIA employees) were denied? Only one man can overrule the DCI, and that is the President.

Presidents, more often than not, get in trouble not for what they did, but because of subsequent cover-ups. It is hard for me to believe that Mr. Petraeus’ resignation before the election would have had any effect on the outcome, but that is hindsight speaking. Nevertheless, I also believe that the same would have been true had the President been upfront regarding the cause of the attack in Benghazi, instead of insisting on the ridiculous story that the attack that took four American lives was the result of a video, a video that I doubt anyone has watched in its entirety.

At all times, honesty is the best policy, but especially now that technology tracks our every action. Liars almost always get caught. Presidents and others can stonewall only for so long. The country may well be put through an unnecessary spectacle of a Congressional investigation, embarrassing to the President, not because of a mistaken policy, but because of the attempts to conceal what happened in the aftermath. The American people can forgive erroneous policy decisions. They cannot forgive a liar.

A promise of transparency has been replaced with the deliverance of opacity.

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