So General David Petraeus pulled a President Clinton, of sorts, and now he's paying for it, though the victims here may go beyond the principle players. Apparently even the director of the CIA can be spied upon by the government that employs him, which pretty much makes no American off limits. Feel better now?
Another prominent man brought down by thinking with the wrong part of his anatomy is a story as old as time, of course. But Petraeus' resignation from the CIA's top post following revelations of an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has taken on a few different twists. Bear with us, because it gets complicated.
First, Petraeus and Broadwell, both married to other people, both with children, have done damage to those relationships and to their reputations. Measured against type, Petraeus - previously the leader of the military surge in Iraq and then Afghanistan, the most celebrated general since Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf - has shocked many who knew him as a man of accomplishment and uncommon discipline, and who have tended to give him a pass because of it. It takes two to tango, and this page will leave it at that.
Second, both of their lives intersected with that of another woman, Jill Kelley, a friend of the Petraeus family, rightly or wrongly considered a competitor for the general's affections by a jealous Broadwell. She reportedly received "harassing" emails, prompting her to notify a friend in the FBI, who then alerted his bosses, who then launched an investigation that ultimately steered them to Broadwell and put Petraeus in the cross-hairs. Interestingly, that first FBI agent was ordered by superiors to steer clear of the inquiry because of his own personal connections to Kelley (though ultimately he did not, leaking it to a prominent congressman, Eric Cantor).
The target here (Petraeus, the CIA) didn't stop the rival FBI from pursuing its investigation, or from contacting the White House and Congress - if rather late in the game - after concluding that no laws were broken or security breached. Nor did it stop the FBI from stumbling across another big fish in its open-ended surveillance net - Gen. John Allen, America's and NATO's commander in Afghanistan. He also has been linked to Kelley, though the nature of their relationship remains unclear. In any case, he too is now under formal investigation by the Pentagon.
To say there are triangles within triangles here - anyone need a flow chart? - is an understatement. No one may get off the hook, not the investigated nor the investigator.
Leave it to the ACLU to get it right: "There should be an investigation not of the personal behavior of General Petraeus and General Allen but of what surveillance powers the FBI used to look into their private lives," its executive director, Anthony Romero, told the New York Times. "This is a textbook example of the blurring of lines between the private and the public."
Page 2 of 2 - Indeed, the most generous interpretation of the FBI's actions is that they were just following a lead, a hint of a potential crime, which is their job. Arguably Petraeus, as the nation's top intelligence officer, had put himself in a precarious position, subjecting himself to potential blackmail. What if an adversary of the United States had gotten wind of this first and used it to compromise him? In that sense, some would say the FBI has done a public service.
On the other hand, do we really want our government agencies spying on one another, spending finite taxpayer dollars to out the private, sexual lives of public officials? This story could have come at a better time, with things heating up in Syria, Iran, Libya, etc., and the need for good intelligence in all of those places as critical as it has ever been. 9-11 happened, in part, because the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency refused to work together to put the terrorist puzzle pieces together. The relationship between those agencies has not been helped. The FBI has some serious explainin' to do.
The lessons and warnings are numerous. First, there is no such thing as privacy anymore. Send an email, post on Facebook, tweet without much forethought, and expect it to live forever, somewhere in cyberspace, ripe for the plucking by someone with an interest or agenda. Second, while no one excuses the behavior on display, is America well served by a government for which saints only need apply? How relevant is all this to job performance?
Finally, one fears the primary victim is the American people, who in the wake of 9-11 permitted an all-powerful Uncle Sam, through his perhaps well-meaning-but-still-wrong representatives, to commit many a sin against civil liberties - the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, etc. - and who allow it still, even with the external threat diminished. Who wants to live in a nation where virtually all private correspondence and other personal information are available for perusal by someone working for government or any other third party? Who wants to tolerate the threat of any of that being released for public consumption? Did we nab any terrorists here? Does J. Edgar Hoover live? "If the CIA director can get caught, it's pretty much open season on everyone else," the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told the Times.
This is a mess. As this page long ago cautioned, once the monster has been unleashed, how do we cage it again?
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.