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Petraeus resigns over affair, as criticism grows of CIA response in Libya

Officials will want to know if there was any link between David Petraeus’s extramarital activities and what has been increasingly criticized as the CIA’s weak performance during the Benghazi attack.

By Staff writer, Anna MulrineStaff writer / November 9, 2012

This February 2012 file photo shows CIA Director David Petraeus testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. Petraeus has resigned because of an extramarital affair.

Cliff Owen/AP/File

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Washington

CIA Director David Petraeus abruptly resigned Friday, citing an extramarital affair and the need to sort out the “personal and professional issues” involved.

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The former commander of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan had built a stellar and nearly unassailable reputation – but mounting criticism of the Central Intelligence Agency’s response to the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack in September was beginning to tarnish that reputation.

Word of Mr. Petraeus’s resignation sent ripples of stunned surprise through both the intelligence and military communities, raising questions that revolved around how long the affair had been going on and how an officer known for his rigorous self-discipline – and attention to his reputation within the media — could have made such a lapse in judgment.

In a letter of resignation accepted by the White House, Petraeus said he had been married 37 years but had exercised “very poor judgment” in choosing to enter into an extramarital affair.

Petraeus, who was widely celebrated as a military commander and even occasionally mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, was sworn in as head of the CIA in September 2011 – and had kept a low profile since. Now speculation is sure to proliferate over whether that low profile resulted from Petraeus focusing on America’s intelligence gathering or on personal matters.

In particular, members of Congress and other officials demanding answers about the Benghazi attack on the US consulate that resulted in the deaths of four Americans – including the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stephens, and two CIA agents – will want to know if there was any link between Petraeus’s extramarital activities and what has been increasingly criticized as the CIA’s weak performance on the night of the Benghazi attack.

More broadly, the reason for Petraeus’s departure will raise questions about any compromising of US covert operations and intelligence. The potential for blackmail of intelligence officers is always a concern about the spy corps, but the involvement of the nation’s top spy in an extramarital affair takes the concern to a new level.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been probing Petraeus and the potential security risks posed by his affair, CNN reported late Friday afternoon.

In the weeks since the Benghazi attack, officials have leaked information, including how Petraeus kept information on the CIA’s role in Benghazi so private that even Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was left to call Petraeus as the attack unfolded to try to get intelligence information from him.

Last week, CIA officials revealed that in fact, the intelligence agency’s operations in Benghazi dwarfed diplomatic operations at the consulate and that the CIA maintained what was described as an “annex,” about a mile from the diplomatic mission.

State Department officials have said there was an informal understanding that the annex and its agents would come to the assistance of the consulate (which had private contractors providing security) if a need arose. CIA officials insist their agents responded to the consulate’s distress calls within a half-hour.

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