General Petraeus affair raises deep personal and public questions

CIA Director David Petraeus has resigned over an extra-marital affair, reportedly with his biographer. How did the FBI learn that his personal e-mail account had been hacked? What happens to the spy agency now, under fire for its handling of the terrorist attack at Benghazi?

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Holly Petraeus holds the family Bible as her husband David Petraeus is sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden as CIA Director at the White House in Sept. 2011.
T. Ortega Gaines/The Charlotte Observer/AP
Paula Broadwell, author of the David Petraeus biography "All In," poses for photos in Charlotte, N.C.

The news that shocked Washington this week – the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus because of an extra-marital affair – leaves a string of unanswered questions.

How and why was the FBI led to investigate suspicions that Gen. Petraeus’s personal e-mail account had been hacked? Did someone in the CIA opposed to his leadership methods tip off the FBI, as one conspiracy theory alleges?

How did the woman widely reported to have been involved in the affair become so close to the nation’s spymaster? Did she have access to Petraeus’s Gmail account, and were any national secrets compromised?

What happens to the agency now, and will Petraeus testify to Congress this coming week about the CIA’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel – including two former Navy SEALs working as CIA contract employees?

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What’s clear is that two families now face an uncertain – perhaps devastating – future in the wake of Petraeus’s admitted “extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair.”

Holly Petraeus, his wife of 37 years, has been a leader in caring for military families with financial problems. Mrs. Petraeus is the assistant director for service member affairs at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – in particular going after abusive bank lending practices and questionable home foreclosures. Mr. and Mrs. Petraeus have two adult children, one of whom served as an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan.

Many news sources have named Paula Broadwell, the co-author of “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” as having been involved in the affair.

Like Petraeus, Ms. Broadwell (some 20 years younger than the retired four-star Army general) is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. She’s a fitness buff who, as author of a book about the nation’s most famous general, became a bit of a celebrity herself – appearing in a string of television interviews, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Until it was taken down Friday night, her website described Broadwell as a research associate at Harvard University's Center for Public Leadership and a doctoral candidate in the Department of War Studies at King's College London.

With Petraeus’s full cooperation, Broadwell began her doctoral dissertation on his leadership, which evolved into a glowing biography published last year. She is reported to be married to a radiologist in North Carolina with whom she has two young children.

Meanwhile, speculation about the relationship and Broadwell’s connection to Petraeus’s personal e-mail account (not his official CIA e-mail) continues to swirl.

ABC’s Martha Raddatz tweeted this: “Official tells me sevrl people who knew Petraeus got anonymous harassing emails. So investigation started. Emails then traced to Broadwell.”

In any case, once the affair became known to federal agencies and then to the White House, there was little question that it presented a massive breach of trust with the potential for national security implications.

“Any derogatory information that would lead you to be subject to blackmail by a foreign intelligence service would be potentially a basis for revoking your security clearance or not granting one to begin with,” John Pike of told the Boston Globe. “You are required to disclose any compromising information, from financial irregularities to an extramarital affair.”

“Behavior of the kind that is perceived as scandalous would be problematic for the CIA director,” Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Globe. “It would make it harder for the agency to enforce standards among its workforce and it would be a significant distraction in terms of the agency’s public relations.”

Most of the reaction in Washington reads like a sad political obituary for an extraordinary military leader, some suggesting that his marital infidelity should not have been reason for his departure from official public life. After all, it is noted, General Dwight Eisenhower carried on an affair when he was leading the allies to victory in Europe in World War 11. More recently, a string of prominent politicians – from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to former President Bill Clinton – have survived similar scandals.

But not, it appears, in the case of David Petraeus.

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