The sudden resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus apparently started out in prosaic fashion, based on romantic jealousy that sounds like junior high school.
According to news reports that grew in detail over the weekend, the retired four-star Army general’s paramour – identified widely as Petraeus biographer and confidant Paula Broadwell – had become jealous of another woman close to Mr. Petraeus. She sent harassing e-mails to the other woman, who filed a complaint eventually taken up by the FBI.
When agents investigated Ms. Broadwell’s e-mail account, they discovered romantic exchanges she had had with the CIA director. Concerned about possible security breaches, agents looked at Petraeus’s personal email account. In a short time he was admitting to an extramarital affair and handing his resignation to President Obama.
At this point, there is no evidence that intelligence or national security secrets were compromised during the hidden affair, officials have said. It was via his personal Gmail account – not his secure CIA email – that Petraeus and Broadwell communicated. As a West Point graduate and Army Reserve officer, Broadwell had her own security clearance, although she would not have had the “need to know” required for the highest levels of secrecy.
As the scandal broke, official Washington remained generally laudatory of Petraeus.
With a reputation as one of the best thinkers in the US military (he has a PhD in international relations from Princeton University) as well as battlefield commanders, he designed and led the military surge in Iraq, then was tapped by President Obama to take over as top US commander in Afghanistan when Gen. Stanley McChrystal was relieved of duty in 2010 for controversial comments in Rolling Stone magazine.
A year later, Petraeus was confirmed as CIA director when Leon Panetta moved on to become Secretary of Defense.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), adultery is a punishable offense for soldiers if the conduct is shown to be detrimental “to good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.”
As a civilian now, Petraeus does not fall under the UCMJ. But an extramarital affair leaves one vulnerable to blackmail that could threaten national security, and it’s hard to set an example for proper conduct to others in the spy agency – until now, Petraeus has had a reputation for probity and integrity – when the director has been caught up in a very public scandal that demonstrated “very poor judgment,” as he put it in his resignation letter to the President.
“Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” he acknowledged in a statement to CIA employees.
The coming week will see a scramble in Washington, not only to find a permanent replacement for Petraeus but also over the ongoing controversy involving the CIA’s response when terrorists attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans – including two former Navy SEALs working on contract for the CIA.
Some lawmakers wonder why the FBI didn’t notify the White House and relevant congressional committees earlier – before the election – that the CIA director was under investigation.
"I have real questions about this. I think the timeline has to be looked at," Rep. King said. "I'm suggesting there's a lot of unanswered questions."
King also says Petraeus still should testify before his committee this coming week on the Benghazi attack.
"David Petraeus testifying has nothing to do with whether or not he's still the CIA director, and I don't see how the CIA can say he's not going to testify," King said. "He was at the center of this, and he has answers that only he has."
Meanwhile, the story of two families impacted by personal scandal continues, played out in the media, including Saturday Night Live. Both Petraeus and Broadwell are married with children. Broadwell has yet to comment publicly, nor has Petraeus since his resignation Friday.
Despite Petraeus’s military accomplishments covering an extraordinary career, “critics fault him for ambition and self-promotion,” Broadwell wrote in her glowing biography, “All In: The Education of David Petraeus.” His nickname – “King David” – was not always used by subordinates as a compliment.