The Petraeus Affair: Act Two
As the fallen general reemerges publicly, he could fight the system that exposed his private life. By Shane Harris
Comments () | Published January 23, 2013
The sordid tale of the Marine, the Hostess, the Rival, and her Lover is entering its second act: The quest for public redemption.
A Pentagon inquiry has found that Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of the war in Afghanistan, did not engage in conduct unbecoming an officer when he exchanged reportedly "flirtatious" e-mails with a Tampa woman who helped trigger an investigation that led to Gen. David Petraeus' resignation as CIA Director. For his part, I'm told that Petraeus has been slowing reemerging in Washington society. He was spotted eating out twice in the past week, for lunch and dinner. He has also retained the services of lawyer/literary agent Bob Barnett, who would be ideally suited to getting Petraeus a book deal.
Paula Broadwell, the Petraeus biographer who carried on an affair with her subject, has kept a low profile. Her father has said that "a lot more is going to come out" about this story, and surely Broadwell, an ambitious writer, has another book in her. Finally, there's Jill Kelley, the Tampa "socialite" who seems perfect for a spot on a Bravo reality series, but who may first have a role as a privacy advocate.
Yesterday, Kelley and her husband, Scott, called on Congress to consider new rules and safeguards to protect the privacy of individual citizens who find themselves, like the Kelleys, caught up in a burgeoning law enforcement investigation. Kelley, who sought help from an FBI agent she knew after receiving reportedly harassing e-mails (it turned out, from Broadwell), says she awoke to paparazzi and reporters on her front lawn after her name was linked to the Petraeus scandal.
"Our family committed no crime and sought no publicity. We simply appealed for help after receiving anonymous e-mails with threats of blackmail and extortion," the Kelleys wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday.
As the dust settles on the Petraeus Affair, it turns out that Kelley is getting at the most important lesson. Fifteen Pentagon investigators and various branches of the FBI have spent months examining hundreds of private e-mails, and we still know precious little about how an investigation that wreaked private and public ruin was launched in the first place.
There has been no analogous report from the Justice Department as to why an FBI agent in the Tampa field office was able to get a cyberstalking investigation launched on the basis of some anonymous e-mails. There's been no good explanation for why that agent jumped his chain of command and reported the investigation to a senior member of Congress. The FBI found itself in an understandably delicate situation once the trail led to Petraeus. But investigators eventually realized he had committed no crime. And yet the Director of National Intelligence told Petraeus to resign once he learned of the former general's affair. That, too, is a sequence of events that hasn't been fully explained. One can, at this point, only imagine why the DNI thought Petraeus' non-criminal indiscretions warranted professional suicide.
I suspect Petraeus has some empathy for Kelley and her husband. He surely never expected to find his personal life made public. The supreme irony is that one of America's highest ranking intelligence officials was blindsided by the surveillance state in which he serves. New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe, who has reported extensively on intelligence activities, astutely suggested that "our spymasters should give some thought as well to how it feels to be thoroughly and mercilessly laid bare at the hands of a legal and technological surveillance apparatus that is their own creation." Those who pursued Petraeus' in the first place might do the same.
To achieve true redemption there must first be a reckoning. Petraeus will surely have his public moment for personal apology. But after that, why shouldn't he turn the tables on his interrogators? Wouldn't it be interesting to see Kelley and Petraeus jointly chair a citizen commission into the dangers of open-ended electronic sleuthing? Are there two people who would attract more attention if they testified before hearings on electronic privacy legislation in the new Congress?
Once you get past the spectacle, Kelley and Petraeus are credible witnesses to the excesses of the surveillance state.