It's been barely 24 hours since CIA Director David Petraeus resigned, after admitting he engaged in an extra-marital affair. But the episode is already metastasizing in to a major sex and political scandal, positioned at the intersection of personal indiscretion, election-year politics and September 11th attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Among the recent developments:
- Questions as to Why the FBI Was Involved. Various media accounts suggest the bureau was looking into Petraeus's relationship with biographer Paula Broadwell for several months. That revelation is somewhat surprising; as former CIA operative Robert Baer told CNN's Piers Morgan last night, he knew of "four or five" agency directors who carried on affairs during their tenure at Langley. Mr. Baer may be engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but one thing is clear. Those other escapades never (apparently) attracted the attention of the FBI, despite the potential blackmail threat.
So why was the FBI involved? One of the bureau's primary missions is domestic counter-intelligence, ferreting out enemy moles, spy rings and and other activities that may jeopardize national security (the CIA is responsible for counter-intelligence outside our borders). Apparently, there was something about the affair that caught the FBI's attention, and with it, the attention of the Obama White House. With the administration "in the loop," they had a trump card that could be played against Petraeus at a time of their choosing. With the director scheduled to testify before Congress next week, Team Obama found its moment. As we noted in a previous post, the possibility that the White House torpedoed General Petraeus is quite likely.
- Who is the Second Woman? The Wall Street Journal reported late Saturday that the FBI probe began after a second women (who lives in Florida) complained about harassing e-mails she received from Ms. Broadwell, inquiring about her relationship with the general. Once again, we find the feds' response rather interesting. Thousands of harassing e-mails are sent across the web each day, yet few receive any attention from law enforcement. Of course, e-mails that involve the CIA Director would certainly raise the ante, as would those involving a second individual at the upper levels of defense or intelligence. The "other woman" doesn't appear to be an ordinary "civilian," since the feds promptly acted on her complaint, and launched a full-scale investigation.
- What About the Vetting Process? Many have expressed surprise that Petraeus's affair wasn't discovered during his confirmation process as CIA Director. But the fact is, General Petraeus received only a cursory check as he retired from the Army and moved to Langley. As a senior military commander, Petraeus already had access to the nation's most sensitive secrets, and investigators had decades of security clearance investigations and updates to draw upon. On the surface, David Petraeus looked remarkably clean and since he didn't disclose the affair at the time of his confirmation, there was nothing in his background check to arouse suspicions. And, as former FBI agent Gary Aldrich observed during the Clinton years, greater latitude is given to political appointees in terms of past misdeeds and questionable behavior. But the general failed to report his affair--for rather obvious reasons--so it remained a secret until the FBI began its probe.
- What Does This Have to Do With Benghazi? In a word, plenty. As we've noted previously, Petraeus's sudden departure may prevent him from testifying about what happned in Libya on the night of September 11th, at the very time Congress is trying to get to the bottom of the mess. The CIA will still send someone to the Hill this week, but it's unclear if the acting director was actively involved in the decision-making on that fateful evening. And, if Petraeus (and the administration) choose to fight or ignore a Congressional subpoena, we may never learn what he did during the attacks on our consulate and safe house. As Ralph Peters observed the other day, the timing of Petraeus's departure is far too convenient. With the White House aware of Petraeus's affair (through the FBI and attorney general Holder), they could afford to keep him on the job--and articulating the "video" version of Benghazi--until it became convenient to cut him loose.
So what comes next? The hearings on Capitol Hill will go forward, but the narrative has changed, and that's by design. Questions about what happened in Libya have now been superseded by a good, old-fashioned sex scandal. The media is already looking for the second woman, and the sex angle will drive coverage for the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, the issue of Benghazi will fade into the background; Congressional Democrats will likely accept lame excuses offered by the administration, DoD and the intel community, while the public learns every excruciating detail of David Petraeus's extra-marital affairs. Indeed, the sex angle will become the prism through which many Americans view the Benghazi scandal; the emerging meme will go something like this: David Petraeus was too busy with his affairs to pay attention to the growing threat to our personnel in Libya. Connect a few more dots, and it's easy to see the former CIA Director becoming a scapegoat for the loss of four Americans in Benghazi.
And that too, will be by design.