Friday, November 09, 2012

The Sudden (and Curious) Departure of David Petraeus

In one of the first shock waves to hit Washington since Tuesday's Presidential election, CIA Director David Petraeus announced his resignation this afternoon, citing an extra-marital affair. NBC News has the take-away quote from the retired Army general and now "former" spook:

"After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours."

Describing Petraeus's departure as a surprise would be an understatement.  There have been no whispers in the nation's capital about a possible change of leadership at CIA, or any extra-curricular activities involving General Petraeus.  Indeed, with last year's appointment of his wife to a senior post at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Petraeus' seemed hard-wired into the Washington establishment, and seemed poised to remain in government indefinitely.  There was no word today on whether the general's wife, Holly Petraeus, planned to leave her position at the CFPB.

Long-time associates of Petraeus described the resignation as consistent with the general's character.  "He feels that he screwed up.  He did a dishonorable thing and needed to try to do the honorable thing," one former confidant told the Danger Room in an e-mail.  

That may certainly be the case.  But powerful men and women in the nation's capital admit indiscretions only reluctantly.  In fact, there was nothing to indicate that Petraeus would soon leave the CIA post; in recent days, he had provided "rules for living" to Newsweek magazine, through his biographer and long-time confidant, Paula Broadwell--later revealed as the "other" woman.  If Petraeus knew the affair was about to become public, it's doubtful that he would have supplied the list, which includes such axioms as "lead by example," and "recognize and admit your mistakes."  Guess one out of two isn't that bad.  

David Petraeus's sudden fall from grace invites a rather obvious question, namely who leaked information about his affair.  In our experience, someone at the general's level typically resigns over an affair when the story is about to hit the press.  We're guessing that someone in the media was given the details about the CIA Director's extra-marital affair, and they called Langley asking for a statement.  Realizing his indiscretion would soon become public, Petraeus took the pro-active step of submitting his resignation, which was "regretfully" accepted by President Obama.  

So, who "got" David Petraeus?  Beyond his own, deplorable conduct, there is the list of ususal suspects.  We'll begin with veterans of the CIA clandestine service and paramilitary operations directorate.  They are furious over Petraeus's conduct in the aftermath of the Benghazi debacle, when his statements on the attack were similar to those of administration officials, who suggested the attack on the consulate was the result of  an "out-of-control" protest, sparked by outrage over an internet video that offensive to Muslims.  Two CIA contractors were among the four Americans killed in the attack and other agency personnel were wounded.  Yet, the administration did nothing to send assistance to the besieged consulate, other than a quick reaction force from the embassy in Tripoli.  

As we've noted before, no one plays the "leak" game better than the spook community.  As the White House clung to its "video" narrative, operatives involved in the Benghazi operation began passing details of that fateful night, raising new questions about what actually occurred.  The leaks were aimed (in part) at the administration, but they were also directed at Petraeus and the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) who were viewed as not only abandoning operatives on the ground, but doing little to defend the reputation of intelligence professionals when various administration officials suggested the community "got it wrong" before Benghazi.  

Then, more than six weeks after the attack, Petraeus did something a bit unusual.  Realizing the White House's well-deserved reputation for throwing people under the bus, the CIA Director announced that no one at his agency had taken steps to prevent assistance from reaching our diplomats and intel operators on the ground in Benghazi.  That assertion shifted the blame squarely on the administration and the Pentagon.  Needless to say, Petraeus's comments didn't exactly win him any friends in the West Wing, or on the E-ring of the Pentagon.  And, if he was trying to rally support in the spook world, it was probably too late for that as well.  

So members of the intel community had plenty of motive for exposing the CIA Director's extra-curricular activities.  And, it wouldn't be that hard to discover what he was up to.  As a former senior commander (and more recently as head of the CIA), Petraeus has been living in a 24-hour security bubble for years, so his protection detail was probably aware of the affair, and it didn't take long for word to leak to other spooks, who had plenty of motive to get rid of Petraeus. Additionally, there are now reports the affair began during his military days--possibly dating to the general's tenure as our commander in Iraq and Afghanistan--so there were plenty of people in a position to "know."  

But don't exclude the possibility of a White House "job," either.  Relations between the retired General and Mr. Obama were never good; there were disagreements over U.S. policies in Afghanistan and many in the administration viewed Petraeus as "too independent" for the job.  And, when the CIA Director blamed the lack of support in Benghazi on the White House, the administration had a clear reason for getting rid of General Petraeus.  As President Obama reviews candidates for his second term cabinet (and other senior positions) we keep hearing the term "pliable" being tossed about.  In other words, the Commander-in-Chief is looking for individuals who will take orders without question or complaint.  David Petraeus clearly didn't fit that mold. So, with his affair under investigation by the FBI, it wasn't hard for Team Obama to obtain that information and use it when it became convenient.   

And of course, the White House derives one more benefit from Petraeus's departure.  Just hours after his resignation was announced, the Administration revealed that the former director will not testify during Congressional hearings on Benghazi next week.  With a key player unavailable, it becomes that much more difficult to determine what happened when our consulate was attacked.  We can only wonder if Representative Mike Rogers (chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) would pursue a Congressional subpoena to compel Petraeus to appear.  But with the GOP licking its wounds after Tuesday's elections--and new demands for bi-partisanship--the White House is betting that Rogers won't press the issue.  So, valuable testimony will be lost as Congress tries to get to the bottom of Benghazi.

In any case, Petraeus is gone and selection of the next CIA Director will likely be based on political connections, rather than demonstrated expertise.   Petraeus was anything but a great DCI; as a consumer of intelligence, he knew the basics of the business, but had no experience in running an intel bureaucracy, much less reworking it for the challenges that lie ahead.  Still, he's probably better than the person who will follow him at Langley, illustrating yet another danger from Mr. Obama's re-election victory.  
ADDENDUM:  Later reporting indicates that Petraeus's affair was under investigation by the FBI as a potential security risk.  That's significant because it indicates that the CIA Director's indiscretion was widely known.  Put another way: FBI counter-intelligence agents had to brief their bosses, who (in turn) briefed the Director, who provided updates to the Attorney General, Eric Holder.  From Eric's lips to Obama's ear, as one might say.  Additionally, the FBI agents kept their CIA counterparts in the loop, as a matter of professional courtesy and potential damage assessments.  So, there are plenty of people at Langley who probably caught wind of the director's problems, and were preparing to drop the bomb when Petraeus stepped down.

One final note: former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra (who knows as much about intel as anyone in Washington) tweeted this evening that the Petraeus mess will "get much worse..more here than meets the eye."

We shall see.                     


Ed Bonderenka said...

Thanks for the best analysis I've read so far.

OBloodyHell said...

}}}}We can only wonder if Representative Mike Rogers (chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) would pursue a Congressional subpoena to compel Petraeus to appear.

If he doesn't then the GOP is completely #$%$# worthless.

I'm sick and tired of this spineless surrender to everything the Dems want.

Anonymous said...

Since the affair was baggage he brought with him before he was appointed DCI, wouldn't this have been uncovered during his background check?

Katielee4211 said...

.....Administration revealed that the former director will not testify during Congressional hearings on Benghazi next week.~~~

That in in itself is an interesting remark. From what I understand, he can be subpoenaed?

Why are they so sure he won't be testifying? Or is this simply political posturing. With this Administration, I'm always disposed to think worse,