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Petraeus Biographer Strokes More Than Just His Ego

November 10, 2012 ·

From national hero to cyber stalker in 1,000 easy emails.

From national hero to cyber stalker in 1,000 easy emails.

While interviewing General David Petraeus's co-biographer Paula Broadwell, John Stewart asked her what it was like to be "embedded with a person at this level." Little did he know how embedded she was.

Of course, Petraeus resigned after his brief affair with Ms. Broadwell -- and his obsessive attempts to revive it in the form of over one thousand emails -- were discovered. Still, today's climate is forgiving enough to allow someone in such a high position to continue his job. One thinks of President Clinton.

However, it was out of the question in Petraeus's case, not only because he was head of an intelligence organization, but because Ms. Broadwell is under investigation for reading sensitive emails that Petraeus wrote. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The computer-security investigation … points to one reason Mr. Petraeus and the White House decided he couldn't remain in the senior intelligence position. An extramarital affair has significant implications for an official in a highly sensitive post, because it can open an official to blackmail. Security officials are sensitive to misuse of personal email accounts—not only official accounts—because there have been multiple instances of foreign hackers targeting personal emails.

FBI agents on the case expected that Petraeus would be asked to resign immediately rather than risk the possibility that he could be blackmailed to give intelligence secrets to foreign intelligence agencies or criminals. In addition, his pursuit of the woman could have distracted him as the CIA was giving Congress reports on the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11.

Conservatives had already been claiming that someone at the CIA was "asleep at the wheel" of the Benghazi train wreck. Some now view one-time favorite Petraeus as a means by which they can further savage the administration over the attack. At Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman writes:

The Wall Street Journal cites several anonymous officials who go after Petraeus hard. The CIA [presence in Benghazi] … with the mission of hunting down ex-dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s unsecured rockets and missiles … operating out of an “annex” near the 13-acre consular compound, dwarfed the regular diplomatic presence in Benghazi. That apparently led to an expectation at the State Department that the CIA would secure the compound in the event of a disaster, which never congealed into a formal arrangement.

Worse …

The CIA had 10 people to protect its annex in Benghazi, but the State Department relied on a previously obscure British firm, Blue Mountain, [which] … paid its Libyan guards $4 an hour … to guard the entire compound. … It’s speculative, but the State Department’s expectation that the CIA would be “the cavalry” in an assault … might have contributed to State’s relatively lax security posture at the consulate.

Meanwhile, let's try to envision a scenario in which Ms. Broadwell perused Petraeus's official email account.

1. While he's deep in post-coital sleep, she sneaks off to his laptop. He has carelessly failed to log out of his email account.
2. While he scrolls through his emails, he lets her look over his shoulder.
3. He actually gave her his password. His intent might have been to allow her to log on and view saved drafts of emails he's written, but refrained from sending to avoid tracking. But, the sheer volume of emails he sent otherwise tends to invalidate this hypothesis.

Still a key question remains: was Ms. Broadwell just poking around on Petraeus's account out of curiosity? Or was she looking for something specific? If so, what?

In the end -- in fact, this story is just getting started -- it's ironic to those of us who have long stood in opposition to Petraeus that the woman who helped "hagiograph"* him was the catalyst for his fall from grace. Thanks to Petraeus's fatal encounter with Ms. Broadwell, he was transformed from engaged CIA director and "national hero" to a man who wrote over one thousand emails to the woman who'd broken up with him -- a common cyber-stalker, in other words.

*Write an idealizing biography.