Monday, November 12, 2012

The Petraeus Affair

General David Petraeus, one of the most widely respected public servants, resigned as Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency on November 9.  The facts, as they have been reported, are that the FBI conducted an investigation into a complaint filed by Jill Kelley - a long time acquaintance of General Petraeus.  Jill Kelley reported to the FBI that she had received harassing emails.  The emails were traced to Paula Broadwell who had written a lavishly flattering biography of the general.   The FBI then uncovered email correspondence between General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell suggestive of a sexual relationship and confirmed this relationship upon interviewing General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell.  According to reports, the FBI determined that no laws had been broken and that no classified information had been divulged.  The FBI reported the matter to Petraeus’ boss, James R. Clapper – the Director of National Intelligence – who summoned Petraeus and urged him to resign.   James Clapper informed the White House and President Obama called Petraeus to the White House where Petraeus submitted his resignation which President Obama accepted the next day.  General Petraeus made public the reason for his resignation and his apologies.

The question has arisen of whether General Petraeus should have been pressured to resign and whether the President should have accepted his resignation.

I think it was certainly appropriate for the FBI to report the incident to Petraeus’ boss and for his boss to report the matter to the White House, because of the concern that someone in Petraeus' sensitive position might be subject to blackmail.  However the blackmail concern could have been addressed by requiring Petraeus to disclose the affair to his wife or even make a public disclosure (as he eventually did) to minimize the possibility of a blackmail attempt. 

As far as we know General Petraeus apparently did not break any laws or violate any official policies.  His affair was not with a subordinate in his agency.  Thus his behavior could be considered a private matter.  If it turned out that the general did violate a CIA policy, for example if the CIA has a policy that its employees must report extramarital affairs and the general failed to do so, then there would be no question that he needed to resign.  Absent that, should an extraordinarily able public official be stripped of his position for a private, non-criminal failing?

On the other hand, someone in a position as sensitive as that of Director of the CIA must inspire in his subordinates the utmost confidence in his integrity.  Having an extramarital affair is emblematic of not being worthy of trust – at the very least not being worthy of the trust of the individual’s spouse.  The perception of untrustworthiness certainly is damaging to the ability of an individual to lead a critically important government agency.  One can certainly argue that an individual to whom the country entrusts its most critical tasks has the obligation to conduct himself/herself in a manner beyond reproach – both privately and publicly.  General Petraeus did fail in this regard.

Comments welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Some alternative thoughts:
    "As a threshold matter, it appears that both Petraeus and Paula Broadwell did things that have gotten others–people like Thomas Drake–prosecuted and stripped of their security clearance. Obama can’t continue his war on leakers if he goes easy on Petraeus after compromising his own email account. In addition, it appears that as the FBI closed in on Petraeus, he and Broadwell may have pushed back by revealing (or claiming) CIA had prisoners in Benghazi. That is, in some way Petraeus and Broadwell’s response to the investigation appears to have colored how they treated the Benghazi pushback going on at precisely the same time."