Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Petraeus and Broadwell: The FBI circles the wagons

By Donald Sensing

How interesting that last night I was speaking to a former field-grade Marine infantry officer about l'affaire Petraeus wherein we marveled at other senior Army or Marine officers we had known in our careers who could not keep their pants zipped and ruined their otherwise-stellar careers. For my buddy it was a regimental commander, years ago. The one that I recollected first was an armor brigade commander who decided to poke his Spec 4 driver, and I don't mean on the then-nonexistent Facebook.

I confess to having a more jaded view of the whole sordid mess than a lot of folks for two main reasons. One, my final assignment in the Army was as a principal staff officer of US Army Criminal Investigation Command - and you do that for awhile and you will never again be surprised at anything stupid or criminal that anyone does, no matter his/her reputation, accomplishments or station in life. Two, I've been in ecclesial ministry for 15 years, same lesson (including, sadly, fellow clergy).

So last night my buddy, bemoaning the fall of David Petraeus (whom he briefed weekly, in person, in Baghdad for two years when serving there during the Surge), said confidently, "You'll never see John Allen doing anything like that." That would be four-star Gen. John Allen, US Marine Corps, supreme allied commander in Afghanistan, with whom my friend served when they were both mid-grade officers.

My response was, well, typically jaded: "He will never do it until he does it." I recollected 1986's blockbuster movie, Top Gun, in which a Navy air-combat instructor pilot tells Tom Cruise's character, "That was some of the best flying I've ever seen. Right up to the point where you got killed." And the men or women you would never suspect of stupidity or unzipping their pants never do so - right up until the time they do.

US Marine Gen. John Allen, commanding allied
forces in Afghanistan
So a creepy feeling this morning to behold this headline: "Petraeus investigation ensnares commander of U.S., NATO troops in Afghanistan"
PERTH, Australia — The FBI probe into the sex scandal that prompted CIA Director David Petraeus to resign has expanded to ensnare Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced early Tuesday. 
According to a senior U.S. defense official, the FBI has uncovered between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of documents — most of them e-mails — that contain “potentially inappropriate” communication between Allen and Jill Kelley, the 37-year-old Tampa woman whose report of harassment by a person who turned out to be Petraeus’s mistress ultimately led to Petraeus’s downfall. 
Allen, a Marine, succeeded Petraeus as the top allied commander in Afghanistan in July 2011. He also served as Petraeus’s deputy when both generals led the military’s Tampa-based Central Command from 2008 until 2010.
Jill Kelley, left; Paula Broadwell
Well, zing! Wait a minute: thirty thousand pages of emails? That's, what, nine millions words or so! Hey, John, who's running the war while you're writing the equivalent of 15 volumes of War and Peace? Okay, so surely most of the pages were documents attachments. But why were they sent to Jill Kelley, who was as far from "need to know" as you can imagine. CBS News asks, "Who is Jill Kelley?" and here is the answer:
The Tampa, Florida socialite has three young children with her husband, a prominent cancer surgeon. The couple met Petraeus about five years ago through their charitable work for military families. The couple often attends events at the military's central command center in Tampa.
So a socialite enjoys a string of personal emails from a four-star general running the Afghanistan war, amounting to 30,000 pages or correspondence and attachments. No wonder SecDef Leon Panetta ordered a Defense Inspector General investigation. (Update: Kelley is a shameless self promoter, advertising herself as the "social liaison" for Central Command. Of which there is no such thing. "Social butterfly" would be a better description.)

Okay, let me try to walk this dog:
  • Petraeus and Paul Broadwell have an affair, supposedly breaking it off about three months ago.
  • The communicated covertly with each other by using a Google Gmail account set up for just that purpose, using the same logon to write emails to one another but never sending them, which would leave an electronic trail. Instead, they save them as drafts and then read them unsent. 
  • Broadwell decided that Kelley is trying to muscle in on her man and sends Kelley some (vaguely) threatening emails, stupidly using the special Gmail account, thus laying down electronic breadcrumbs.
  • Kelley, not knowing who sent the emails (which in fact are pretty innocuous) happens to have a personal relationship with and FBI agent in town. She shows him the emails and,
  • He springs into action and opens an investigation! Why? Not because there is anything actually criminally actionable in the emails but because he wants to have an affair with Kelley! How do we know? Because his superiors yanked him off the investigation for sending Kelley topless photos of himself
  • Nonetheless, the investigation goes forward because, well, that's what investigations do. The FBI cracks the secret Gmail account and discovers at least some of the emails between Petraeus and Broadwell. But, as the FBI has explained, they did not uncover evidence that Petraeus himself had done anything illegal. Nor for that matter, has any such evidence been uncovered against Broadwell, at least so far. And yet, only last night did the FBI get around to searching Broadwell's residence
  • Apparently, Gen. Allen was roped into the investigation because the FBI was reviewing Kelley's emails, too, and discovered a reference to the Broadwell emails in an email she had sent to Allen. 
The senior defense official said the voluminous collection of e-mails sent between Allen and Kelley occurred between 2010 and this year but did not give details. The official also declined to say whether Allen sent or received any of the messages from his military or government e-mail accounts, or if classified material was compromised.
So here is may personal assessment as things stand now:

1. The question on everyone's mind is, "Is Petraeus's resignation connected to his formerly-forthcoming testimony to Congress about the massacre at Benghazi?" My answer: "No." Resigning neither prevents Petraeus from testifying nor the committee from subpoenaing him.

2. Was Gen. Allen romantically involved with Jill Kelley? No, but he did rather stupidly carry on a long and lengthy email correspondence with her.

3. Was the US consulate in Benghazi being used as a detention cell for al Qaeda prisoners, which Broadwell said in a speech last month (video here)? No, but Libyan Islamists may well have thought so, which could have prompted the attack.

4. What was going on with Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley? They did not apparently know each other very well, if at all, living two states apart. But both strike me as social climbers and status seekers, Broadwell using her West Point diploma as a key to biograph Petraeus and Kelley using her husband's wealth to ingratiate herself with US Central Command officers as a friend of the military.

5. Since the FBI's investigation has been going on for, minimally, many weeks if not many months, and no criminality has been uncovered, why does it still continue? What was the basis for plundering Broadwell's home last night?

6. Did the FBI withhold announcing the investigation until after the election to avoid embarrassing President Obama as election day loomed? No, they didn't announce until Petraeus resigned. They didn't announce otherwise for two main reasons: (1) they didn't really have anything to announce. Theirs was a criminal, not counterintelligence, investigation and as of late last week (and today, too) they had not found evidence of criminality by anyone involved; (2) to avoid embarrassing themselves for having the investigation's lead agent revealed as hot to trot for Kelley (the complainant), initiating the investigation not based on adequate reasons but from boyish infatuation, as way to move in on her, and sending her provocative pix of himself. IMO, this is the primary reason the FBI stayed mum.

Right now, it seems to me that the main thing going on is the FBI is engaging in a huge coverup of its own ineptitude and failure to adhere to professional standards. There is no "there" there in the investigation - no evidence of criminal conduct or intelligence threat and, most importantly, no reason for the Broadwell emails to have been the subject of an investigation to begin with. But now the FBI is "all in," and is not going to stop until somehow, some way, no matter how flimsy the reason, they get the opportunity to slap cuffs on somebody.

Now the "investigation" is not about Petraeus, not about Obama, not about Allen or Broadwell or Kelley. It's about the FBI circling the wagons.

Update: This is on the money, too: "FBI's abuse of the surveillance state is the real scandal needing investigation"

Which reinforces my point that the investigation is now about FBI self protection. One way or another they are going to arrest someone.

Update: News reports say that the FBI conducted a consent search of Broadwell's home, meaning that the Broadwells permitted it through their attorney. It also means that the FBI did not have probable cause for a search, else it would have been done under warrant long ago. That in turn means that the "threatening" emails were not threatening in the least because if their content had crossed some legal threshold, once the FBI established who sent them, it would have arrested Broadwell right away and conducted a home search incident to the arrest.

Once again: There is nothing here deserving of the media attention it is getting (which should be redirected now directly upon the FBI itself, not the principals) or deserving the investigator man hours and resources being expended on it. Does one smell the aroma of a US attorney general ordering the FBI to make sure that this non-issue stays the lead story as Congress prepares to hear testimony about the Benghazi attacks?

The only reason the Broadwells would have consented to the search was to exculpate themselves by the FBI's analysis of their computer equipment and other items coming up null. This was a major mistake on Broadwell's and her attorney's part. As I said above, the FBI is going to make darn sure it arrests somebody, anybody, in connection to this case, and right now Paula Broadwell is the leading contender. They will find a way. Paula, if you don't know who the fall guy is, it's you.

Update: USNews: "From Kelley to Petraeus, It Doesn't Add Up - Experts are puzzled by what prompted the FBI to look into Jill Kelley's E-mail in the first place"

"I'm a little surprised that they would have opened a case on this," says a retired senior FBI employee, with years of experience with these kinds of investigations. "I wonder if there was something else in the original E-mail that raised some kind of concern." 
"It must have threatened death or something like that," the source tells U.S. News. "I don't understand … what was so heinous to start a federal investigation."

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