Uncovering Petraeus’ Affair

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 10 2012 10:39 AM

How Was Petraeus’ Affair Uncovered and Did he Really Have To Resign?

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A 2010 photo of former CIA director David Petraeus in Italy while he was commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan

Photo by OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

In a town where watching powerful men and women fall from grace is a particularly perverse sport, no one in Washington seemed to be taking joy at the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus, the man many have qualified as the best military mind in decades, after admitting he had an extramarital affair. As Slate’s Fred Kaplan has reported, the woman with whom he was having an affair was Paula Broadwell, co-author of his biography.  

There’s a bit of disagreement over how exactly the affair was uncovered. While everyone notes the affair became public during an FBI investigation, the Wall Street Journal specifically notes that an inquiry into access to Petraeus’ Gmail account led to the belief that Broadwell, or someone close to her, tried to access his e-mail. NBC News says Broadwell is currently under an FBI investigation for “improperly trying to access his e-mail and possibly gaining access to classified information.”

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Politico, however, hears that is likely an exaggeration and that concern over access to Petraeus’ e-mail was not what initiated the investigation. McClatchy hears similar information, noting that sources say “the FBI did not investigate the author for attempting to compromise Petraeus’ computer.” According to this version it seems that, as Reuters hears, investigators stumbled across evidence of the affair while investigating news leaks. Although it's unclear exactly why the FBI was monitoring Petraeus’ e-mail, a source tells the Washington Post, the FBI found e-mails describing the affair.

Did Petraeus have to resign? In Foreign Policy, Thomas Ricks, who has described Petraeus as the best post-Sept. 11 commander in the U.S. military, hears that President Obama tried to talk him out of resigning. And Ricks describes Petraeus’ decision as the result of overabundance of honor: “Petraeus took the samurai route and insisted that he had done a dishonorable thing and now had to try to balance it by doing the honorable thing and stepping down as CIA director.”

Yet it seems Petraeus didn’t really have much of a choice. It’s not just that an extramarital affair is a no-no for the intelligence community due to fears that it could be used as a tool for blackmail. But the fact that the affair was all seemingly registered in Petraeus’ personal account may have been the decisive factor since foreign hackers have been known to access e-mail of officials in sensitive posts, points out the Wall Street Journal.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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