As a former CIA analyst and House Intelligence Committee staff member, I was saddened but very suspicious about the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA Director. I thought Petraeus was a good choice to lead the Agency because he is a man of integrity who would both stand up to the intelligence bureaucracy and speak truth to those in power.
I was very skeptical when I heard Petraeus stepped down only because he had an affair and that the White House was not informed about this until three days after the presidential election. I thought there had to be something else going on here.
I don’t dismiss the seriousness of infidelity, but it’s hard to believe that the party of Bill Clinton would hold this against Petraeus. Moreover, given the Agency’s secretive nature and the often lonely overseas assignments of its agents, marital affairs are not unheard of in the CIA. Most CIA officers would not have held an affair against Petraeus as long as there were no security or counterintelligence concerns.
It is now becoming clear that there is much more to this story and that it may be a serious political and national security scandal.
First of all, news is coming out almost by the hour about misuse of Petraeus’ email accounts, threatening emails to a third person, and that Petraeus’ mistress, Paula Broadwell, allegedly had classified documents on her computer that she may have somehow obtained from Petraeus.
Such serious security-related problems plaguing a CIA director and the possibility of blackmail are very troubling given that he has access to our nation’s most sensitive intelligence and covert operations. If what Petraeus knows was to be compromised, it could result in the deaths of U.S. covert operatives, serious threats to the U.S. homeland and American troops abroad, and possibly lethal harm to billion-dollar intelligence programs.
The political dimension to this scandal is also very serious. Not only does it appear that information about the Petraeus case was withheld to avoid harming President Obama’s re-election chances, it seems very likely that the Obama administration recklessly trampled on the Congressional intelligence oversight committees set up in the aftermath of Watergate to hold presidents accountable on intelligence matters and prevent abuses.
From my 25 years working in U.S. national security positions, I can say with certainty that it is inconceivable that the president’s senior officials in the National Security Council (NSC) were not informed that the FBI was investigating a CIA director.
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I believe the Obama NSC has known about this for months. Consider that Newsmax Chief Washington Correspondent Ron Kessler was told about the Petraeus investigation in early October. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was told about it unofficially by an FBI officer on October 27. How could it be that these men knew about such a serious national security issue while the president’s national security staff did not?
It seems clear the Petraeus resignation was timed to prevent his departure from undermining the Obama campaign’s efforts to downplay the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate and push this tragedy past the election. If the story came out last month that Petraeus was resigning and would not testify on the Benghazi attack, it would have sparked a media frenzy and an avalanche of Republican attacks. Petraeus was to be a star witness on Benghazi since he told Congress in mid-September that the consulate attack was “spontaneous” and in response to an anti-Islam video. We now know that CIA officers in Libya and at CIA headquarters knew this was not the case.
News of the Petraeus resignation last month would have forced the major media, which had been stubbornly ignoring the Benghazi consulate attack, to devote intensified coverage to it just as the presidential campaign was winding down. This may have magnified the Benghazi story enough to cost Obama the election.
By law, the Congressional intelligence oversight committees must be kept “fully and currently informed” of important national security developments. By custom, issues as urgent as an FBI investigation of a CIA director are briefed at the earliest opportunity to the “Gang of Eight,” composed of the House and Senate leaders and ranking minority members plus the chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees. We now know this did not happen. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said on Sunday that she did not learn about the Petraeus case until last Friday – and that she first heard about it from the news media.
I believe the only reason a briefing to Congress of such crucial information was delayed was to ensure it could not be used to help Governor Romney. If this was the Obama administration’s rationale, it is deeply insulting to congressional leaders who are sworn not to disclose sensitive national security information and are regularly briefed on such matters. As Sen. Feinstein told Fox News on Sunday, "We are very much able to keep things in a classified setting . . . And, of course, we have not had that opportunity."
The idea that administration officials would conceal national security information from Congress to win a presidential election would be a gross abuse of power with serious implications. It was the Democrats who instituted strong oversight of U.S. intelligence in the mid-1970s to stop the abuse of intelligence agencies, especially by a president seeking to advance a political agenda or violate the civil liberties of Americans. If Obama officials withheld notification of the Petraeus investigation from Congress to win a presidential election, they have made a mockery of congressional oversight of intelligence and have opened the door to the kinds of abuses that the intelligence oversight committees were created to prevent.
Was the president informed by his NSC staff about the Petraeus investigation, or did they keep this information from him to give Obama plausible deniability? These are serious questions, and Congress must demand answers.
If President Obama knew about the Petraeus resignation in advance, this case rises to a much more serious level.
Fred Fleitz is Managing Editor of LIGNET.com, a Washington, D.C.-based international analysis and intelligence service. He left government in 2011 after a 25-year career with the CIA, DIA, the U.S. State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff
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