Fratricide in the Intelligence Community

14 November 2012

Wednesday


The fall of General David Petraeus as CIA chief seemed at first to be a typically petty American political scandal, and I really never can understand how people can get so worked up over this kind of eye-to-the-keyhole politics. It has often been said that US politicians are taken down by sex scandals and European politicians are taken down by money scandals. This pretty much holds true.

Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy (Four-Star Egos) attributes Petraeus’ fall to the egoism of American generals, noting that many of them kept mistresses. Comparing Petraeus to MacArthur he wrote:

“Like every great military commander, both boasted an unstinting ambition and an enormous ego, and left a long list of bitter and exasperated enemies within the U.S. military in their wake. Such qualities are a common thread running through our nation’s history — for in the pantheon of great American generals, there has not been a single modest man.”

Now, however, the fall of Petraeus is rippling outward and causing all kinds of odd little stories to crop up, and that is a sure sign that more is going on than meets the eye (even if that eye is firmly pressed to a keyhole). I think this is more about the “bitter and exasperated enemies” than about ego and ambition.

Here are a few of the items of interest, which invite the enterprising analyst to connect the dots (if you can):

Jill Kelley complains of receiving threatening e-mails from another woman; the FBI investigates, traces the emails to Paula Broadwell, and uncovers evidence of an affair between Broadwell and General Petraeus

House of Representatives Republican leader Eric Cantor gets a phone call from an FBI agent telling him about the Petraeus-Broadwell affair. This phone call was reportedly made at the behest of David Reichert (see last item below).

General David Petraeus publicly admits to an extra-marital affair and leaves his post as CIA chief.

General John Allen, top Afghanistan commander, is being investigated for sending “inappropriate emails” to Jill Kelley, but press reports say nothing about the content of these emails — are they inappropriate because they are threatening or because they are suggestive?

Paula Broadwell publicly has charged that the Benghazi embassy attack was the result of militants attempting to free prisoners being illegally detained by the CIA.

Jill Kelley, whose complaint began the unraveling of the scandal, and who has been called a “socialite” and a “social ambassador,” also, as it turns out, is an “honorary ambassador” for South Korea, and in a 911 call suggested that she might be entitled to diplomatic protection.

Here is what the Financial Times said about an unnamed FBI agent: “The FBI agent who triggered the investigation that led to the resignation of Mr Petraeus sent shirtless photos of himself to Jill Kelley, according to The Wall Street Journal. He reportedly became so ‘obsessed’ by the case that he was banned from it by his superiors. Fearing the case would be ignored, the agent alerted David Reichert, a member of Congress, who raised the matter with the FBI, the paper said.”

Many people receive threatening emails, but few of those who receive threatening emails can interest the FBI in the case, much less get an investigation started, much less have that investigation go so high as to take down a general and the chief of the CIA.

Any of these items taken separately would be odd; taken together, they are more than odd. Knowing that a powerful political figure can be crippled by a sex scandal is an opportunity for anyone to search for dirt. When we reflect that Petraeus was taken down by his own spooks, this suggests discontent at the agency. Actually, it suggests more than this. This expanding “friendly fire” incident in the intelligence community, with a general taken down by his own foot soldiers, points to deeper dissatisfactions — deeper than a socialite-obsessed FBI agent.

Can you imagine one of J. Edgar Hoover’s soldiers taking down the man at the top? Didn’t happen. Wouldn’t have happened. In fact, what did happen was that one of Hoover’s former soldiers, Mark Felt, took down a president by employing all the skills he had learned from his master. The intelligence community is loyal to its own, but this identity can be construed very narrowly — so narrowly that there are rivalries between the intelligence services, and Petraeus may not have been thought (or felt) to be one of the CIA’s “own” by the soldier who took him down.

It is interesting to speculate whether the expansion of the role of INSCOM (Army Intelligence and Security Command) in Afghanistan by way of Project Foundry, which was to be, “a single, ‘one stop’ coordination hub for advanced intelligence skills training and certification across all levels of the modular force,” may have been perceived by the CIA as an infringement of their turf. I have no basis in fact for looking for any connection here, but it is well known that turf battles are a predictable form of inter-service rivalry. INSCOM is military intelligence; CIA is not.

The whole unfolding scandal could be as simple as several men becoming sexually obsessed with the same woman (Jill Kelley, on the receiving end of the attentions of an FBI agent and general John Allen), and David Petraeus following in the time-honored tradition of powerful men taking a mistress. Could be. We can’t rule it out. This is the ideographic dimension of history.

But as analysts we are looking for causality; we want the nomothetic explanation; we want the mechanisms that led to the fall of a general. We accept the ideographic exception as the tip that sets off the chain of events, the contingent trigger, if you will, but triggers activate deeper and more fundamental structures that were there before they were triggered.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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