Petraeus Sex Scandal Raises Questions about FBI Role in Investigating Private Behavior
The bad news about the election last week is that Obama won. The good news is that weed will be legal in two states. The better news is that we can take consolation in the fact that some people have bigger problems than we do. Perhaps you’ve heard about the David Petraeus sex scandal?
As details of l’affaire Petraeus grow more tawdry by the day. There are so many salacious angles to the story regarding families torn apart, possible breaches of sensitive national security information, and insinuations about a cover-up of an illegal CIA detention facility in Benghazi. So for our story this week, let’s have a look at the most interesting aspect of the affair – whether the FBI has too much power to conduct surveillance of online communications. Obviously the most interesting aspect of the affair.
The story so far…
You said it, sister
Up until last week, David Petraeus was a fairly well-respected public official among people across the political spectrum. After a distinguished military career, which recently included overseeing former President Bush’s Iraq “surge” operation, Petraeus was appointed by current President Obama to direct the CIA.
Petraeus is now the former director of the CIA, having resigned after admitting an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell. In the last week, a number of bawdy details have come to light, with more sure to follow. Here are a few noteworthy items that are making the Drudge Report even more essential than usual at the time of this writing:
1. Petraeus was scheduled to testify about the September 11 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya this week. His resignation now puts his testimony on hold. (Update: Apparently it’s on for Friday.)
2. The affair was uncovered after the FBI investigated “potentially inappropriate” emails from Broadwell to a close friend of Petraeus – a woman named Jill Kelley – which amounts to 20,000-30,000 pages of documentation.
3. The emails sent by Broadwell were not threatening per se, but more akin to “cat-fight stuff.”
4. Broadwell made a speech in October at the University of Denver in which she suggested Petraeus knew that the CIA was detaining Libyan militia members in Benghazi. If true, such a facility would be in direct violation of Executive Order 13491, which mandated the end to CIA “black site” interrogations.
5. An FBI agent investigating the matter apparently became obsessed with Jill Kelley to the point that he sent shirtless pictures of himself to Kelley. As is typical for government officials, that agent appears to have been removed from the case, but not fired.
Time will tell exactly how lurid this story truly is, and if indeed it is a smokescreen for something much more scandalous. At first blush there don’t appear to be a lot of reputable characters in this story, except for maybe Kelley, who at this point seems to have simply been the target of the crazy stalker-ish Broadwell. Although Kelley did seem to be the one who got the FBI involved, so maybe she’s not so great either.
Several reports indicate that the reason we know about any of this is because Kelley has a friend at the FBI (not sure if it’s the same one who sent her topless photos), who initiated the investigation because Kelley was put off by Broadwell’s cat-fight-caliber emails. Even if those emails were a little more threatening than evidence currently suggests, since when is it appropriate for the federal government to launch an investigation over someone’s hurt feelings?
Writing in the Guardian, reputed progressive and civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald calls attention to what he calls this disturbing fact: “It appears that the FBI not only devoted substantial resources, but also engaged in highly invasive surveillance, for no reason other than to do a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was very mildly harassing her by email.” That does seem like a disproportionate response, and one with chilling implications about how the state capriciously asserts its authority. If you happen to know the right people, you can have the power of the federal government available to solve your tacky personal problems.
Greenwald further observes that the FBI had no trouble employing invasive surveillance tactics during the course of their investigation – which I remind you was launched not because of national security concerns, but because of personal indiscretions:
Because the sender’s account had been registered anonymously, investigators had to use forensic techniques — including a check of what other e-mail accounts had been accessed from the same computer address — to identify who was writing the e-mails.
Eventually they identified Ms. Broadwell as a prime suspect and obtained access to her regular e-mail account. In its in-box, they discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.
Eventually they determined that Mr. Petraeus had indeed sent the messages to Ms. Broadwell and concluded that the two had had an affair. Then they turned their scrutiny on him, examining whether he knew about or was involved in sending the harassing e-mails to Ms. Kelley.
Sadly, this type of state intrusion into our lives has expanded under the Obama administration, despite the president’s supposed commitment to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”
The ACLU has reported that warrantless wiretapping has exploded under the Obama administration, far and away outpacing the level of surveillance conducted during the Bush years. Furthermore, Obama’s Justice Department has gone to great lengths to silence former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, prosecuting him for his attempts to expose wrongdoing at the Agency—including billions of dollars wasted on a software program that found zero terrorists, but collected mountains of private cell phone and email communications without regard to privacy protections.
Funny how lefties who used to correctly criticize Bush for trampling civil liberties have barely a word to say about Obama’s even worse record. (Not ha-ha funny.)
The FBI’s behavior during the Petraeus affair may not be the sexiest aspect of the story, but it is the one that has the most serious implications for civil liberties. If the FBI is willing to devote resources to digging up private emails over some soap opera bullshit, it’s a huge red flag that its power needs to be curbed. Now that Obama has been safely reelected, hopefully the MSM will be less interested in protecting him, and more interested in holding his administration accountable for the unchecked expansion of the surveillance state.