Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

Petraeus’ Betrayal


There is a lot going on, and a lot of misunderstanding.  It happens that a lot of the misunderstandings stem from the words, “CIA”, and the understandings people have about the agency, and “intel” work in general.  It happens to be a field I’m moderately familiar with.  I spent a career in the Army as an interrogator, and an interrogation/counterintelligence instructor.  I did some related intel work; having nothing to do with either field.  I was lent out to some “three-letter angencies” and I’ve known some actual “spooks”.

A huge amount of the flap has nothing to do with the CIA, and everything to do with how the press fell in love with “The Man, Petraeus“.

I don’t think he should have resigned.  I think he should have been fired.  I even think he probably should face criminal charges, and end up in prison.

He had an affair.  I don’t care.  In the grand scheme of things having a CIA director who’s having an affair is pretty trivial.  He’s not the first, he won’t be the last, and it’s not really leverage.  He’s not out where people of the sort to 1: compromise him, and 2: make it stick, are hanging out.

When a lower level operative, even a section chief is fooling around (married or not) that’s one thing, esp. if they are in a semi-clandestine role (say one of the “attachés at an embassy), they are vulnerable to turning, either directly, or indirectly.  It is, however, not easy.  To turn someone directly requires an agent of an FIS (Foreign Intelligence Service) to get access to the target.  If they are known to be fond of flings it’s one thing, but if they aren’t, it’s not.  Making a move on someone who is in a high-profile position, in the hopes of managing to get them to engage in an infidelity is risky.  There is more to be gained, if one can get that sort of frequent access, in the things they don’t think they are revealing.

It’s amazing, to most people, just how much we reveal about things we think we aren’t.  When I was in Monterey, studying Russian, I wore the “Unit Crest” of the Defense Language Institute on my jeans jacket.  I had someone try to give me grief about “opsec” (Operational Security).  I laughed at him.  I had a “high and tight” haircut.  I walked like a soldier.  I was taking cabs up and down the hill.   I reeked of being stationed at DLI.  I’d been in cabs with people.  I’d been in bars with them.  I heard all sorts of stuff they thought they weren’t sharing with the world.  I knew which Seal Teams were focusing on which parts of the world.  So did anyone who was paying attention at The Rose and Crown. That pin was my way of reminding myself of OpSec.  I could see it everytime I stepped out; telling me to keep my mouth shut.

So no his tradecraft, or lack thereof, are not the issue. It seems he, and Broadwell, used an email “dead-drop”, to avoid actually sending messages to each other.  It’s a handy trick, and (so long as that’s all it’s used for) it’s about as secure a means of clandestine communications as one can have.  Were it not for metadata in the system they used, it might never have been known who the other half of the equation (i.e. Petraeus) was.  They never used identifiable names in the messages.

But she sent harassing messages to a third party, and like re-using a “one time pad” that’s a fatal compromise of the system.

Who cares?  Petraeus isn’t a spook.  He’s a manager.    Does anyone think George Bush (pere) was a spy?  No.  How about Leon Panetta?  No.  The simple fact is I don’t care how well the guy at the top knows the nuts and bolts of the ways to run a source, or tap a phone, or do a “black bag job”.  Moreover, those are only a small part of the CIA’s brief, and over-focusing on them has hurt us.  You want to know what the really important guys at the CIA are like, look at Nate Silver. The real work, the day to day stuff: the stuff Bush (fils) ignored, came from guys like Nate Silver, not guys like James Bond. What a care about is how well the director maintains a good working relationship with the president; how well the best guesses the various parts of the CIA are presented to the president.  That’s what the job is about.

So the affair isn’t relevant, to me, from a security standpoint.  There was, of course, no way he could survive in his position after it was plain it was going to come out.  The nature of Washington meant the Republicans; in need of scandals to try and keep the democratic president in the Oval Office from being able to govern, were going to be using this as some sort of  bloody shirt, and the press; feeling betrayed at the Golden Boy they built up turning out to be just as human as anyone else were going to treat as hounds do a fox at the end of a hunt.

So why do I say he ought to be facing charges?

I was entrusted with this opportunity to sit in on high level meetings with General Petraeus. Sitting in on SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility] meetings in the morning, listen to classified chatter of terrorist talk and so forth. And I had that background anyhow, so I knew a lot of that information for my writing, but I knew there was a clear line that I couldn’t cross when I was writing it out,” Broadwell said in the July 2012 discussion at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

What The Fuck?  She was, “sitting in” on meetings in a SCIF?  No.  She has† a TS (Top Secret) clearance?  Ok.  She’s had an SCI background investigation?  Ok.  Doesn’t Mean Shit.  She didn’t have the requisite, “Need to Know”.  If you don’t have a need to know, you don’t go in a SCIF. Even in a SCIF, you don’t go to areas you aren’t, “read-on” to participate in.  You don’t.

Petraeus, apparently before the affair, was giving her access?  Why?  That’s the lapse in judgement I am concerned about. She’s not supposed to talk about it.  Not just the things she heard, but that she was there at all.  What was she doing?  All she could learn, relevant to the book she was writing was see how well he ran a meeting.  No need to go into a classified environment to do that.  Lots of reasons not to.

A long time ago, when I was just getting started in the greyish world of intel I was giving a briefing.  It was “Unclass”, and the door was open.  I was talking to a lot of intel guys and forgot I was speaking to people outside my discipline.  It being the Army I used an acronym.  Four of the people in the room got really stiff.  Really Stiff.  They sat up in their chairs, like dogs on point, eyes as wide as saucers.  The ranking officer glanced at my classification marking sign, shot his eyes to the door; leaned out to see if anyone was in the hall, looked back at the sign and asked me to repeat what I’d said.

When I did one of the others doing this odd thing asked me what the acronym stood for, and I told them, and they all relaxed and started to breathe again.  I, under my breath, swore; because I suddenly knew I had classified info that I wasn’t supposed to have.  I had it because they had such a strong reaction.  If the door had been shut I might have missed it; but the Major was terrified someone with zero-clearance might have heard it, and he over-reacted (absent context, even if I had made a mistake and used a classified term, no one who didn’t know what I was talking about was going to know what I was talking about).  Had it been just him, I still might not have caught on.  But having all of them wig out like that gave the game away.

I had info I couldn’t share with anyone.  Here’s the kicker, if it weren’t that the acronym is no longer classified in that application, I wouldn’t even being telling the story.  That’s what having a clearance means.  You promise to reveal nothing which is classified to anyone who doesn’t have need to know.  You also don’t want anyone to know you know classified info.  If it weren’t that the minimum requirement for job in the Army are in public records about my military service I suspect I’d not be telling it now.  That’s how serious that sort of thing is.  I know people who lost their clearance because they signed off that a room was secure when there was an unlocked safe with class-info in it.

And Petraeus let someone without need to know in the SCIF?  No. That’s a crime.  It’s more than one crime.  The UCMJ has articles about it too.  Technically, since he committed the offense while in the service he could be recalled back to duty to face a court-martial.

I’m not against that idea.  That’s the sort of questionable judgement which ought to have prevented him from being nominated.  It’s something which, of course, no one was looking for.  If you had asked me if this was likely, I’d have said, “no way”.  But generals do stupid things. They do stupider things when they’ve been “COM” commanders, because the duties in running something like CentCom, are akin to running a small country.  They require being a Consul, a Tribune, and an Ambassador; all at once, and with minimal supervision.

He should have known better.  I don’t care where he was sticking his dick, what I care about is the way he was dicking around.

† I hope she no longer has her clearance after that little outburst.  It also implies that either the affair was still ongoing, or Petraeus was using that account for other things, and didn’t have the wit to change the password; since the official story is they broke it off some months ago.  That’s what I mean about things people don’t realise they are revealing.

19 thoughts on “Petraeus’ Betrayal

  1. Just freaking Yikes. What a moron.

  2. Wow. Well as usual you make sense. I too thought the affair was nothing to get so starchy about– but the violation of clearance is another thing entirely. It also seems that the woman he had his fling with was selfish or stupid, or both.

  3. Your story of talking to the Intel guys and having them all freak out over the acronym was fascinating–it must have given you cold shivers at the time, though. Did they cotton on to the fact that their reaction had revealed something to you?

  4. asakiyume: Not cold shivers. Being told my clearance status was known and I had to stay for class briefings, those tended to give me the shivers; sometimes they led to more shivers.

    Did they know? Yeah. But they were in a discipline that is all about controlling access… when someone forgets to lock a safe, or cover a document, it was their job to catch them. When an interrogator gets in trouble, it’s usually for beating on someone. When one of them gets in trouble it’s usually for some mistake in handling classified material, that or Intel Oversight.

  5. Sigh. Another powerful man being led around by his dick.

    Thanks, as usual, for good commentary!

  6. I think you’re making a lot of assumptions here. For example “She didn’t have the requisite, “Need to Know”.” You don’t know that because, like you said, she can’t talk about it.

    Also, unrelatedly, this is confusing me: “When I did one of the others doing this odd thing asked me what the acronym stood for, and I told them, and they all relaxed and started to breathe again. I, under my breath, swore; because I suddenly knew I had classified info that I wasn’t supposed to have. ”

    If they relaxed when you told them what it stood for that implies to me that you had a NON-classified version of the acronym. Funny thing about acronyms, any series of 2-4 letters almost always stands for more than 1 thing. I assume that most TLAs stand for some classified thing somewhere because holy fuck the amount of stuff that has been classified recently has exploded massively. And since it is segmented by need-to-know lots of acronyms are going to be reused. So I don’t see how you learned anything of value to anyone by that experience. That’s part of the point of acronyms – it’s not just to save people keystrokes when they’re typing up reports.

  7. Great post.

    In this case, I don’t think we can separate the affair from the sharing of classified information. He had a relationship with her that was inappropriate on every level. Whether it was informationally inappropriate before or after it became physically inappropriate is beside the point. He never should have allowed himself to get so close, nor should he have hidden that closeness from anyone who might have been able to hold him accountable for his porous personal boundaries. If people had known he was intimately involved with Broadwell, they might have questioned his decisions to loop her in on classified stuff.

    The head of the CIA isn’t usually in a position to cause a security threat with an affair, but in this case Petraeus was doing exactly that. I’d be willing to let it go if he was just quietly schtupping some nice lady or gentleman on the side and not hurting anyone. But he chose to take up with someone who was phenomenally reckless and indiscreet and involved up to her eyeballs in his work. In this case the security issue wasn’t just hypothetical, but actual.

  8. Plymouths: I do know that. From what she said it’s obvious she didn’t meet the requirements. She wasn’t on the mission. She made a point of how special her access was, “sitting on on the meetings.” If she wasn’t there, in an official capacity; hadn’t been read on, etc. she didn’t have the need to know.

    As to the acronym, no the acronym I used wasn’t the same, but all of a sudden I knew a classified acronym in their field. Those two pieces, put together, made it classified, and I knew it. Context matters. Tom Clancy got a visit from DoD, because he’d taken open source material, and from it managed to reconstruct classified information. It wasn’t the pieces, it was the aggregation. I couldn’t say, “in ‘X’ MOS they use “Y”, without violating the law; because that combination of data was classified. Didn’t matter if I knew what to do with it, or not.

    Lindsay: No, I don’t think we can separate the affair, but it’s not the affair (which is what everyone seems to be up in arms about; but Lord, if the more I find out the more of a mess this is: Xeni’s stuff about the “Charity” which looks like a tax dodge, and the, “I’m an honorary consul, get the press off my lawn” is precious beyond words) which bothers me. It’s that his lack of discretion about class material was so egregious, and so predates his being Director of the CIA.

    It makes me think of Judy Miller, actually, and her little sojourn to Iraq in the middle of 2003.

  9. While you’re absolutely correct about why Petraeus should be put away, I can’t help but notice that the whole business between him and Broadwell is something of a sideshow. IMHO the issues with Kelley and Allen down in Tampa are far more interesting. Did you notice that she’s heavily in debt, suffers from a marked lack of anything resembling honesty, and frequently socializes with the brass?

    Maybe I’m just seeing shadows (you’re clearly much more experienced than I am) but I’d love to hear what you have to say on the Tampa side of things.

    Anyway, thanks for a lovely article.

  10. I don’t know enough about it to say, esp. I don’t know enough about it as it relates to Petraeus. That they seem to be crooked (the charity looks as if it was a tax dodge), I don’t see a problem with it, per se, in his job with the CIA. If he had financial problems, that’s one thing (see Aldrich Ames), but his personal affairs (no pun intended) seem to be in order.

  11. This is an aspect that no one else seems to have noticed – and it makes things even more interesting.

  12. Do I think he should be arrested and charged with a whole laundry list of security violations? Yes indeed. In fact, I think he should have an adjoining cell to that poor bastard Manning, of Wiki-leaks fame. (who’s likely going to spend the rest of his life behind bars regardless of any court decision.)

    Do I think that at all likely? Not in the slightest. For several reasons:

    1: He’s a General. They operate under different rules than us “Lesser Mortals”. De Facto, not De Jure of course, but still…

    2: He’s politically connected. (See note #1 above)

    3: It’s not in the administration’s interests to make a huge stink.

    This is, of course, grossly prejudicial to good order and discipline, as well as being very bad for morale, but at the same time, I don’t think it’ll stop the whitewash from happening.

    His career is over of course, (Militarily and politically) but he’ll most likely keep his pension, and I wouldn’t bet against him writing a few books, going on the lecture circuit for some hefty “Honorariums”, and/or becoming a TV network’s “military expert” in 6 months or so.

    If you or I had done what he has ADMITTED to, we’d be looking at an extended stay behind bars at Leavenworth. Looks like his biggest consequence so far, other than looking like a colossal idiot, is being required to retire a bit earlier than planned.

  13. Thank you. Helpful and informative, as you always are. I read this post aloud to my SO, and he commented that it ought to be a New York Times op-ed. Have you ever written for the Times, or at least submitted a piece like this? If not, may I encourage you to do so if it wouldn’t cause you other problems?

  14. When I saw some of the news reports, my first reaction was something like “Really? A journalist got to “sit in” on high-level meetings?” I mean, for all practical purposes my involvement with security stuff only goes as far as corporate non-disclosure agreements, but that still struck me as bizarre.

  15. …esp. I don’t know enough about it as it relates to Petraeus.

    I’m not much concerned with Petraeus any more. But the business of Kelley and Allen exchanging 20-30,000 pages of documents really caught my eye! What’s up with that?

    (Though if Kelley is a spy, she probably qualifies for the Lizzie Worthington Medal of Honour.)

  16. plymouths wrote: ” I think you’re making a lot of assumptions here. For example “She didn’t have the requisite, “Need to Know”.” You don’t know that because, like you said, she can’t talk about it.”

    She was there as a journalist. What need to know does a journalist have, regarding classified operations?

  17. My concern up until now has been how did she get a classified file on her computer? Supposedly it didn’t come from Petraeus, but it was *classified* and I want to know where she got it.

    You’e raised a number of other issues that now concern me.


    –Lee Gold

  18. She has a clearance, and a holds a commission in a reserve component unit. Given that she is, I believe, branched MI, there are any number of ways she might have gotten a classified file.

  19. I’ve also held a security clearance (only Secret), but I worked in the field of computer security — operating systems and programs that can be shared among users at different clearances and documents at different classifications. And I can verify that what Terry says about the rules for handling classified information is correct.

    You don’t reveal classified info to anybody unless you are satisfied that they possess:
    1. A security clearance at least as high as the document/info involved. (e.g., you can reveal Secret info to somebody who holds a Top Secret clearance)
    2. The appropriate access right and “read in” if the data is SCI (Special Compartmented Information)
    3. A “need to know”. That means that the information is necessary for them to do accomplish their mission for the DoD. A reporter does not possess a “need to know” in that sense, unless somebody higher up (usually the Security Officer for the facility where you work) approves their access to those specific pieces of classified info.

    Violating those rules is a violation of Federal law *and* of the UCMJ if you’re in the military.

    I’ve been in a SCIF _once_ in my life. I wasn’t allowed to see what went on there, but they gave us peons with mere Secret clearances a tour of the place. Of course, it was cleaned up first — no pieces of paper lying around, all the computers turned off and we weren’t allowed to touch anything.

    The DoD takes SCI _seriously_.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s