What started – and could have ended – with a few inappropriate emails and a poor exercise in judgment has now swelled into a scandal involving dozens and a Congressional investigation that could result in the removal of yet another high-powered US military general.
David Petraeus, ex-military general and now former CIA director, was recently forced to resign from the CIA amid accusations of an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The affair raised serious questions about threats to national security and possible leaks in the intelligence community.
The affair was revealed during a separate investigation of anonymous emails sent to a Tampa-area socialite named Jill Kelley that turned out to be from Broadwell and contained information about the general that contained private details about Petraeus and his work at the CIA. Now, Gen. John Allen, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has been swept into the scandal by the discovery of emails between him and Kelley.
The controversy has opened a Pandora’s Box of concerns for Americans about the protocols that protect state secrets as well as the federal government’s power to access the private communications of civilians. Criminal justice experts point out that the FBI’s seemingly unfettered access to anyone’s email is cause for concern when considering the amount of personal information – much of it unrelated to the issue at hand – that has been scrutinized.
Evidence of the potentially destructive force of this level of access is clear in the scandal’s ability to obscure the importance of other national matters. News of the Petraeus affair has tainted every aspect of what’s currently happening in Washington, from the outcome of the presidential election to the approaching fiscal cliff.
Some critics and historians have been reminded of the McCarthy-era investigations of the 1950s and how focusing on what are ultimately the trivial failings of a few can cause a political disaster by unseating otherwise competent officials and drawing resources away from the true threats to the nation.