Could a Sex Scandal Become a Story About Intelligence Failures?

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The Petraeus affair, say leading journalists, may wind up exposing a culture of conflict between intelligence agencies in Washington.

Sometimes a sex scandal is just a sex scandal. But the fall of CIA Director David Petraeus does raise larger questions about the scope of the FBI's role and the relationships between the intelligence agencies.

"I've covered this story 50 times," said NBC News' Chuck Todd. Powerful man meets adoring fan, and the rest is history.

However, the Petraeus story could have long legs if it ends up shedding light on the tensions within intelligence community, journalists speaking at The Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum suggested.

For one thing, it's eyebrow-raising that the FBI could launch such a comprehensive investigation into the e-mail records of high level officials and private citizens "with almost no pretext," said Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News.

 Washington Ideas Forum Conversations with leading newsmakers. A special report

Petraeus' fall has also become tied in, somewhat, with ongoing Republican demands for a fuller explanation of the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Although Petraeus will be heading up to the Hill on Friday to testify on the matter, the revelation that the former CIA Director conducted an extramarital affair has no direct connection to the deaths of four Americans in North Africa.

There is an indirect connection, however: the two incidents both raise questions about the inner workings of U.S. intelligence agencies and organizations.

The real issues with Benghazi, Todd said, is that the must-touted shift to greater coordination among the intelligence community has been a failure. "No dots were connected, and there wasn't communication. And that seems to be the real story," Todd said of the attack.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has little real power, Todd said. The DNI position was created in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, in an attempt to get the 17 government agencies and organizations that conduct intelligence activities to work together more closely.

A big focus of President Obama's second term will likely be refining its military and intelligence strategy -- and that includes trying to get the counter-terrorism community, the intelligence community and the military to get better at working together, said Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone.

In the meantime, we have an epic fall -- and all its lurid details -- to discuss.



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Sophie Quinton is a staff reporter for National Journal.

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