What It Implies If an Extramarital Affair Threatens National Security

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If a CIA director's libido can make us less safe, maybe we should rethink the extent to which we rely on and empower the CIA.

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Reuters

Musing on the recent resignation of David Petraeus, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer writes, "The line of the day on the morning talk shows in Washington seemed to be that Petraeus did the 'honorable' thing, or 'he had to resign.' The old saw that, if he wasn't squeaky clean, he could be subject to blackmail by his enemies, thus endangering national security, was mentioned again and again. To me, the whole Victorian shame game seems seriously outdated. Something like half the marriages in the country now end in divorce, and you can bet a great many of those involved extra-marital affairs. Is it desirable to bar such a large number of public servants from top jobs?"


Perhaps not.

But I have a different concern.

If it is true, as so many officials in our government and members of our press seem to believe, that an affair by a CIA Director (or presumably by an FBI director or a President) endangers national security, isn't that a sign that we should rethink the extent to which we empower these individuals? The sort of people who rise to powerful positions in Washington DC sure seem prone to cheating. Or if you prefer, holding a powerful position in that town certainly seems to confront a lot of men with confluence of opportunity and temptation that they cannot ultimately resist.

Going back 10 presidents, I count at least three who had affairs. If 30 percent of men who attain the White House cheat, and cheating threatens national security by subjecting them to blackmail, that's another reason to withdraw the extraordinary secrecy and unchecked powers they now enjoy. Humanity is so good at finding reasons why it's useful to give individual men extraordinary power, and so bad at understanding the value of limiting the damage any man can do alone. This despite the fact that we daily see examples of how easily a man can be corrupted. 
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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