CIA Director David Petraeus Resigns Over Extramarital Affair

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CIA Director David Petraeus has resigned over an extra-marital affair, and President Obama accepted the resignation Friday afternoon. Michael Morell will serve as acting director. As a four-star general in the U.S. Army, Petraeus was credited with turning around the war in Iraq, and he oversaw the troop surge in Afghanistan. He retired from the military and assumed his post at the CIA in September 2011. Petraeus will not testify in a closed hearing scheduled next week on the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Morell will testify instead, Politico reports.

Petraeus has been popular and respected by both parties for years. Speculation is flying about why the resignation happened and what it means. Here are some questions Petraeus's exit raises:

Was the affair with his biographer?

Slate's Fred Kaplan alleges that the woman Petraeus had an affair with was Paula Broadwell, author of All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. Broadwell was on The Daily Show in January to discuss the book. NBC News' Richard Engel reports that Broadwell allegedly hacked into Petraeus's email account, triggering an FBI investigation. There's no suspicion that it was spying, Engel says. Law enforcement officials tell NBC they do not expect the probe will result in criminal charges.

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Check out this revealing exchange with radio host Don Imus on January 24 about how Broadwell got to know Petraeus:

BROADWELL: He came to speak at Harvard while he was a Commander at Fort Leavenworth and he was writing the Field Manual. And I was studying at the time, and a group of students was asked to meet with him. After he gave a presentation, to the entire student body and I went up to him and said I'm working on this research and I'd love to get your feedback or connect with folks in your military organizations to share these ideas and he gave me his card, and we kept in touch. He does a lot of mentoring like that, he's willing to reach out and take any good idea out there and put it into the organization if it makes sense.

So, I decided then to pursue my Ph.d. and reached out to him and asked if I could interview him for the case that I mentioned earlier. We kept in touch then, basically via e-mail and occasionally, if I was in Washington, and he was in Washington, we'd go for a run and the book preface, once you read it, Imus, you'll see that one of our first--

IMUS: Wait, I mean, I-- I don't know if you're aware of this, but I'm currently battling cancer so I may not have--

BROADWELL: A good time to read.

IMUS: Is he married? [emphasis added]

BROADWELL: He is married to Holly Petraeus, who is a wonderful Military spouse and done so much for their children and for children of fallen soldiers, I respect her immensely.

IMUS: So he must have liked you obviously and you obviously liked him, I guess.

BROADWELL: Yes, it was a-- you know, as I said earlier, he has a number of mentees and that's one thing that's different when you compare him to other Senior Commanders, he looks at the organization, the military as an organization and is willing to take ideas from any rank, not that my ideas were that good, but, yeah, we had a lot of rapport. I think some of that comes from a common ground of having gone to West Point.

In another revealing interview with CBS News, Broadwell said:

"He, at the end of the day, is human, and is challenged by the burdens of command. He's mastered wearing the mask of command, if you will. Because he knows that the commander of 150,000 forces… needed to show resolve and commitment. 

So, he has this mask of command -- you think he's really confident -- but I got to see a more personal side. He's confident, but he's also very compassionate about the loss of troops and sacrifices we're making in Afghanistan."

Posted on The Daily Beast November 5: "General David Petraeus’s Rules for Living" by Paula Broadwell. Broadwell on The Daily Show:


What does Petraeus's resignation letter tell us about the timing?

We can't help but notice Petraeus said he was "married for over 37 years." While that's true, it's strange phrasing, because Petraeus was married in July 1974, more than 38 years ago. He got married after graduating from West Point -- to the West Point superintendent's daughter Hollister Knowlton. Maybe that means the affair happened before the Petraeuses' 38th anniversary? Wired's Noah Shachtman reports that a "former confidant" says the affair started after Petraeus retired from the military, which would fit that timing.

Wait, so the affair happend after the book?

Broadwell says she first met Petraeus in 2006. She told Jon Stewart about going on 5-mile runs with him, and her flattering portrayal of him in her book made rumors swirl, Slate's Kaplan reports. But Petraeus's reference to "37 years" suggests the affair happened after they were hanging out in war zones -- sometime between July 2011 and July 2012. That's what Wired's reporting suggests, too. 

Petraeus was confirmed to be CIA director in July 2011, when his military retirement became effective. That means the affair began after he'd left the military, which forbids extramarital sex. If reports are accurate, Petraeus did not start the affair until after he could no longer face a potential court martial for it.

On the other hand...

A puzzling report from the conservative site Newsmax calls that timing into question. Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter, writes that "an FBI source" tells him that for some reason, the FBI was sifting through Petraeus's email and found what it initially thought was "a reference to corruption." But it had actually been sent to his "girlfriend." The investigation began last spring, but the FBI began looking back into emails sent while Petraeus was in Afghanistan.

Given his top secret clearance and the fact that Petraeus is married, the FBI continued to investigate and intercept Petraeus’ email exchanges with the woman. The emails include sexually explicit references to such items as sex under a desk. 

Conspiracy theory: Was someone trying to destroy Petraeus's career?

Wired's Noah Shachtman tweets, "I hate to say I told you so, but..."  On November 1, Shachtman tweeted, "Wow. Someone is trying to end Dave Petraeus' career" and linked to a Wall Street Journal story reporting, "CIA Takes Heat for Role in Libya." The Journal reported Petraeus was absent for the ceremony bringing home the four Americans killed in the September 11 attack. Why?

Officials close to Mr. Petraeus say he stayed away in an effort to conceal the agency's role in collecting intelligence and providing security in Benghazi. Two of the four men who died that day, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were former Navy SEAL commandos who were publicly identified as State Department contract security officers, but who actually worked as Central Intelligence Agency contractors, U.S. officials say. The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence...

"This had nothing to do with Benghazi or relationship with the White House — which by the way was excellent — or anything else for that matter," the aide tells Danger Room, "Just his flawed behavior."

Conspiracy theory: Was it blackmail?

The New York Times' Michael D. Shear writes:

By acknowleding an extramarital affair, Mr. Petraeus was confronting a sensitive issue for a spy chief. Intelligence agencies are often concerned about the possibility that agents who engage in such behavior could be blackmailed for information.

Fox News's Greta van Susteren writes, "Why did he go public?  blackmail?  the woman still 'friendly' or did she turn on him?"

  • But! This does not appear to involve blakmail, given that NBC reports the FBI doesn't to bring criminal charges against Broadwell for getting into Petraeus's email.

Conspiracy theory: Is this political?

Some are pushing the idea that there's some kind of political angle. The Drudge Report uses scare quotes around the word "affair."

  • But! "Meme on conservative talk radio is that Obama didn’t fight for Petraeus 2 stay. Wrong. Obama and aides tried to figure out a way to keep him," The Week's Marc Ambinder tweets. Further, Slate's Fred Kaplan said on CNN that Petraeus submitted his resignation on Wednesday, and Obama "agonized" about whether to accept it.

What's going on in the military-industrial complex?

"BREAKING: Lockheed Martin CEO-in-waiting Chris Kubasik resigns over 'close personal relationship' with subordinate," Defense News tweets.

CNN reports this is Petraeus's letter of resignation:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.

Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,

David H. Petraeus

The White House issued this statement from President Obama:

David Petraeus has provided extraordinary service to the United States for decades. By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end. As Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he has continued to serve with characteristic intellectual rigor, dedication, and patriotism. By any measure, through his lifetime of service David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger. 

Today, I accepted his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission, and I have the utmost confidence in Acting Director Michael Morell and the men and women of the CIA who work every day to keep our nation safe. Going forward, my thoughts and prayers are with Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time.  

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed the resignation in a statement to The Washington Post. The statement reads:

Today, CIA Director David Petraeus submitted his letter of resignation to the President. Dave’s decision to step down represents the loss of one of our nation’s most respected public servants. From his long, illustrious Army career to his leadership at the helm of CIA, Dave has redefined what it means to serve and sacrifice for one’s country.

Since he took over as Director in September of last year, he and I have worked together to tackle some of the most challenging issues faced by the Intelligence Community in more than a decade. Under his leadership, the CIA remained instrumental in providing our policy makers decision advantage through the best possible intelligence. I’m particularly thankful for Dave’s unwavering support and personal commitment to my efforts to lead the Intelligence Community and integrate our intelligence enterprise.

Whether he was in uniform leading our nation’s troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at CIA headquarters leading the effort to generate intelligence used to keep our nation safe, Dave inspired people who had the privilege of working with him.

I have spent more than five decades serving our country–in uniform and out–and of all the exceptional men and women I have worked with over the years, I can honestly say that Dave Petraeus stands out as one of our nation’s great patriots.

On behalf of the entire Intelligence Community, I thank Dave for his service, his support and his continued friendship.


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.