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Nov 15, 2012

The Petraeus affair, you couldn’t make this stuff up

The Petraeus affair makes other political sex scandals look like a Christian speed date. Our correspondent delves into the affair that has everything.

Good God are you ready for this. You might want to get a pad and take notes or make a three dimensional diorama, to get it all in.

Remember a couple of years ago, when Republican South Carolina governor Mark Sanford disappeared for three days, and came back saying he had had a sudden whim to hike the Appalachian trail where there is no phone reception? And it turned out that he was on a love cruise with an Argentinian firecracker, a mistress he had visited with the express intent of breaking up with?

There was more to it, much more, including the end of the tradition of post-affair press conferences, where the male adulterer recounts his crimes — “I am sorry for seeking out the hot passionate succulent lovemaking that my tired, defeated wife, who you see at my side, could no longer furnish me with” etc. — but that was the gist. Sanford recently married the firecracker by the way. Anyway, remember that?

The Petraeus affair makes that look like a Christian speed date.

When last you tuned in perhaps, you heard something about General Petraeus, architect of the Iraq “surge”, and then head of the CIA, resigning his post, after it was revealed that he had been having an affair for some months last year. The correspondent was quickly revealed to be Paula Broadwell, the part-author of his biography, and a woman who had become a sort of unofficial representative of Petraeus and guard of his reputation last year as she did the rounds of the talk shows, pushing the bio, titled All In, about which no jokes spring to mind, sadly.

Petraeus is 60, with two adult children, and still married, Broadwell is aged 40. Petraeus appears to have ended the thing when he found out that Broadwell had sent a series of emails to one Jill Kelley, accusing her of having amorous attentions towards the General and telling her to back off.

Kelley was a platonic friend of Petraeus’s, a Florida socialite who was a “volunteer” at the Tampa base where Petraeus was located for a short period as head of US Central Command. Kelley did what anyone would do during a bout of jealousy— she called in a friend in the FBI, alleging harassment. The FBI told her to go to the local cops, or better still, a daytime talk show.

Sorry, no they didn’t. Kelley’s FBI contact traced the anonymous account emails back to Broadwell’s laptop, and in doing so found a whole series of first steamy, then narky, then how-can-I-disentangle-parts-of-me-from-this-ill-advised-disaster emails from Petraeus.

Actually it’s a little more complicated than that. Broadwell and Petraeus used the “draftdrop” method, where two people share an account and write messages to each other as drafts, thus creating no traffic trail. Smart spy move huh, only spoilt by the fact that if you’re using gmail (or whatever) then GMAIL OWNS YR ASS. Essentially, as Tor developer Jacob Appelbaum noted, if the head of the CIA uses gmail, then gmail is spying on him.

By now, the FBI were concerned that Petraeus may have given Broadwell classified information, and also a little freaked by the fact that Kelley’s maiden name was Khawam, and that she was from a prominent Lebanese-American family, with ties to the Iraq reconstruction contract feeding frenzy. At this point, the original FBI agent, a friend of Kelley’s, was taken off the investigation because though there was nothing amiss, it was important to be above reproach.

Was that it? No of course not. It was because the agent became obsessed with Jill Khawam Kelley himself, in a process that ended with him texting a picture of himself shirtless to her. The agent was later identified as Fred Humphries II, who, papers intoned, had “foiled the 1999 millennium bomb plot” by “using his knowledge of French”.

?????? No, me neither, but on we go. “Agent Shirtless” (as he became known), piqued, and convinced that something big was being covered up, or maybe just piqued, got in touch with a Republican congressman Dave Reichert, who took the matter to Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor. This, mind you, was all in October, as the election was going on.

By the end of the month, Cantor had gone with the story to FBI director Robert Mueller, who contacted Petraeus’s boss, Director of National Intelligence — of course you’ve never heard of the office — James Clapper, who told Petraeus he had to resign.

That this occurred at 5pm on the day of the election has all sorts of conspiracy theories going, but it seems to me the very nature of the time suggests the opposite — Clapper just did it as soon as he had come to a decision, and regarded the date as irrelevant. Obama would still be president the day after, whatever happened. Whether Cantor refrained from leaking it out of national duty or because he had no way of knowing if it would help or harm Romney’s electoral chances, or both — well, we will find out.

So it stopped there right? Hahahahaha. No, it then transpired that Jill Kelley had been exchanging one or two emails — actually, 20,000 — with Petraeus’s deputy, General John Allen, some of them from her to him “flirtatious”, from him to her possibly breaching security. Allen has resigned, and Kelley — well, two days ago she called the Tampa police asking them to clear TV vans from outside her house, on the grounds that she required “diplomatic protection”, as she was an honorary consul for South Korea, of course.

It’s fair to say that the scandal has thrown politics as usual into uproar, because no one knows how to place it easily in their talking points. Petraeus is another of those fine, upstanding right-stuff people the Right like to point to as the embodiment of traditional values, and of course he is — the value of a bit on the side that he then couldn’t shut down, with disastrous consequences. From the Left there is criticism of the way that he has been portrayed as austere and remote, rather than duplicitous and andropausally distracted.

Broadwell has been otherwise treated which is kinda fair, since all participants have performed at the Melrose Place level, and nothing about Broadwell — from the obsessive fitness regime, the body sculpting, the CV that sounds more anxiously driven than 30 Rock‘s Jenna Maroney, the locked-on love drone pursuit of the General, getting a ghost writer to write the book she was writing on him, all culminating in calling out a rival — nothing at all suggests a wild-eyed crazy lady of the sort that, let’s face it, makes the world a more interesting place.

Stay tuned. There’s got to be a GBF and a hilarious confusion of suitcases coming any minute. Or a distracting missile strike.

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28 thoughts on “The Petraeus affair, you couldn’t make this stuff up

  1. cpobke

    hahaha. That is the best summary of this whole baffling affair i have read so far.
    I still can’t understand why he had to resign though. What’s missing from this tale?

  2. Nici

    Hey, I reckon Paula Broadwell was justified in feeling a little bit threatened. You’ve missed the bit about how Jill Kelley has an … indentical twin sister … who was also engaged in email contact with both Petreaus and Allen. And they wrote her references for a custody battle. And how both sisters are millions of dollars in debt. Oh, it just writes itself.

  3. Will

    Very amusing summary, Guy. Cheers.

    I did spot a couple of facts in the piece which are in dispute.

    For instance, I read that Broadwell broke it off with Petraeus not the other way around, and that some of the stink from the indiscretion came from Petraeus sending hundreds of emails to her in the hope of rekindling the relationship.

    Also, regarding the exchanges with General Allen, the 20,000 number has been bandied about variously as emails or pages, but that appears to be a mistake amplified in the press. It was “only” thousands.

  4. zut alors

    Thanks, Guy, it’s hard to believe this is merely the precised version. The twists and turns of the script might’ve been penned by those responsible for The Bold and the Beautiful – except, in the CIA saga, there is no complicated family tree where the players are all related to each other.

    Let’s start taking bets on how soon Mark ‘Love Boat’ Sanford cheats on the ‘Mexican firecracker.’

    Jon Stewart reviewing his January interview with Broadwell was wonderfully self-effacing and worth googling.

  5. John Bennetts

    Great summary. At last we know what we know and we know what we don’t know.

  6. mikeb

    Nice precis. The twin twist has made it a story you couldn’t invent. I guess if you’re the head of the CIA then any semblance of impropriety is a sackable offence (remember all those old spy movies where the dude gets seduced into spilling his secrets, amongst other things, under the doona)? I do feel a bit sorry for him but honestly – was the booty worth it? I somehow doubt it.

  7. Holden Back

    Oh well, the thought of a likely movie gives some of the Kardashians roles to look forward to.

  8. Salamander

    Allen has resigned?

  9. Salamander

    “Andropausal”? Not analogous to menopausal if that is what you are trying to imply. Meno- means month.

  10. margbozik

    But you forgot to mention the pineapple which, according to News Ltd headlines, had a starring role in the affair.