The political class is aghast at the spectacle of one after another of their holy icons falling: first it was David Petraeus, outed by a lone FBI agent in Tampa who took the discovery of his affair with Paula Broadwell to the House Republican leadership and effectively dynamited the CIA chieftain’s career. Now it’s Gen. John Allen, commander of US forces in Afghanistan: the discovery of his “thousands of pages of emails” to Jill Kelley — a 37-year-old looker whose complaints of email “harassment” garnered the full attention of the FBI and led to the downfall of Petraeus — has him in the dock.
One could easily succumb to the temptation to simply cackle, like Madame Defarge, and attend to one’s knitting as heads roll. Rather than give in to such pure indulgence, however, this writer would much prefer to pursue the answer to a puzzling question: what is going on here? Is this just about the rutting habits of the lords and ladies of Washington, the national security realm’s version of Days of Our Lives — or is what we’re witnessing the equivalent of a palace revolution?
I would go with what Paula Broadwell’s father, Paul Kranz, told the New York Daily News:
“Broadwell’s father said Sunday his daughter is the victim of character assassination and implied the bombshell story is just a smoke screen for something bigger.
“’This is about something else entirely, and the truth will come out. There is a lot more that is going to come out. You wait and see. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.’”
Of course there is, but what in the name of all that’s holy is it?
There have been three major developments in this fast-moving story since my last column on this subject: 1) The stunning revelation by Broadwell in a speech given at the University of Denver that there were detainees in the Benghazi “consulate” — really a CIA station — and that the attack may have been an attempt to free them, and 2) the rising visibility of the “shirtless guy,” the Tampa FBI agent whose impatience with the progress of the investigation led him to go to the House GOP leadership, an act that sealed Petraeus’s fate — and, perhaps, Gen. Allen’s. Which brings us to 3) the ensnaring of Gen. Allen in the Broadwell-Petraeus net, which adds much fuel to an already raging fire.
The Benghazi angle may help bring the “why” of this whole imbroglio into sharper focus. First, let’s set the context: Fox News and the Republicans had been making a full-bore effort to turn the Benghazi attack into a “scandal” that would bring down the Obama administration, an “October surprise” that would make short work of the anti-colonialist Kenyan. They spun a narrative that had the President of the United States — and his CIA Director — ordering a rescue team to “stand down” while Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three others, were murdered by Islamists. Broadwell’s “by the way there were detainees in there” remark, uttered almost offhand, was pushback, no doubt encouraged by Petraeus.
The “shirtless guy,” who earned this description because he reportedly sent shirtless photos of himself to Jill Kelley — the recipient of Broadwell’s “harassing” emails — enters the picture as the key catalyst who set the anti-Petraeus coup in motion. We are told he is a friend of someone with a connection to Rep. Reichert (R-WA), who brought the matter to Rep. Cantor’s office. But hold on, wait a minute here …
Since when does the FBI investigate “harassing” emails sent to an ordinary American citizen? Sure, Kelley had a friend in the FBI — the Shirtless Guy — but the question is why did the FBI’s cybercrimes section agree to launch a lengthy and costly investigation into emails that, by some accounts, weren’t that big a deal? The Shirtless Guy, who is said to have become so obsessed with the case that he was taken off it, must have developed some suspicion of who was behind the emails, and the nature of Broadwell’s connection to Petraeus. Whose instrument was he?
I gave my own view of the answer to this question in my last column, and the attempt to take down Gen. Allen seems to confirm my analysis. Who, you ask, would want Allen’s scalp? Well, consider the General’s comments after the latest blue-green attack in Afghanistan:
“ISAF commander General John Allen told US 60 Minutes program in an interview recorded before the latest incident, and scheduled to be aired today, that insider attacks were unacceptable.
“’I’m mad as hell about them, to be honest with you,’ he said. ‘We’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.’
“Gen. Allen said that just as homemade bombs had become the signature weapon of the Iraq war, he believed that in Afghanistan, “the signature attack that we’re beginning to see is going to be the insider attack.”
Insider attacks make up the great majority of US casualties in Afghanistan, these days, and with the Obama administration about to undergo a general review of our troop levels in that country, Allen’s open hostility to the mission would not sit well with the more hawkish faction in the national security apparatus, i.e. the neocons and their fellow travelers. So, he had to go, too — and it’s a “nice” touch that they managed to get him in the course of the same investigation, without having to bother cooking up another scandal. Good work, boys!
One aspect of the Great Pentagon Purge that has gone almost completely unnoticed is this offhand little tidbit in a Washington Post story about the scandal,
“Prominent members of conservative, Washington-based defense think tanks were given permanent office space at [Petraeus’s] headquarters and access to military aircraft to tour the battlefield. They provided advice to field commanders that sometimes conflicted with orders the commanders were getting from their immediate bosses.
“Some of Petraeus’s staff officers said he and the American mission in Afghanistan benefited from the broader array of viewpoints, but others complained that the outsiders were a distraction, the price of his growing fame.”
So the neocons were right there looking over Petraeus’s shoulder, and his successor’s shoulder, giving “advice” that went against orders from the top, i.e. they were undermining the mission as conceived by the Pentagon, and no doubt actively subverting the planned withdrawal. Did Gen. Allen throw them out? That he’s been caught in the honey trap along with Petraeus should come as no surprise.
The military is quite a distinct entity from the War Party, and this should be obvious to anyone who has been alert to the internal debates in the national security bureaucracy over the course of the past decade or so. There was pushback from the CIA and the diplomatic community during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, with spooks anonymously debunking the “weapons of mass destruction” canard to the point where Dick Cheney had to personally go over to Langley and stand over them to make sure they toed the neocon line. There has been a similar rebellion against the idea of going to war with Iran, another neocon crusade. The military is tired of these endless wars: after all, they are the ones who have to fight them, and are inevitably blamed when failure becomes all too apparent (and the neocons run for cover).
There has to come a point when the military is thoroughly fed up with being the instrument of a ruthless and bloodthirsty cabal who think nothing of sacrificing US servicemen and servicewomen on the altar of their bloody ambitions. When that happens, from the War Party’s perspective, it’s time to get rid of them. While the means utilized may be rather complicated, it’s really just as simple as that.
I should emphasize that this is a working hypothesis: an attempt to make sense out of what seems utterly senseless — the immolation of the top tiers of the US military and intelligence establishment. We’ll know much more when the genesis of this investigation — a probe into a “cybercrime” allegedly committed against an unpaid “social liaison” at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force base — is revealed in more detail.
With every passing moment, however, as more facts comes out, what began as a suspicion is fast turning into a near certainty. Just look at who is now being pushed to succeed Petraeus at the CIA — yes, I’m talking about none other than Jane Harman, the same person who was overheard in the course of a wiretapped conversation telling a “suspected Israeli agent” she would intervene to get the charges against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman reduced. Rosen and Weissman were caught red-handed stealing US secrets and funneling them to their Israeli handlers. In return, the Israeli agent promised AIPAC — the high-powered pro-Israel lobby — would put pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get Harman appointed head of the House intelligence committee.
The prosecution rests — for the moment.
Update: This story is moving really fast, and there have been a number of important developments in the few hours after I submitted it, but before it was posted. To begin with, Paula Broadwell’s house has been raided by the FBI: they searched every room in the house and carried out her computer and other items. This points in the direction of a national security investigation, not one focused on a charge of simple “cyber-stalking.” But of course we knew that with the first report of finding classified information on her computer.
In addition, more information has come out about the Shirtless Guy, the Tampa-based FBI agent who took Jill Kelley’s complaint to the Bureau. The New York Times, citing an anonymous FBI official, reports:
“[T]he agent became convinced — incorrectly, the official said — that the case had stalled. Because of his ‘worldview,’ as the official put it, he suspected a politically motivated cover-up to protect President Obama. The agent alerted Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who called the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, on Oct. 31 to tell him of the agent’s concerns.
“The official said the agent’s self-described ‘whistle-blowing’ was ‘a little embarrassing’ but had no effect on the investigation.”
But it had a huge effect on Petraeus, who at that point was still hoping to keep his affair with Broadwell a secret. However, the proverbial cat had already clawed its way out of the bag. On Oct. 31, when Cantor’s office placed a call to FBI Director John Mueller, and on Election Day the Justice Department informed John Clapper, director of National Intelligence. Clapper insisted Petraeus step down.
What’s interesting is that this was clearly ideologically motivated: no need to wonder about the Shirtless One’s “worldview.” Clearly he was striking a blow against what he considered the dire threat of Kenyan anti-colonialism — and that meant taking down Petraeus. Clearly he intended the revelation of the affair to take down the Obama administration, but Cantor held back. Why? We can’t know for sure, quite yet, but my view is that he wanted the head of Petraeus even more than he wanted Obama’s — and, at that point, perhaps he figured it wouldn’t have helped Romney in any event.
In any case, the supposed hero of the neocons, the author of the Iraqi “surge” which supposedly “won” that losing war, and the architect of a new counterinsurgency doctrine the failure of which has been portrayed as one long uninterrupted triumph — David Petraeus, who at one time was rumored to be the neocons’ favored presidential candidate, wound up on top of the rather large heap of bodies they’ve managed to pile up over the years. After he pulls the knife out of his back, and has time to reflect on the demise of a once gloriously successful career as an icon of American militarism, perhaps he’ll tell us the whole story in his memoirs. It should be quite a read.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
My appeal to get my Twitter followers up to 2,000 has succeeded — but let’s not stop there! I use Twitter as a kind of bulletin board, where I post much of the material I’m going to use in my column: it’s very convenient that way, and also a good way to spread the message of non-interventionism while engaging the Bad Guys cyber-face to cyber-face, so to speak. In short, it’s a lot of fun, so don’t miss out: you can follow me on Twitter here.