Updated 2:36 pm.
The mistress of former CIA Director David Petraeus publicly discussed sensitive and previously unknown details about the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
In an Oct. 26 alumni symposium at the University of Denver, Paula Broadwell said that the CIA annex at the Benghazi consulate came under assault on Sept. 11 because it had earlier “taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. It’s still being vetted.” (That information was not part of the CIA’s timeline of the Benghazi assault, though Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin did mention it on air. Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reports that the CIA has denied any such detention.) “I don’t know if a lot of you have heard this,” Broadwell prefaced her remarks by saying.
It was a surprising disclosure, given the deep classification of the CIA’s detention policies — and the enormous political stakes surrounding the Benghazi assault. But in many ways, it was only natural for Broadwell, given her evolution from Petraeus protegee to biographer to paramour and unofficial spokesperson.
Broadwell first met Petraeus at a 2006 social function at Harvard University, where she was a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government with an interest in counterinsurgency. He was, by then, a well-known general and counterinsurgency’s most famous American practitioner. He agreed to help her with her research. Three years later, Petraeus was introducing her around U.S. Central Command as his biographer.
Petraeus confidants thought it strange, given her lack of writing experience. ”I sensed she was very ambitious,” says retired Army Col. Pete Mansoor, who served as Petraeus’ executive officer in Baghdad. Broadwell interviewed Mansoor for her biography, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, and it left Mansoor puzzled. “I never told General Petraeus this, but I thought it was fairly strange that he would give so much access to someone who had never written a book before,” Mansoor tells Danger Room.
A bigger shock came over Memorial Day weekend in 2010. Petraeus and his wife Holly attended the Washington, D.C., wedding of counterinsurgents David Kilcullen and Janine Davidson. So did Broadwell and her husband, Scott. Yet “Paula was on the arm of Petraeus throughout the whole reception,” says one attendee. “They were in each other’s personal space, with her husband and his wife right there.”
In July of that year, Petraeus assumed command of the war effort in Afghanistan. Broadwell arrived in Kabul shortly thereafter. Her Facebook timeline quickly filled with accounts of her runs and her meals with the new commander. Attractive, athletic, and, above all, gung ho, rumors quickly flew — as they did when any woman beneath a certain age and below a certain body mass index score spent time in the largely male confines of a military headquarters. Many in Petraeus’ circle figured she was nothing more than an overeager admirer of a general who didn’t mind a little adulation now and again.
They weren’t prudes — many in the counterinsurgency crowd that emerged around Petraeus in the mid-2000s enjoyed a good, raucous party, and not every liaison that emerged from those parties was with a marital partner. They just figured Petraeus wasn’t, y’know. “He’s such a fucking boy scout. I figured he was asexual,” says one former staffer. A woman “could flirt with half of the officer corps. None of that seemed to work on Petraeus.”
Besides, the Uniform Code of Military Justice expressly forbids adultery (even among retired servicemembers), assigning a maximum penalty of “dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to one year. Petraeus, a lifelong Army man, had to have known that. Perhaps it’s one reason why the affair between Broadwell and Petraeus didn’t start until after he hung up the uniform and became CIA chief, as Petraeus’ former aides insist.
The CIA, on the other hand, has no policy against infidelity. In fact, Langley explicitly says extramarital affairs are OK — as long as you tell the Agency, as long as you tell your partner, and as long as no foreigners are involved.
“We’re not there to be the moral police,” says one former intelligence official. “The only question is: Does it create a vulnerability that a foreign intelligence service could exploit.” If there’s no deception about the affair, and the paramour isn’t a potential foreign spy, there’s no vulnerability — or so the logic goes.
But romantic relationships have a way of finding cracks in lovers’ strengths. One of Petraeus’ strengths had long been his relationship with the media. As the head of an intelligence service, he was limited in what he could say in public. And, on the advice of former CIA chief Bob Gates, he had left most of his longtime press aides behind. By the time Broadwell’s book came out in late January of this year, she had become something of an unofficial spokesman for him. “Gen. Petraeus is going to send some thoughts which I’ll pass along to you this afternoon,” she told the Daily Princetonian in an e-mail.
In her Oct. 26 speech to the University of Denver, Broadwell noted that “the challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position, he’s not allowed to communicate with the press.” She then proceeded to defend senior Obama administration officials for connecting the Benghazi attack to “the demonstrations in Cairo” sparked by an anti-Islam video.
Broadwell also identified a special-forces team initially requested to prepare for responding to Benghazi as “a group of Delta Force operators.” While Pentagon officials have provided enough information for reporters to figure out Delta was among those units, they have not explicitly confirmed Delta received orders to prepare for a Benghazi response. Broadwell’s identification came a week before Pentagon spokesman George Little discussed any such special-operations team with reporters. And while Fox News reported the Delta connection on the same day as Broadwell’s talk, she presented herself as familiar with the thinking of the CIA director: Petraeus has “known all of this,” Broadwell said, “he had correspondence with the CIA station chief in Libya. Within 24 hours, they kind of knew what was happening.”
A friend of Broadwell is skeptical of the emerging meme — one that serves’ Petraeus’ interests — that a maneater brought down a military hero, as if the most famous general of his generation was some sort of helpless boy. Whatever Petraeus did, he was responsible for, as he himself stated in his Friday letter of resignation.
At the same time, those close to Petraeus have difficulty reconciling the indiscreet Petraeus of the love affair with the exemplar of probity they knew. “He’s the most disciplined person in the world that I know, until this revelation came out,” Mansoor says.
But not only did Petraeus conduct an affair that could conceivably open up the CIA director to blackmail, he exhibited poor data security, setting up a pseudonymous e-mail account to correspond with his paramour — one that the FBI easily traced back to him using the breadcrumb trails of Gmail metadata. And that indiscretion apparently extended to one of the CIA’s biggest recent controversies. While several officials and Petraeus aides have insisted the affair had nothing to do with Benghazi, Broadwell’s comfort with discussing details of the raid suggests a more complicated connection.
“As a former intel officer, it’s frustrating to me, because it reveals our sources and methods,” Broadwell said at the University of Denver. “I don’t think the public necessarily needs to know all of that.”