The storyline: A romantic fling involving one of America’s most decorated and popular generals. And it has all the elements of the most titillating TV dramas. A shirtless FBI agent, secret emails, and a cat fight over the affections of the guy who runs America’s spy network, and he happens to be married to the “Good Wife.” Can it get any juicer than this? But is it truth or fiction that the nation’s security has been put at risk over these “dangerous liaisons?”
General David Petraeus is the former U.S. commander of our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he headed up the CIA, or did, until he resigned on November 9, after being outted by the FBI. By all accounts, Petraeus has been an outstanding military leader, praised by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington. But then there are all these women. Certainly, he didn’t do the CIA or his country proud with all these antics. But was it the responsibility, or even the legitimate right of the FBI to bring Petraeus down? Because that’s exactly what they did.
The story of what happened is complicated, and is yet to fully unfold. What we do know is that the General was engaged in flirtatious communications via a non-military related private email account with a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair. There is no indication of compromises of national security. There have been no public displays or actions embarrassing to the CIA or the military.
It appears that the FBI learned of the General’s outside activities from one of their own -- a rogue agent who apparently was smitten with one of the women involved with Petraeus. A cursory investigation was undertaken, but according to all reports, the FBI quickly determined that there was no breach of national security. So the question becomes, what were their motives for continuing to delve into the personal, non-security threatening emails at issue? Why would the FBI continue to invade the privacy of individuals after they determined that there was no crime, no laws broken, and no security breach?
The Wall Street Journal determined that: “New details about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the case suggest that even as the bureau delved into Mr. Petraeus's personal life, the agency had to address conduct by its own agent -- who allegedly sent shirtless photos of himself to a woman involved in the case...” So much for an unbiased investigation.
This apparently was not a quick or short-term investigation. Numerous FBI agents spent months delving into this supposed emailgate. America is living in an age of terror. We’re in rapidly intensifying cyber wars with Iran and China. Terrorists threaten our lives at home and abroad. In these perilous times, should chasing melodrama even be on the agenda of the country’s top investigative agency?
So the FBI authorized their cyber unit to invade private email accounts to launch a major investigation over an affair. The FBI determined early on that there was no security breach and that no classified documents had been sent by Petraeus.
It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between the FBI and the CIA. These two agencies often work at cross-purposes and seem to despise each other. One wonders if the FBI would have been so aggressive in their investigation if their own director was the focus of the emails.
The FBI continued the investigation in spite of the fact that there is a right for private citizens to communicate freely and privately regarding personal thoughts and activities without fear of breach by the government (or anyone else), and that the government has no right to breach unless there is just cause, and in that case, a warrant is required to do so. There was no just cause, so no warrant could have been obtained from a judge to dig into these email accounts. Nevertheless, in apparent defiance of the law, the wall of protection was breeched by the FBI in an effort to bring down the director of the CIA.
Where were the checks and balances? Where were the superiors up the FBI chain of command who should have said: “Enough is enough. Your investigation found two consenting adults involved in a relationship. You went on a fishing expedition based on some rumors, and it’s time to quit fishing. Box it up gang! This is nobody’s business but David Patraeus’s wife. It’s not the business of the FBI.
This investigation has taken on yet another dimension in that one of the women involved with Petraeus has also shared extensive emails with United States Marine Corps four-star general, John R. Allen, presently the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and recently nominated by the president to head the NATO Allied Command. Allen would seem to have a different problem. Over several months, Allen and the lady in question exchanged thousands of emails. This is not the business of the FBI, but certainly it is the business of the Department of Defense. How can this General run a war in Afghanistan when he can’t seem to leave his computer? Here it’s not a question of breaking the law, but of having the available time to focus on doing his job. This General’s career is, and should be, on a short stick.
This FBI produced drama centered on General Petraeus goes way beyond the General’s private behavior. The heart of the matter is not the tabloid stories about the women involved. The real story is the FBI’s cavalier attitude towards the civil liberties of all Americans. The nation’s top law enforcement agency seems to regularly disregard the constitution and the laws that protect the privacy of all of us. Illegal search and seizure, unauthorized wire tapping, falsifying documents, and withholding exculpatory evidence seems to have become part of the FBI’s stock and trade.
The FBI response to these accusations is that what they do is essential for the protection of the greater population, that a few questionable tactics are necessary to protect the country as a whole. And if a little liberty has to be sacrificed for the safety of all – well, that only makes sense. But Americans know better. Ben Franklin had something to say about this 200 years ago. And his admonition is as important today as it was then.
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.
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