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The Fall of Petraeus: A CIA Coup?

It now seems clear what occurred to bring down CIA Director David Petraeus: some months ago his paramour Paula Broadwell sent threatening emails to another woman warning her to keep away from Petraeus, seemingly unaware that computers and emails have signatures that can be identified by investigators. The woman, identified by the Associated Press as Jill Kelley, became alarmed over being threatened and notified the FBI, which got into the emails to discover that there was an affair in progress, leading to an investigation of Petraeus to determine if any classifed information had been leaked. Broadwell was subsequently interviewed by FBI agents, as was Petraeus two weeks ago. The Justice Department informed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about the affair on election night, which led to a phone call to Petraeus. Clapper recommended that he resign and informed the White House. Petraeus met with the president on Thursday and submitted his resignation, which was accepted on Friday.

Adultery is not exactly uncommon at CIA, but the Director operates at a much more political level than do the other ranks. There are some interesting questions being raised about the timing. Petraeus knew he would be exposed when he was interviewed by the FBI, if not before through Broadwell. Due to its sensitivity, Attorney General Eric Holder, to whom the FBI reports, had to know about the investigation as soon as the link to Petraeus was established, and he must have also known about the adultery. Is it plausible that he did not inform the president? Was it Petraeus’s personal decision to wait until after the election before submitting his resignation?

There are also the inevitable CIA rumors that are going around in the former spook community this weekend. To set up the interview between Petraeus and the FBI, the CIA Office of Security must have become involved. One suspects that the security people must have already known about the affair, as the DCI operates within a tight security cocoon. If they knew, others in the Agency also knew. Contrary to some recent press coverage, Petraeus was not very well liked by many at CIA. Former military officers in general are disliked pro forma, but Petraeus was particularly resented because he was perceived as moving forward with the paramilitarization of the Agency. He recently requested more drones and the paramilitary share of a shrinking overall budget continues to grow. This has particularly miffed the Agency’s former elite, the Clandestine Services, a group well versed in bringing about regime change within CIA itself. I personally recall how they mounted a campaign and forced out the Reagan/Bill Casey selection as Director of Operations Max Hugel back in 1981. They also contributed to the fall of Director John Deutch. Agency spies have long watched their money and influence shrink and might have figured out some way to help things along with the objective of bidding fond farewell to General Petraeus. This is just speculation, mind you.

about the author

Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent twenty years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases. He holds a BA with honors from the University of Chicago and an MA and PhD in Modern History from the University of London. In addition to TAC, where he has been a contributing editor for nine years, he writes regularly for Antiwar.com. He is currently Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest and resides with his wife of 32 years in Virginia horse country close to his daughters and grandchildren. He has begun talking far too much to his English bulldog Dudley of late, thinks of himself as a gourmet cook, and will not drink Chardonnay under any circumstances. He does not tweet, and avoids all social media.

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