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...and other anomalies of this week's political scandal.

“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” ― Blaise Pascal

In reading the exploits of 4-Star Generals Petraeus and Allen, a persistent image comes to mind. A middle-aged man in uniform hunches over a makeshift table inside a tent in the field...his dozens of medals clanging agianst his chest as he pounds away on his laptop keyboard.  He is deep in concentration.  Is he outlining intricate maneuvers for the troops under his command?  Is he sending top-secret strategy proposals to the Commander-In-Chief and the Pentagon high command?  Is he composing an inspirational letter to his long-suffering wife at home, or his children, who idolize him as the hero all red-blooded Americans believe him to be?

You know that's not what my imaginary general was writing!  Please follow after the cloud:

We all know that the general in the above image isn't doing any of these things.  He's sending either 'salacious' (Petraeus) or 'flirtatious' (Allen) emails to a married lady.

Per today's New Yorker online:

There is much to be bemused about: Is this what our generals spend their time doing?
Not an impressive vision of the greatest military power on the planet: celebrity and journalistic hangers-on; partisan political sycophants; right wing think tankers commandeering military aircraft and giving their two-cents to the troops; fawning acolyte 'biographers'; alluring Tampa Bay twins....and most of all, email.  Lots and lots of email.
Petraeus, first as a military leader and then as head of the CIA, lived on e-mail, according to reporters who have covered him in both roles...Reporters who exchanged e-mails with him as a general and as CIA director described his messages as frequent and rapid – often responding within just a few minutes – but careful, neither to reveal sensitive information nor to rumple his carefully managed image and that of whatever war or agency he was leading at the time...Petraeus was even wired when he was on the move. Driving through Washington in his armored SUV, he was known to keep two terminals open: one for classified information, one for an open Internet connection. Staff knew to build regular e-mail into his day, calling it “executive time.”
Whatever one may think about the rightness or wrongness of a married general carrying on an affair with a married reservist and not-really-a-journalist/ biographer, the issue of carelessness and hubris can't be understated here.  Petraeus lived in the world of secrets, yet the very basic life lesson of 'what goes on the internet lives forever on the internet' that we struggle try to instill in our teenagers seemed lost on him in view of the distraction of his relationship with Paula Broadwell, allegedly a security expert herself, who should've known better too.   Petraeus and Broadwell used a cover-up strategy popular with terrorists - but also with sneaky teens trying to outwit their parents monitoring of their internet activity.  We know this because these teenagers and terrorists have been caught that way.
FBI investigators picked up the data trail from there. They determined that the account belonged to Broadwell and her husband, in part by analyzing the metadata attached to the e-mails, which can help determine the location of the sender. The locations matched up with Broadwell’s travel schedule. From there, the FBI identified other e-mail accounts that had been accessed from the same IP address, which they secured a warrant to monitor. This included another anonymous account, apparently also Broadwell’s, from which she exchanged sexually explicit e-mails with a third anonymous e-mail account, also Gmail. This account, the FBI concluded, belonged to Petraeus, a discovery that led agents to confront both him and Broadwell.
A waste of FBI time, money, and resources... if all they managed to discover was a cat fight and a naughty general.  
As Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson puts it:

The lesson (other than that you should not have an affair and that you should not spend lots of time alone with someone you find attractive) is one all of us already know, but everyone seems to forget: Your emails are not as private as you think, and as soon as you send them, they exist forever, waiting to be discovered by someone you do not want reading them. The same goes for your text messages, by the way. Just ask Tiger Woods.

Was there not enough war going on for Petraeus...and Allen...to hold their interests?  Were they simply bored and understimulated in their jobs, and looking for a 'hobby'?  You could argue that they were men, alone and isolated in a war zone...but according to Petraeus and Broadwell (if you believe them), their affair didn't start until he took over the post at CIA...which meant he was going home to Holly every night that he wasn't on the road.  And Allen...it seems like he and Jill were doing nothing more salacious than cyber-sexting.  

Then there is the choice of the women themselves. If it's true that Paula Broadwell was doing her best impression of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, , then Gen. Petraeus (like Bill Clinton before him) picked an emotionally unstable and immature woman with whom to entrust his secrets.  

Or was Broadwell somehow set up in her effort to 'protect' Petraeus from the attentions of another woman who, given just the little we know of her history, seems slightly unsavory even at the outset:

Per the Tampa Bay News:

Just three months after they posed with David and Holly Petraeus, strands of Gasparilla beads hanging from their necks, the Kelleys were hit with a foreclosure lawsuit.

The suit, brought by Central Bank against the Kelleys and Kelly Land Holdings, centered on a three-story office building at 300 E Madison St. in downtown Tampa. Court records show they owed the bank nearly $2.2 million, including attorney fees.

In 2011, a judge ordered the property to be put up for sale.

In the decade since the Kelleys arrived from Pennsylvania, it proved one of several examples of court cases seeking payment of real estate and credit card debts intermingling with catered parties and A-list guests as the couple sought to establish themselves in Tampa.

Next, in a scenario out of Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, while Jill Kelley and General Allen were busy exchanging their tens of thousands of emails, at the same time (or just after) Paula Broadwell was anonymously harassing her, the persuasive Mrs. Kelley somehow convinced two of America's foremost 4-Star Generals to risk their professional reputations on a very personal (and questionable) favor by writing letters to the court on behalf of her twin sister's custody case (is there anyone else who thinks the twin thing isn't a little kinky?) - a twin sister whom at least one judge had already termed 'mentally unstable'.
The generals' letters to the court — written in the past two months — supported a motion to overturn a ruling made nearly a year earlier by a judge who resoundingly denied custody to Khawam, because of serious reservations about her honesty and mental stability, court records show.
The letters about Jill's sister's character read like generic college recommendation letters. Kelley's relationships with both the Generals at this point resembles something between military groupie, society hostess and vague object of desire.  
One friend said of Kelley and her family: “If Jill knew it would result in harm to General Petraeus’s career, they would never have complained.”

A military officer who is a former member of Petraeus’s staff said Kelley was a “self-appointed” go-between for Central Command officers with Lebanese and other Middle Eastern government officials. She was a fixture at social and charity events involving Central Command officials in Tampa.

The officer said Kelley’s presence was often a bit puzzling to Petraeus’s staff, but the officer said there was never any indication that her relationship with the general was anything more than social.

The Lebanese and other Middle Eastern government officials piece here is a new one.  It implies that perhaps Kelley had ties to intelligence as well as to party planning in Tampa.  This is strengthened by the fact that she had an acquaintance in the FBI who'd previously sent her shirtless pictures ("Shirtless FBI Dude") to whom she could immediately run after allegedly receiving nasty, catty emails (at this point FBI sources have claimed that they weren't particularly threatening) ...to get an investigation opened...All this seems anything but casual, and thus far, completely baffling.

Is this the plot of a John Le Carre novel involving dangerous national security leaks...or a tawdry episode of Army Wives meets Fatal Attraction, complete with military-themed key parties and cat fights and suggestive (and prolific) pen pals?  

Whatever the emerging scandal eventually shapes up to be, the shameful facts so far divulged portray two of our most decorated military leaders as self-obsessed narcissists who put their own vanity and 'distractions' ahead of their crucial positions in the defense of their nation.  Not a flattering picture.

Were disastrous mistakes in national security and military policy being made under their command because they were spending hours churning away electronic tomes to impress their clandestine ladies?

(Mother Jones also has a concise outline of the scandal so far, if you're getting some of the cast of characters confused.)

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