James Bond, the legendary creation of novelist Ian Fleming, routinely bedded femme fatales–and sometimes killed them. But he never faced indictment for romancing them.
That’s the difference between Bond and real-world spying.
And David Petraeus, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, should have known this better than anyone.
Movie poster for Thunderball (1965)
In January 2015, the FBI and Justice Department decided to bring criminal charges against Petraeus for sharing–as CIA director–classified information with his then-mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.
FBI agents found classified information on a personal computer Broadwell used–and determined that Petraeus had supplied it.
As an Army General, Petraeus had successfully led U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and was thought to be a potential candidate for president.
In 2011, he won appointment to CIA director–which ended abruptly in 2012 with the revelation of his extramarital affair with Broadwell.
Petraeus is one of the most highly educated men in the United States:
- Alumnus of the United States Military Academy at West Point–graduating among the top 5% of his 1974 class.
- Earned an M.P.A. in 1985 and a Ph.D. in International Relations in 1987 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
- Served as Assistant Professor of International Relations at the United States Military Academy
And Paula Broadwell is one of the most highly educated women in the United States:
- Graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1995, majoring in political geography.
- Earned a master’s degree in international security from the University of Denver’s Joseph Korbel School of International Studies in 2006.
- Earned a Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2008.
In addition, Petraeus, as director of the CIA, knew the importance of secrecy in keeping clandestine affairs (military and personal) out of sight.
So did Broadwell, having earned a reputation as an expert on counter-terrorism.
Yet they both violated the most basic rules of security.
They exchanged emails using a cyber trick known to both terrorists and teenagers: Sharing a private email account, or “dropbox.”
In this they composed drafts to each other in order not to directly transmit messages to one another. Each could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there.
By doing so, they flagrantly left a cyber-trail of their infidelities. (Broadwell was also married.)
It was Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, who warned: If you don’t want it known, don’t write it down.
More than 500 years ago, in his masterwork, The Discourses, he warned:
…You may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the “Yes” of one man is worth as much as the “No” of another.
And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting….
Nor were Petraeus and Broadwell the only ones guilty of thumbing their noses at this most basic of precautions.
General John Allen, the top American commander in Afghanistan, exchanged thousands of emails with Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite.
Although charged with directing American military efforts against the Taliban, Allen found time to exchange 20,000 to 30,000 pages’ worth of emails with Kelley between 2010 and 2012.
The scandal began when Kelley began receiving harassing emails from an unidentified woman. So she complained to the FBI.
The emails allegedly came from Broadwell, who thought that Kelley was trying to move in on “her man”–Petraeus. Apparently, Broadwell didn’t feel similarly threatened by Holly, Petraeus’ wife.)
The FBI investigation ultimately led to the discovery of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair.
There are several lessons to be learned from this behavior by Petraeus, Broadwell, Allen and Kelley:
- They believed they were so privileged–by education, status and/or wealth–that conventional rules of morality didn’t apply to them.
- They believed they were so clever they could violate the most basic rule of security and common sense–and get away with it.
- They were so caught up in their illicit passions that they threw caution to the winds.
- David Petraeus, a highly disciplined man, clearly expected Paula Broadwell to behave in a similarly disciplined manner–and do nothing to compromise their lives.
- Petraeus felt so confident about the secrecy of his affair he had his wife and mistress present when he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2011 to become CIA director.
General David Petraeus’ CIA confirmation hearings. His wife, Holly (in white) and mistress, Paula Broadwell (in black).
- Petraeus didn’t imagine that Broadwell suspected another of his admirers–Jill Kelley–of having romantic designs on him.
- And he was utterly surprised when her harassing emails to Kelley led the FBI to uncover his illicit relationship.
In March, 2015, Petraeus agreed to plead guilty in federal court to a charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified information. On April 23, 2015, a federal judge sentenced Petraeus to two years’ probation plus a fine of $100,000
Thus does hubris meet its punishment in Nemesis.