In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on November 22, 2012 at 12:35 am

Former general and CIA Director David 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.
  • General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College class of 1983.
  • 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
  • Completed a fellowship at Georgetown University.

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.
  • A Research Associate in the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership Fellows.
  • Entered the Ph.D. program at the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London in 2008.

In addition, Petraeus, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, knew the importance of secrecy in keeping clandestine affairs (military and personal) out of sight.

And so did Broadwell, having earned a reputation as an expert on counterterrorism.

So you have to wonder:

  1. Why, when they embarked on an extramarital affair, did they exchange emails using a cyber trick known to both terrorists and teenagers?
  2. Why, in fact, did they flagrantly violate the First Rule of Conspiracies?

First, the moronically stupid cyber trick:  Sharing a private email account, or “dropbox,” where 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.  This avoids creating an email trail that is easier to trace.

Second, the First Rule of Conspiracies says: If you don’t want it known, don’t write it down.

The reason for this was eloquently given by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, in his masterwork, The Discourses, more than 500 years ago:

I have heard many wise men say that 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….You may escape, then, from the accusation of a single individual, unless you are convicted by some writing or other pledge, which you should be careful never to give.

Nor are Petraeus and Broadwell the only ones guilty of thumbing their noses at this most basic of precautions.

The top American commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, is under investigation for “inappropriate communications” with Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite who complained to the FBI that she was receiving harassing emails.

(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.)

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.

For many private-sector employers, reading and sending personal emails on company time is a firing offense.

There are several lessons to be learned for this behavior–none of them flattering to the above-mentioned participants .

  • They all believed they were so privileged–by education, status and/or wealth–that conventional rules of morality didn’t apply to them.
  • They all believed they were so clever they could violate the most basic rule of security and common sense–and get away with  it.
  • They all 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.  It was there that he won appointment as CIA director
  • 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.

General David Petraeus testifies at his hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee to become CIA director.  With him:  His wife, Holly (in white) and mistress, Paula Broadwell (in black).

So far as is known, Petraeus broke no law–other than the law of common sense.

For that, he has suffered the loss of position, reputation and–possibly–a marriage of 38 years.

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