What lies behind the Petraeus affair?

Jill Kelley complained that she had received harassing emails. Her sensitive position made it certain that the FBI would investigate. The emails seemed to come from Paula Broadwell, the author of a biography of General Petraeus – so it was natural that the FBI would look closely. What they found in Broadwell’s email account was indication of an extra-marital affair between Broadwell and Petraeus. Since, on the surface at least, the head of the CIA was potentially exposed to blackmail by the same person who was harassing somebody with some access to Special Operations Command, Petraeus position was clearly untenable.

“The FBI contacted Petraeus and other intelligence officials, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asked Petraeus to resign,” reports Associated Press (AP). It should be said that there is no official statement that Broadwell is personally behind the harassing emails. One of the reasons for the FBI to investigate her account could have been that her Stratfor account was one of those leaked by Anonymous. There was the potential, therefor, that her email account had been hacked and was being abused by a third party.

This has led to some suggestions that Anonymous was behind the emails – an idea dismissed by Robert Graham on the Errata Security blog. “This password is just for her Stratfor account,” says Graham. “However, most people re-use passwords, so there is a good chance this was also her Yahoo mail password. If so, then anybody who downloaded the Stratfor dump and cracked the passwords could've logged on and found details of the affair.” Graham went on to explain that it had taken him 17 hours to crack her password – it was stronger than most – using oclHashtcat. If Broadwell had indeed not changed her password – and even if she had – then anyone with access to the account could have found a weapon against the head of the CIA.

Some members of Congress are not happy with proceedings, “questioning,” reports AP, “when the retired general popped up in the FBI inquiry, whether national security was compromised and why they weren't told sooner.” In a separate report, AP adds, “It seems this (the investigation) has been going on for several months and, yet, now it appears that they're saying that the FBI didn't realize until Election Day that General Petraeus was involved. It just doesn't add up,” said Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

“We received no advanced notice. It was like a lightning bolt,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee. The official line from the FBI seems to be that it was a criminal investigation and therefore not immediately relevant to intelligence circles – an argument that can be easily questioned. This has led to ‘conspiracy’ connections being drawn to the 11 September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Petraeus, as head of the CIA, was due to testify before a congressional committee on Thursday. “After weeks of conflicting accounts of what happened that night, the CIA acknowledged it had played a central role in gathering intelligence and providing security for the U.S. presence there,” notes the Wall Street Journal.

The one thing that is clear is that we don’t yet know the full story behind the Petraeus resignation - whether it was just an affair, an email exposure, or a Libyan cover-up, or a combination of all three.

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