'Big Brother' Surveillance Destroyed Petraeus

The downfall of CIA Director David Petraeus in a sex scandal provides a dramatic lesson regarding the federal government's vast new surveillance capabilities. 

The nation's top spy master did not know enough to take adequate precautions, and could not protect himself from retribution despite his usually strong alliances in relevant political, military, and media circles. Bottom line: "Big Brother," the notorious surveillance apparatus portrayed by novelist George Orwell, has taken control -- and even Petraeus could not protect himself.

David Petraeus and Paul BroadwellHis resignation under pressure illustrates, yet again, how selective, politically driven enforcement and pervasive surveillance permeate the justice system. The potential for abuse requires close, non-partisan scrutiny to protect everyone's due process rights and other freedoms.

Petraeus, unlike most potential targets, has powerful political allies who admired his hawkish war views. Most have rallied to his defense through the scandal. From the first, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) expressed regret over his resignation. In the Nov.18 print edition of the Washington Post, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt similarly argued in, "A scandal we can't love," that Petraeus was a fine leader sadly besmirched.

Yet it is not necessary to admire Petraeus or hope for his retention to conclude that his disgrace exemplifies serious trends in law enforcement. First is the pervasive, unaccountable, and largely secret expansion of domestic spying over essentially all of our emails and phone calls. My new book, Presidential Puppetry, describes how the Bush National Security Agency ramped up previously verboten spy tactics against Americans in February 2001 immediately upon taking office. This was, of course, long before 9/11.

The government's willingness to intercept,  store, and potentially retrieve this information on a selective basis was illegal and hush-hush. The secrecy serves law enforcement purposes, especially for those who regard Constitutional jurisprudence as a buffet table in which rights and law can be selectively sampled or ignored. Untold numbers of defendants have doubtless been prosecuted unfairly because of these new procedures in the past decade or so, with scant way of learning if investigative procedures violated rights.

The FBI provided a rare public lesson in its tools by documenting scandal by the head of the CIA and his paramour, Paula Broadwell. Each has been a favorite in conservative circles sometimes cavalier in other circumstances about defendants' rights. Some Republicans reportedly hoped Petraeus would run for president as a Republican, perhaps as early as in this year's election. Similarly, Broadwell explored a race as a Republican for a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina, according to a news report late last week.

Any future government career is likely ended for both. For their backers, and others, this illustrates the vagaries of the criminal justice system. A Washington Post news article, excerpted below, illustrated this trend in, Broadwell case highlights e-mail as investigative tool. The gist is that an investigation, once launched, has enormous tools and other momentum that can be used or abused. This is not to argue that the FBI or others misused their powers in this case, only that such powers exist.

Another matter worth scrutiny is whether the investigation of potential security violations will proceed as a whitewash, or harshly, or fairly compared to comparable cases. There are too many of them to mention, but varying results for similar circumstances (such as possession of classified documents) leads to deep public cynicism.

Finally, the passage of time since George Orwell wrote his novel, 1984, in the 1940s probably requires a refresher on the book and subsequent video treatments. Orwell portrayed his native England as a nation in 1984 dominated by a totalitarian government reminiscent of both Stalin and Hitler. The avatar "Big Brother" loomed over virtually all elements of public and private life as the personification of surveillance, discipline, mind control and national security.

Following the horrors of the Stalin era and World War II, most United States residents, Democrat and Republican alike, feared any hint of a Big Brother-era in the United States. This is portrayed visually in an old-time made-for-TV

available on YouTube.

Time passes, and the public has new concerns and distractions. Yet David Petraeus, for one, probably thinks fondly of the days before he, of all people, encountered our era's Big Brother apparatus.


Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment


Related News Coverage

TomDispatch.com / Huffington Post, The Fall of the American Empire (Writ Small), Tom Engelhardt, Nov. 20, 2012. History, it is said, arrives first as tragedy, then as farce. First as Karl Marx, then as the Marx Brothers.  In the case of twenty-first century America, history arrived first as George W. Bush (and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and the Project for a New America -- a shadow government masquerading as a think tank -- and an assorted crew of ambitious neocons and neo-pundits); only later did David Petraeus make it onto the scene.

Washington Post, Campaigns’ use of supporters’ data worries privacy advocates, Craig Timberg, Nov. 23, 2012. Obama’s sophisticated use of Big Data gave him a crucial edge in what, based on popular support alone, should have been a close election. Republicans are desperate to catch up. But it’s not clear who is positioned to protect voters’ rights at a time when politicians from both parties increasingly build their campaigns on the insight that commercial data brokers provide.

Washington Post, Broadwell case highlights e-mail as investigative tool, Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima, Nov. 17, 2012.  A criminal inquiry into e-mail harassment morphed into a national security probe of whether CIA Director David H. Petraeus and the secrets he guarded were at risk. After uncovering an extramarital affair, investigators shifted to the question of whether Petraeus was guilty of a security breach. When none of those paths bore results, investigators settled on the single target they are scrutinizing now: Paula Broadwell, the retired general’s biographer and mistress, and what she was doing with a cache of classified but apparently inconsequential files. On Capitol Hill, the case has drawn references to the era of J. Edgar Hoover, the founding director of the FBI, who was notorious for digging up dirt on Washington’s elite long before the invention of e-mail and the Internet.

Politico, Paula Broadwell mentioned Senate run, Kevin Cirilli, Nov. 16, 2012. Time Magazine reports that David Petraeus’ mistress considered running for as a Republican candidate for senate in North Carolina — but the then-CIA director was against the idea. In July, Broadwell was in Aspen, CO, for the Aspen Security Forum, TIME said on Thursday, and told a handful of people that GOP financiers had approached her about a possible campaign. She told the acquaintances that when she informed Petraeus, he questioned her positions on issues ranging from abortion to gun control to taxes. She said that Petraeus believed her positions wouldn’t fit into the GOP or Democratic parties, Time reported. Note: Broadwell poses with GOP strategist Karl Rove at a legislators' meeting in June 2012 at right.

AlterNet via Truthout, Petraeus, Supporter of Military's "Spiritual Fitness" Program, Should Have Been Fired Years Ago, Mikey Weinstein, Nov. 20, 2012. "How the mighty have fallen," the headlines blared in a mournful tone. Far from falling in a blaze of glory on the battlefield, this time the storied General fell on his own sword. The proverbial "sword" in this pathetic spectacle was the hypocrisy of retired General and CIA Director David Petraeus, the "warrior scholar" and avatar of asymmetric warfare himself, and an intoxicated ambition dangerously fed (and ultimately, doomed) by the personality cult built up around him. This arrogant arc of ego-inflation culminated in a disastrous and humiliating extramarital affair between Petraeus and his adoring, hubristic hagiographer. Had not even the Director of the CIA clearly internalized the maxim, "loose lips sink ships"? "What went wrong?" So ask the yellow "journalists" and "embedded" hacks swarming about the Potomac. The press had grown so used to singing hosannas about the man (the legend) that their own songs hypnotized them into a frenetic palsy of unrestricted ardor, regardless of the dubious consequences of his strategies overseas. As far back as 2007, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation ( MRFF), the civil rights foundation that I head, was shining the floodlight on matters of infidelity far graver than the General’s prurient peccadilloes.

Washington Post, Petraeus‘s behavior is no scandal, Dana Milbank, Nov. 20, 2012. Petraeus resigned as CIA director because an FBI probe uncovered an extramarital affair with his biographer. Lawmakers are demanding to know why the FBI didn’t tell them sooner. Yet the investigation has found no smoking gun — just a few steamy e-mails. President Obama said he sees “no evidence” that national security was compromised, and there’s no serious allegation that the affair harmed Petraeus’s spy work, so it’s baffling that the director of national intelligence suggested, and the president accepted, Petraeus’s resignation. In truth, Petraeus’s behavior doesn’t even merit the label “scandal.” L’affaire Petraeus lacks every element of the definition.

Washington Post, Why Paula Broadwell left Harvard, Video Interview by Brook Silva-Grava with Anne Gearan and Greg Jaffe, Nov. 15, 2012. Among the new information uncovered by the Post’s Greg Jaffe and Anne Gearan, the Petraeus biographer was asked to leave her doctoral program at Harvard and apparently mistated her accomplishments at West Point.

New York Times, A Phony Hero for a Phony War, Lucian K. Truscott IV, Nov. 16, 2012. His greatest accomplishment was merely personal: he transformed himself from an intellectual nerd into a rock star military man. The problem was that he got so lost among his hangers-on and handlers and roadies and groupies that he finally had his head turned by a West Point babe in a sleeveless top.

Washington Post, A modern witch hunt, David Ignatius, Nov. 17, 2012. Amazingly, many members of Congress talk as if the real outrage here was that they weren’t informed earlier about the investigations of Petraeus and Allen. “We should have been told,” said Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, last Sunday. To which an observer might respond vernacularly: Give me a break. The idea seems to have developed that the CIA and the military work equally for Congress and for the executive branch. They don’t. They work for the president, who is commander in chief. Congress appropriates the money and has a legitimate role in overseeing how it’s spent. But the idea that these scandals demonstrate the need for greater congressional involvement in sensitive investigations is preposterous.

David PetraeusWashington Post, He slept with her. Who Cares? John Prados, Nov. 17, 2012. Because of an affair that had already ended, the nation this month lost the services of a highly skilled public servant. The hysterical reaction to the news of then-CIA Director David Petraeus’s liaison with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has done more to harm national security than the affair itself. Since early summer, the FBI had been, appropriately, investigating the harassing e-mails that Broadwell sent to another woman about Petraeus. Though the bureau eventually uncovered the affair, it found no reason to believe that the general had compromised anything related to security. Yet after the FBI informed the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper — mistakenly, in my opinion, because no evident crime had been committed — Petraeus resigned ahead of the inevitable wave of public controversy. Petraeus’s downfall should prompt the intelligence community to make its own judgment call — to end the arbitrary and outdated rules that govern U.S. intelligence employees. These rules have damaged U.S. interests in the guise of protecting our security. On many occasions, they have resulted in the loss of the services, and even the loyalty, of experienced, highly trained people. [Editor's note: John Prados is a senior research fellow at the National Security Archive.]

Atlantic, General Failure, Thomas E. Ricks, November 2012. Looking back on the troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many observers are content to lay blame on the Bush administration. But inept leadership by American generals was also responsible for the failure of those wars. A culture of mediocrity has taken hold within the Army’s leadership rank—if it is not uprooted, the country’s next war is unlikely to unfold any better than the last two.... Since 9/11, the armed forces have played a central role in our national affairs, waging two long wars—each considerably longer than America’s involvement in World War II. Yet a major change in how our military operates has gone almost unnoticed. Relief of generals has become so rare that, as Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling noted during the Iraq War, a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of a war. In the wars of the past decade, hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness. This change is arguably one of the most significant developments in our recent military history—and an important factor in the failure of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Relief of generals has become so rare that a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of the war. To a shocking degree, the Army’s leadership ranks have become populated by mediocre officers, placed in positions where they are likely to fail. Success goes unrewarded, and everything but the most extreme failure goes unpunished, creating a perverse incentive system that drives leaders toward a risk-averse middle where they are more likely to find stalemate than victory. A few high-profile successes, such as those of General David Petraeus in Iraq, may temporarily mask this systemic problem, but they do not solve it.

Washington Post, A scandal we can't love, Fred Hiatt, Nov. 18, 2012.  The two generals on the front pages now have served their country beyond most of our experiences. I think many Americans understand that and take no pleasure in their travails.

Reuters/Huffington Post, Robert Barnett, David Petraeus Lawyer, Known For Working With Political Elite, Jessica Dye, Nov. 18, 2012. Former CIA Director General David Petraeus has hired a top Washington lawyer to help him navigate the fallout from a career-ending
affair, Reuters has confirmed.

Washington Post, The four-style lifestyle, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Greg Jaffe, Nov. 17, 2012. Of the many facts that have come to light in the scandal involving former CIA director David H. Petraeus, among the most curious was that during his days as a four-star general, he was once escorted by 28 police motorcycles as he traveled from his Central Command headquarters in Tampa to socialite Jill Kelley’s mansion. Although most of his trips did not involve a presidential-size convoy, the scandal has prompted new scrutiny of the imperial trappings that come with a senior general’s lifestyle.

FireDogLake, FCC Plan to Gut Media Ownership Rules Would Benefit Rupert Murdoch, Kevin Gosztola, Nov. 20, 2012. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski would like the FCC to vote on a plan to gut media ownership rules. If approved, News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch, who has been considering buying more media, would benefit. The proposal would also allow for more media consolidation. Using innocuous language to describe a proposal that should raise alarm, Genachowski stated yesterday that he wanted the FCC to “streamline and modernize media ownership rules.” This would include “eliminating outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross-ownership.”

Previous Justice Integrity Project Coverage

Justice Integrity Project, Petraeus Scandal Widens, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 16, 2012. The sex scandal that caused CIA Director David Petraeus to resign Nov. 9 has continued to widen in the time since -- despite best efforts by his allies to limit the damage to him and the military causes they support. Petraeus testified Nov.16 before a closed session of the House and Senate intelligence committees on the massacre of four Americans Sept. 11 in Libya.