The Petraeus scandal is undergoing the barracuda-like media feeding-frenzy due to its salty aspects. Imagine what an amazing press corps we’d have if they spent an iota of their energy masticating on non-sex politics.
That the New York Times headline, “Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers’ Ethics,” has the chutzpah to mention “ethics” compared to the wealth of war crimes committed by the US military in recent history is mind-blowing. It’s the scarlet letter of adultery that causes “concern” over their “ethics”. Yet, emerging facts not gossip are still valuable, involving the FBI’s misconduct and the groping hand of the US surveillance state.
As of now, it’s widely reported that the FBI investigation began when Jill Kelley, Tampa socialite friendly with Petraeus (and apparently more than friendly with Gen. John Allen, the four-star U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan), received a half-dozen anonymous emails that she found vaguely threatening. She then informed “a friend” of hers, an FBI agent, and, lo and behold, a major FBI investigation was launched to ferret out the identity of the mystery e-mailer.
Disturbingly, it appears that the FBI devoted major resources to this, and also delved into highly invasive surveillance, the reason being a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was mildly harassing Ms. Kelley by email. The emails Kelley received were clearly not an event that warranted an FBI investigation.
The Daily Beast writes, “The emails that Jill Kelley showed an FBI friend near the start of last summer were not jealous lover warnings like ‘stay away from my man’, a knowledgeable source tells The Daily Beast . . .
“More like, ‘Who do you think you are? . . . You parade around the base . . . You need to take it down a notch,’ according to the source, who was until recently at the highest levels of the intelligence community and prefers not to be identified by name.” What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander?
“The source reports that the emails did make one reference to Gen. David Petraeus, but it was oblique and offered no manifest suggestion of a personal relationship or even that he was central to the sender’s spite. . . .
“When the FBI friend showed the emails to the cyber squad in the Tampa field office, his fellow agents noted the absence of any overt threats.
“No, ‘I’ll kill you’ or ‘I’ll burn your house down,’ the source says. ‘It doesn’t seem really that bad.’” So “Where’s the beef?” I ask. “’The squad was not even sure the case was worth pursuing,’ the source says. What does this mean? There’s no threat there. This is against the law?’ the agents asked themselves by the source’s account.
“At most the messages were harassment. Yet the cyber squad [Taratada!] had to consult statute books in its effort to determine whether there was adequate legal cause to open a case. ‘It was a close call,’ the source says. What tipped it may have been Kelley’s friendship with the agent.’”
Unfortunately, a deeply personal motive spawned the FBI investigation, bolstered by the fact that the initial investigating agent was barred from following up on the case over the summer due to high level concerns that he was personally involved in the case. In fact, “supervisors soon became concerned that the first agent might have grown obsessed with the matter,” and found to have “allegedly sent shirtless photos” to Kelley, and “is now under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the internal affairs unit of the FBI,” shades of defrocked Congressman Anthony Weiner for showing his putz on Twitter.
The New York Times reported yesterday morning that the FBI claims the emails contained references to pieces of Petraeus’ schedule not publicly disclosed. Yet as Marcy Wheeler documents, the way that the investigation proceeded suggests that the initial impetus behind it was designed to settle personal scores.
Most striking is how sweeping and invasive the FBI’s investigation then became, all without evidence of any actual crime or even the need for a search warrant. The paranoia went . . .
“Because the sender’s account had been registered anonymously, investigators had to use forensic techniques, including a check of what other e-mail accounts had been accessed from the same computer address to identify who was writing the e-mails.
“Eventually they identified Ms. Broadwell as a prime suspect and gained access to her regular e-mail account. Her in-box revealed intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account also not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually found out that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and pondered the possibility someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’ account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.”
So, based on a handful of ho-hum emails sent to a woman lucky enough to have a friend at the FBI, the agency traced all of Broadwell’s physical locations, learning all the accounts she uses, ending up reading all of her emails, investigating the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), then possibly read his emails, too. They dug into all of this without evidence of any real crime. Tops, they had a case of “cyber-harassment”, more benign than what regularly appears in your email inbox and that of countless of other people, and, mostly, without the need for any warrant from a court. Don’t these people have any real work to do?
That isn’t all the FBI learned. The plot thickens. As revealed yesterday morning, they discovered “alleged inappropriate communication” to Kelley from Gen. Allen, not only the top commander in Afghanistan but about to be nominated by President Obama to be the Commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (a nomination now “on hold”). Here, according to Reuters, is what the snooping FBI agents obtained about that peccadillo . . .
“The U.S. official said the FBI uncovered between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of communications, mostly emails spanning from 2010 to 2012, between Allen and Jill Kelley. . . .” Jesus, when did they have time for sex?
“Asked whether there was concern about the disclosure of classified information, the official said, on condition of anonymity: ‘We are concerned about inappropriate communications. We are not going to speculate as to what is contained in these documents.’” Don’t these folks have a sense of humor?
So once more not only did the FBI, without any real evidence of a crime, trace the locations and identity of Broadwell and Petraeus, reading through Broadwell’s emails (and possibly Petraeus’), but they also got their hands on and read through 20,000–30,000 pages of emails between Gen. Allen and Kelley. They should be called the Federal Bureau of Voyeurs.
This is more than a surveillance state run amok. It clearly shows how any remnants of Internet anonymity have been all but ‘deleted’ by the union between the state and technology companies.
Yet, as uncalled for and invasive as this is, there’s some sweet justice in having the mavens of America’s national security state shredded by the same surveillance system they implemented and over which they preside.
As Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it, “Who knew the key to stopping the Surveillance State was to just waiting till it got so big that it ate itself?” That’s the good news. The bad news is . . .
Usually the cases that abuse state power become a source for concern and opposition only when they begin to subsume elites who are responsible for those abuses. Remember how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, an outspoken defender of the illegal Bush National Security Agency (NSA)’s warrantless eavesdropping program, suddenly began sounding like an irate, life-long ACLU privacy activist when it was shown that the NSA had eavesdropped on her private communications with a suspected Israeli agent?
This was over alleged attempts to intervene on behalf of AIPAC officials accused of espionage. Overnight, one of the Surveillance State’s chief assets, a former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, transformed into a vocal privacy proponent because now it was her butt, excuse me, activities, rather than those of powerless citizens, which were invaded.
With the private, intimate activities of America’s most revered military and intelligence officials being smeared all over newspapers and televisions for no good reason, maybe similar conversions are possible. That is, having the career of the beloved CIA Director and commanding general in Afghanistan instantly blown up due to invasive, unwarranted electronic surveillance is almost enough to make you believe not only that there is a Higher Power, but that He/She/It is an ardent civil rights advocate.
Bottom line, the US runs a sprawling, unaccountable Surveillance State in violent breach of the core guarantees of the Fourth Amendment, monitoring and recording virtually everything that most law-abiding citizens do. Just to get a taste of how pervasive it is, recall that the Washington Post, in its 2010 three-part “Top Secret America” series reported, “Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.” Cyberspace is inflated with our lost rights.
Equally amazing is this 2007 chart from Privacy International, a group that monitors the surveillance policies of nations around the world. Each color represents the level of the nation’s privacy and surveillance policies, with black being the most invasive and abusive (“Endemic Surveillance Societies”) and blue being the least (“Consistently upholds human rights standards”). So we’re black and blue all over . . .
Yet the Obama administration has spent the last four years seeking to expand that Surveillance State, by agitating for congressional action to amend the PATRIOT Act to include Internet and browsing data among the records obtainable by the FBI without court approval and demanding legislation requiring that all Internet communications contain a government “backdoor” for surveillance. He’s getting even for the birthers.
Based on what is known, the most disturbing thing about the whole Petraeus scandal is not the sexual activities revealed, but the wildly out-of-control government surveillance forces, getting their jollies enabling these revelations. What is called for is an investigation not of Petraeus and Allen and their various sexual partners, but of the legion of FBI voyeurs and the sprawling, unaccountable surveillance system they have built.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.