Monday, November 12, 2012

Fight for the Right to Party

It has proven oddly disconcerting to learn that the man charged with guarding our national security secrets has a few secrets of his own—though why we should be surprised that a guy who runs a spy agency gets off on deception is beyond me.  

Of course, any time a sex scandal erupts, it’s worth asking why we get so worked up about the private lives of public officials.  And at what cost?  Just imagine all the other things you might have done this Veteran’s Day if you hadn't spent so much time marveling at Paula Broadwell’s upper body tone.

In this case, we may tell ourselves the public's interest in Petraeus’ private life is more than prurient—national security is on the line.  Because even if intelligence-laden pillow talk doesn't get ordinary civilians like you and me going, who knows what a CIA chief embedded with his biographer will let slip when he’s “all in”?

Well, we all may be worried about the security ramifications of the Petraeus affair, but you know who isn’t?  The FBI.  Officials in that organization insist they were right to keep mum for so long because they found no evidence that Broadwell gained access to classified information.  No big surprise here, I suppose—I mean, what with all the unauthorized wire-tapping going on over there, those guys wouldn’t get a wink of sleep if they had to report every inappropriate relationship involving a government official (let alone the rest of us) to the proper authorities.  

Still, now that the affair has gone public, many are wondering whether the FBI made the right call in withholding information about Petraeus' affair from the White House for as long as it did.  But at least for the time being, the FBI has its story and they're sticking to it: a private affair is a private matter unless proven otherwise.

Apparently, others in the intelligence community agree.  According to a CNN report on Monday:

A senior U.S. intelligence official said an extramarital affair by a CIA officer is not automatically considered a security violation.

"It depends on the circumstances," the official said.
Ah yes, the circumstances.  Because now that we’ve learned the identity of the woman whose complaint launched the FBI probe in the first place, we see just what a difference context makes—at least to those in the national security biz. The mystery woman turns out to be 37-year-old Jill Kelley, who holds a position as “unpaid social liaison” at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home of the military’s Special Operations Command.  The fact that Ms. Kelley was named “honorary ambassador” to the base in recognition of her as-yet vaguely understood social services suggests to me that engaging in extramarital sex may be regarded more as an entitlement than an embarrassment in those circles.

And so in the end, the most revealing aspect of all of this may be what it indicates about the mental state of those who break rules for a living.  David Petraeus lives in a world in which the end justifies the means.  Soldiers go to war to kill bad that the innocent may live in peace.  Spies lie, cheat and that truth, justice and the American way may prevail.  The FBI violates our privacy with warrantless that we may enjoy the blessings of freedom.  No wonder David Petraeus thought he could get away with it. 


  1. Cool post ! I like the final observation linking 'end justifies the means' thinking to living with hypocracies in your personal life.

    Keep up the good work, Prof. Williams !


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  2. From David R. Williams:

    As Lord Acton observed, "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." This raises the chicken/egg controversy: In the case of sex scandals, who wields the corrupting power? the chicken or the egg? King or Courtesan? Broadwell or Petraeus? I nominate Broadwell, because she reacted proactively (if unwisely) to a perceived threat to her hegemony. Do you agree? Is this a general rule in public affairs gone wild?

    1. Great questions!

      With all due respect to Lord Acton, I prefer the account of power expounded by French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault challenges the traditional way of thinking about power as a commodity that defines the haves and the have nots. For Foucault, power operates differently--it is not something one "has"; nor is it not something that can be possessed by some by taking it away from others. Instead, Foucault sees power everywhere, which is not to say that it distributed or wielded equally, but it would imply that we might find aspects of power and disempowerment in both Broadwell and Petraeus.

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