The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is in a huff because she was kept in the dark about CIA Director David Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and his biographer.
“… A decision was made somewhere not to brief us, which is atypical,” the California Democrat told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “This is certainly an operationally sensitive matter. But we weren’t briefed. I don’t know who made that decision.”
Feinstein has loudly and repeatedly vowed to investigate.
We will all soon learn whether this incident is a witch-hunt of a warrior who served his country heroically, or the downfall of a careless man who allowed loose lips and sexy hips to sink ships. No matter the outcome, Washington’s vultures of voyeurism will lead a surge of piety that easily surpasses the firepower used in Petraeus’ military surge.
We’ve been here before, when political piranhas swarmed Capitol Hill to devour President Bill Clinton. His indiscretion with Monica Lewinsky was blown out of proportion until it became a national obsession that drove the Washington establishment to temporary insanity. Normalcy was only restored to the beltway through the levity of Hustler magazine’s Larry Flynt, who exposed moralizing hypocrites, and the levelheadedness of the American public who stood by Clinton at the gallows.
In my view, the FBI initially showed sound judgment in not rushing to judgment on the CIA director. Unless the FBI could prove that national security was being compromised, there was no compelling interest for Feinstein and others to know that Petraeus was schtupping his biographer.
Instead of worrying about real issues, like the fiscal cliff, the sluggish economy, stalled peace in the middle east, the deterioration of Russian civilization, Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the European economy, income inequality, and a shrinking middle class – busybodies on Capitol Hill will spend precious time and resources investigating why they didn’t have a sneak preview of Petraeus’ sex life. (And Congress wonders why it has a single digit approval rating.)
The most offensive part of this scandal is that an FBI source first informed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on October 27. While Petraeus was off fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cantor was undermining America by consistently placing party ahead of country. Instead of playing the dutiful role of loyal opposition, Cantor habitually engaged in disloyal obstructionism, holding the nation’s business hostage with his co-conspirator Sen. Mitch McConnell, who spent the last four years working to unsuccessfully deny Obama a second term.
If Petraeus had been divulging state secrets in a brothel staffed by Iranian spies, he would still be doing significantly less damage to American interests than Cantor and McConnell do on any normal day on Capitol Hill. At least Petraeus was getting the peoples’ business done, which is more that we can say about Cantor and McConnell.
When I turn on the television, it is wall-to-wall coverage of holier-than-thou reporters and pundits raising hackles and howls about Petraeus’ unseemly behavior. The breathless bloviators appear absolutely astonished that a powerful public official had sex outside of marriage.
Does it not seem rather incongruous, and a bit jarring, that only a week after the most progressive election in memory, we are descending into sexual Victorianism? As if America moved too far, too fast, with legalizing pot and gay marriage in some states, while expunging various caveman from Congress, so we needed a human sacrifice to show that we have an old fashioned bone left in our body politic.
As a gay person, I’m admittedly sensitive to overarching government investigations into peoples’ sex lives. Just a couple of years ago, good service members were humiliated and drummed out of the military because of their sexual orientation. In the name of national security, nosey investigators routinely revealed unnecessary details and divulged specific sex acts in an ignoble effort to destroy good people. Such personal disclosures are violations of privacy should be exceedingly rare and done only when absolutely necessary.
I’m not condoning Petraeus’ actions, but I am urging caution. We need legitimate factual examination, not faux titillation. We need prudence, not Ken Starr-like prurience. Sen. Feinstein, and the rest of us, only needs to know whether the former CIA Director jeopardized national security. That is all we are owed – and the messy details should be left to Petraeus and his wife to sort out.
UPDATE: It seems I’m not the only one concerned about the privacy issues raised by this case.
“There should be an investigation not of the personal behavior of General Petraeus and General Allen, but of what surveillance powers the F.B.I. used to look into their private lives,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview. “This is a textbook example of the blurring of lines between the private and the public.”
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said the chain of unexpected disclosures was not unusual in computer-centric cases.
“It’s a particular problem with cyber investigations — they rapidly become open-ended because there’s such a huge quantity of information available and it’s so easily searchable,” he said, adding, “If the C.I.A. director can get caught, it’s pretty much open season on everyone else.”
Folks — this case is a big deal. The very meaning of freedom as we know it can and will deteriorate if we don’t carefully figure out how to navigate this thorny issue. If incredible technological advances fall into the wrong hands, it could become a nightmare. When every private detail of our lives has the potential to become public — we are all subject to potential embarrassment and ruin at the hands of personal political foes.
This could mean that if you run for office, your opponent destroys you by revealing photos from college or embarrassing conversations online. Or, for the average person, it might mean cutting off the wrong person in traffic. They take your license plate number and go to work investigating and undermining your life.
I’m not writing this because I’m paranoid. I’m bringing up plausible scenarios and urging policy makers to think through the ramifications. We can either control the technology — or it can control us. That is the issue we face and the Petraeus situation is a warning sign of a potentially much larger problem to come.