EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 17, 2012

Editorial: Petraeus affair must not distract from Benghazi investigation


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The sordid, tawdry sex scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus is noteworthy even in an environment like Washington, where adultery is a competitive sport.

It is noteworthy not only for the destruction of one, and possibly two, high-profile military careers and the gross stupidity of its participants but also for how it has served to draw attention from a far more important scandal — the Obama administration’s mishandling of a terrorist attack on our consulate in Libya that left four Americans dead.

Before President Obama appointed him as CIA director, Petraeus was one of the Army’s top officers, the four-star general in command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and former commanding officer of U.S. Central Command. But despite the general’s well-earned reputation for possessing a finely honed military mind, he foolishly began an adulterous affair with Paula Broadwell, a fellow West Point graduate and his biographer. The affair continued after Petraeus resigned from the Army to lead the CIA.

The affair was revealed after a third-party became involved — Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite fond of hosting lavish parties for Army brass and other Tampa-area luminaries. Kelley and her husband have been friends with Petraeus for years. Broadwell, apparently concerned that Petraeus was a little too chummy with Kelley, sent the Florida woman anonymous emails telling her to back off. Kelley told a friend in the FBI, which launched an investigation.

Petraeus resigned after the FBI learned of the CIA director’s involvement in the affair.

All this is bad enough. Those in the intelligence community are supposed to be bright enough to realize the threat to national security posed by engaging in such illicit affairs.

But Petraeus had been scheduled to testify before congressional committees about what he knew concerning the attack on the consulate in Benghazi that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others dead. Petraeus’ testimony would challenge the White House line that the Obama administration was unaware this was a terrorist attack until several days after the deadly incident.

When the scandal broke and Petraeus resigned, suddenly his scheduled testimony was off. Who knew that an extramarital affair was a free ticket out of uncomfortable congressional testimony?

Ultimately, Petraeus did testify late last week. And indeed, he did say that he knew that an al-Qaida element was responsible for the organized attack. It was no spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim video as the Obama administration had claimed early on. But al-Qaida references were stripped from the talking points the CIA disseminated to other administration departments.

Petraeus’ testimony is the clearest indication yet that there was a cover-up of what the administration knew about the Benghazi attack. Who ordered the al-Qaida references removed from the intelligence briefings? And for what purpose? How was the Obama administration so woefully unprepared for a terrorist attack on the fateful anniversary of Sept. 11, despite clear warnings from our diplomats in Libya?

The extramarital affair of Petraeus and Broadwell is a sideshow. Congress should not let itself be distracted from these far more important questions of national security.