Collateral damage: Holly Petraeus, and other victims of the Petraeus affair


We’ve learned again one important thing in the last few days: The government cannot keep a secret.

As further details filter in, it appears increasingly likely that the revelation of David Petraeus’ affair and his forced resignation on November 9 is more complicated, and involves more intrigue, than first appears. As we observed yesterday,

“Whether there is anything more to the coincidence of timing than meets the eye remains to be seen.

With the CIA and the Obama administration, however, it is always prudent to look beyond what meets the eye.”

–The Trenchant Observer, “On eve of testimony to Congress on Benghazi, CIA Director David Petraeus forced out over an affair,” November 9, 2012 (updated November 10, 2012).

First of all we must ask why the White House and the CIA could not keep Petraeus’ affair secret and out of the public media, if only to spare his wife, Holly Petraeus, from the public shame of seeing her husband taken down for his affair–which was over and several months behind him. If he wanted to resign, why couldn’t Petraeus just be allowed to resign quietly, thereby sparing his wife and son and daughter public humiliation?

Who is the second woman, who reportedly went to the FBI because she was receiving threatening e-mails from Paula Broadwell?

Among the interesting details to emerge most recently are the following:

According to Eric Leser, writing today for the French site of, the FBI reached the conclusion that there was no security issue.

“The FBI agents contacted Petraeus at the end of October or in early November, and told him that there would be no further pursuit of the matter. David Petraeus as well as Paula Broadwell have not committed any crime and have not violated any law.”

–Eric Leser, “L’affaire Petraeus et les zones d’ombre de l’administration Obama; Grâce à la démission inattendue du directeur de la CIA, la Maison Blanche pourra-t-elle éviter de répondre à des questions embarrassantes?”, November 11, 2012.

What is going on here? Why did this matter have to become public when it did?

There are a number of leads that need to be followed up. One is the question of who prepared the talking points for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice who appeared on the Sunday talk shows after the attack, and maintained–contrary to what the administration knew to be the case–that the attack on the Consulate evolved out of a demonstration against the anti-Muslim film, ” The Innocence of Muslims”.

Rice was a leading candidate to become Secretary of State following Hillary Clinton’s expected resignation.

Another involves the question of whether Obama was afraid of what Petraeus might say in his scheduled testimony to Congress next week.

Could it be that Petraeus was unwilling to lie in Congressional testimony, unwilling to deny that Obama made the final call or whether or not to immediately send in support from the CIA annex to the Benghazi consulate when it was under attack, or to deploy other military assets from Signorella Air Base in Italy, and elsewhere?  We know that the administration had a drone over Benghazi and was able to watch the attack in real time.

Of particular importance in assessing this possibility is the fact that the AfricaCom commander, General Carter Ham, it was suddenly announced following the attack on Benghazi, is to be replaced.  This came well short of the completion of his rotation, for no apparent reason.  Some reports allege that he disobeyed an order to stand down when mobilizing his troops to go the aid of those under attack in Benghazi. He also would be an interesting witness for Congress to call.

One thing appears evident. Obama and foreign policy leaders at the top are involved in some kind of intrigue, either as active agents or as victims.

Among those whose names have been suggested as a possible replacement for Petraeus at CIA are John Brennan, Obama’s close confidante in the drone wars and reportedly his first choice to be Director of the CIA. His name was not submitted to Congress because of anticipated problems in the confirmation hearings, given his position in the CIA during the active phase of Bush’s torture program.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.