Questions about national-security issues and timing of disclosures need to be answered as quickly as possible.
There are enough twists and turns in the story of the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus to make an entertaining soap opera or a trashy movie.
But the fall from grace of one of America's heroes is no mere celebrity sex scandal. Rather, the shocking disclosures that have brought down the head of the CIA and ensnared the nation's top general in Afghanistan involve serious national-security issues and many questions that need to be answered.
The Obama administration, already anticipating turnover as its second term begins, faces a shakeup in its national-security team that is only complicated by the Petraeus situation.
Petraeus, a retired four-star general, was instrumental in developing the modern military doctrine of counterinsurgency. He earned respect and admiration for his leadership of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Petraeus became CIA director in September 2011.
The 60-year-old former general resigned his post Friday in disgrace after acknowledging an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, a 40-year-old married mother of two sons who is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and an Army Reserve officer.
The scandal widened Tuesday with disclosure that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, is under investigation. Allen and another woman involved in the case, Jill Kelley, a Tampa socialite and family friend of Petraeus, allegedly exchanged "inappropriate communications" in more than 20,000 emails. Some of the material was described as "flirtatious," and the Pentagon is investigating, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Allen succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan in July 2011. He was scheduled for a congressional hearing for a promotion to be the next commander of U.S. European Command and the commander of NATO forces in Europe, but his nomination has been put on hold. He has denied wrongdoing.
Kelley began receiving threatening emails last May, and the FBI began investigating soon after. That probe led agents to Broadwell's email account, which uncovered the relationship with the 60-year-old retired general.
Petraeus' resignation complicates President Obama's task less than two weeks after his re-election. He more than likely will have to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and perhaps Panetta, is now without his CIA director, and has one of his top generals serving under a cloud — all this when he wants to focus on the economy and forging an agreement to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff."
There are sure to be hard questions from Congress about several aspects of the scandal beginning this week involving possible damage to national security and the timing of the disclosure.
Petraeus has reportedly denied to associates that he had disclosed any sensitive military information to Broadwell, but extramarital affairs are looked on as serious matters for intelligence officers because of the possibility of blackmail. The FBI had determined by late summer that there was no breach of national security involved. But FBI agents informed Petraeus that sensitive, possibly classified documents were found on Broadwell's computer.
Some senior lawmakers of both parties want to know why they weren't told about the matter until Friday when the FBI began investigating the complaint from Kelley in May and had suspected during the summer that Petraeus and Broadwell were having an affair. Attorney General Eric Holder was notified by late summer, but Obama was not notified until Thursday, two days after the election. The FBI notified Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, of the investigation on Election Day.
Lawmakers say the law requires officials to inform congressional oversight committees of all intelligence activities, including possible disclosure of national security and classified information. But law-enforcement officials maintain that since they found no security breach, there was no requirement to inform the congressional committees.
Beyond any requirements is the question of why the scandal came to light only after President Obama's re-election.
Further, Petraeus was scheduled to testify about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, since he was CIA director during the attack and visited Libya afterward. There are plenty of issues that need to be cleared up about the attack, and although Petraeus still can be compelled to testify, his resignation complicates the matter.
It will take a thorough investigation to clear this tangled thicket. We suggest that Congress appoint an outside investigator to get to the bottom of the situation quickly and with the cooperation of all involved.