David Petraeus’ affair with his biographer ended his 37-year career. But the damage from this episode goes far wider

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Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images

CIA Director David Petraeus testifies before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee during a full committee hearing on "World Wide Threats" in Washington, D.C. Jan. 31, 2012

How did Petraeus stay on as top spy after case agents notified FBI Director Robert Mueller last summer that Petraeus was concealing an extramarital affair? And that his e-mail habits were hardly prudent? Vulnerability to blackmail or extortion is usually seen as the paradigmatic counterintelligence threat. After Mueller and Holder were notified, it was about two months ­before the two men dispatched FBI Deputy Director Sean M. Joyce to notify Clapper late on Election Day.

Adultery is prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And “depending on timing, it’s very significant for the head of the CIA,” argues Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s former inspector general. The regulations left Mueller and Holder wide discretion. “We struggled with this,” said a participant in the internal debate, but they satisfied ­themselves early on that “there were no national-­security concerns. He hadn’t been hacked, hadn’t shared classified information, and [other than that] you don’t reveal ongoing criminal investigations, because people get tipped off or there may be investigative things you want to do that are then precluded.” Why, then, tell Clapper about the adultery at all, even when the case was ready to close? “We wrestled with that,” the official says. “Ultimately we made the determination that although we felt there was not a national-security threat, it was for Clapper to know this stuff or somebody to know this stuff and then decide what to do with it.”

(MORE: Petraeus Stumbles Off the Stage)

Agents confronted Broadwell with their findings on Friday, Nov. 2. The agent’s interview report, on form FD-302, did not reach headquarters until late afternoon on Monday, Nov. 5. Mueller and Holder reviewed it the morning of Election Day and decided that the time was ripe for informing Clapper of the case.

Pure coincidence? “The election played absolutely no role,” the official says.

Decline and Fall
There was plenty about the Petraeus affair that played more as farce than as tragedy. But virtually everyone involved exits the stage badly damaged. Jill Kelley’s days as a liaison to any government agency or official are over, a caution to every base commander in the military. Allen’s future is on ice; he may someday become the top U.S. general in Europe, but his nomination is frozen and his fate is now in the hands of a Pentagon investigation that is unlikely to give him an easy pass. The hard-­charging Broadwell denies having unauthorized access to secrets but could face new questions after an FBI search of her Charlotte house. And that discovery, in turn, could raise fresh questions. Did agents miss anything comparable in their parallel investigation into the Petraeus-Broadwell relationship or into the CIA chief’s exposure to hacking risks? The bureau, which for decades has done an excellent job protecting its interests on Capitol Hill, owes the nation accountability for its performance in this most delicate and unpleasant of ­investigations. Some of that should be in open hearings. But only a detailed chronology of the investigation, offered behind closed doors to the relevant committees, should satisfy Congress.

Most troubling is the judgment made at the highest levels of law enforcement not to inform the President. It’s hard to see why Obama wouldn’t expect his FBI director and the Attorney General to inform him when the country’s spy chief is recklessly exposing himself and his mistress to potential blackmail, whatever the special rules and protocols in the binders at Main Justice. That’s common sense in a democracy. The White House says such a call could have raised concerns about political interference, but given the national-security stakes, the absence of a call raises greater concerns about proper Executive oversight of national security.

With regard to Petraeus, who did such an amateurish job of hiding an affair while working as the nation’s top spy, the scandal stunned many in and out of uniform. But it was a measure of how out of touch Petraeus had become that he and apparently a number of other people thought he could stay at the agency after the affair had become known and partially exposed. That is misjudgment of the highest order and has generated considerable shock among former agents and officials, even among those who view Petraeus’ downfall as a personal tragedy. “A lot of power comes from moral authority,” says former CIA boss Michael Hayden, “because you are asking people to do stuff that is really on the edge legally and politically, and they have to sense that you’re the guy they can trust.”

David Petraeus has never been shy or retiring, particularly in a crisis, and it is unlikely that a man who takes his public image so seriously will remain silent for­ever. Friends say he is pondering how best to take responsibility in a fuller, more public way. Until then, the most celebrated general of his generation has just answered the question he famously asked in a very different context nearly a decade ago: “Tell me how this ends.”

with reporting by Massimo Calabresi, Jay Newton-Small, Alex Rogers, Michael Scherer and Mark Thompson / Washington

MORE: For Petraeus, the CIA Was an Uncomfortable Fit

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