CIA scandal: General's e-mails 'flirtatious'

2012-11-14 08:34
US General John Allen. (File, AP)

US General John Allen. (File, AP)

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Washington — The sex scandal that felled CIA Director David Petraeus widened on Tuesday to ensnare the top US commander in Afghanistan, an improbable drama unfolding at a critical time in the Afghan war effort and just as President Barack Obama was hoping for a smooth transition in his national security team.

The suddenly public story — by turns tragic and silly — involves a Florida socialite, a jealous rival, a twin sister in a messy custody dispute and flirty e-mails.

Obama put on hold the nomination of Afghan war chief General John Allen to become the next commander of US European Command as well as the Nato supreme allied commander in Europe after investigators uncovered 20 000-plus pages of documents and e-mails that involved Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. Some of the material was characterised as "flirtatious".

Allen, aged 58, insisted he had done nothing wrong and worked to save his imperilled career.

General Martin Dempsey, chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has recommended to Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that he keep Allen in his post as commander in Afghanistan, Dempsey's spokesperson, Colonel David Lapan, said on Tuesday.

Dempsey called Allen from Australia, where he was to attend meetings with Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their Australian counterparts. Allen told Dempsey that he had not committed any wrongdoing, Lapan said.

Inappropriate communications


Kelley, aged 37, who had worked herself into the centre of the military social scene in Florida without having any official role, emerged as a central figure in the still-unfolding story that has embroiled two of the nation's most influential and respected military leaders. Petraeus, a retired general, had served as the commander of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Known as a close friend of Petraeus, Kelley triggered the FBI investigation that led to his downfall as CIA director when she complained about getting anonymous, harassing e-mails.

They turned out to have been written by Petraeus' mistress, Paula Broadwell, who apparently was jealous of the attention the general paid to Kelley. Petraeus acknowledged the affair and resigned on Friday.

In the course of looking into that situation, federal investigators came across what a Pentagon official called "inappropriate communications" between Allen and Kelley, both of them married.

According to one senior US official, the e-mails between Allen and Kelley were not sexually explicit or seductive but included pet names such as "sweetheart" or "dear". The official said that while much of the communication — including some from Allen to Kelley — is relatively innocuous, some could be construed as unprofessional and would cause a reasonable person to take notice.

That official, as well as others who described the investigation, requested anonymity on grounds that they were not authorised to discuss the situation publicly.

More subplots

The FBI decided to turn over the Allen information to the military once the bureau recognised it contained no evidence of a federal crime, according to a federal law enforcement official, who was not authorised to discuss the matter on the record and demanded anonymity. Adultery, however, is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A senior defence official said that the FBI first notified the Pentagon of the Allen matter on Sunday afternoon. The Pentagon's top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, then called Panetta's chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, as Bash and Panetta were flying to Honolulu aboard a military jet to begin a weeklong Asia trip. Bash then informed Panetta.

Allen was not suspended from his military position, even though his nomination for promotion is on hold. The White House will soon be deciding how many troops will remain in Afghanistan — and for what purposes — after the US-led combat operation ends in 2014. Allen has provided his recommendations to the White House and is key to those discussions.

Still more subplots in the story emerged on Tuesday with news that both Allen and Petraeus wrote letters last September on behalf of Jill Kelley's twin sister, Natalie Khawam, in a messy custody dispute.

In 2011, a judge had denied Khawam custody of her 3-year-old son, saying she "appears to lack any appreciation or respect for the importance of honesty and integrity in her interactions with her family, employers and others with whom she comes in contact".

Kelley served as a sort of social ambassador for US Central Command in Tampa, hosting parties for Petraeus when he was commander there from 2008-10.

Taking it to another level

The friendship with the Petraeus began when they arrived in Tampa, and the Kelleys threw a welcome party at their home, a short distance from Central Command headquarters, introducing the new chief and his wife, Holly, to Tampa's elite, according to staffers who served with Petraeus.

Such friendships among senior military commanders and prominent local community leaders are common at any base, a relationship where the officers invite local people to exclusive military events and functions, and the invitees respond by providing private funding to support troops with everything from morale-boosting "Welcome Home" parades to assistance for injured combat veterans.

Petraeus aides say Jill Kelley took it to another level, winning the title of "honorary ambassador" from the countries involved in the Afghan war for her extensive entertaining at her home on behalf of the command, throwing parties that raised her social status in Tampa through the reflected glow of the four-star general in attendance.

Petraeus even honoured Kelley and her husband with an award given to them in a special ceremony at the Pentagon just before he left the military for his post at the CIA, an aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment on the matter publicly.

White House spokesperson Jay Carney, employing understatement, was asked about the revelations involving Allen and said Obama "wouldn't call it welcome" news. Carney described Obama as "surprised" by the earlier news about Petraeus.

As he prepares for a second term, the president has hoped to run a methodical transition process, with the goal of keeping many Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials in their posts until successors are confirmed, or at least nominated.

Commotion on Capitol Hill

Petraeus' resignation has disrupted those plans, leaving Obama with an immediate vacancy to fill and raising questions about how much other immediate shake-up the national security team can handle.

National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor said Obama put Allen's nomination on hold at the request of Panetta. The general succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan in July 2011, and has been working with Panetta on how best to pace the withdrawal of US troops.

Vietor said in a written statement that Obama "remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who General Allen continues to lead as he has so ably done for over a year".

The unfolding story caused a commotion on Capitol Hill as well, as lawmakers complained that they should have been told about the investigation earlier.

Acting CIA Director Michael Morell met with Senate intelligence chairperson Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss on Tuesday, to explain the CIA's understanding of events that led Petraeus to resign.

Benghazi testimony

That session came ahead of meetings with the leaders of the House intelligence committee on Wednesday, according to congressional aides.

The chairperson and top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said their panel would go ahead with Thursday's scheduled confirmation hearing on the nomination of Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who is to replace Allen as commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, if Allen is indeed promoted.

Even though Petraeus has stepped down, Senator Carl Levin, chairperson of the Armed Services Committee, said the retired general should testify about the 11 September attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, "if he has relevant information".

Republican Senator Susan Collins said it was "absolutely imperative" that Petraeus testify, since he was CIA director during the attack and visited Libya afterward.

- AP

Read more on:    john allen  |  david petraeus  |  leon panetta  |  barack obama  |  us
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