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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Petraeus and the Surveillance State

Posted by on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 8:43 AM

In my dismissal yesterday of the way the Petraeus soap opera is being covered, I neglected to point out a very good article over at the Guardian. Glenn Greenwald mostly ignores the sex—while ruing the sad fact that adultery, of all things, is what has people up in arms about the ethics of the US military brass—and zeroes in on the fucked-up way this investigation got started in the first place:

As is now widely reported, the FBI investigation began when Jill Kelley - a Tampa socialite friendly with Petraeus (and apparently very friendly with Gen. John Allen, the four-star U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan) - received a half-dozen or so anonymous emails that she found vaguely threatening. She then informed a friend of hers who was an FBI agent, and a major FBI investigation was then launched that set out to determine the identity of the anonymous emailer.

That is the first disturbing fact: it appears that the FBI not only devoted substantial resources, but also engaged in highly invasive surveillance, for no reason other than to do a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was very mildly harassing her by email.

To see the FBI chasing ghosts and small game is not so unusual—The Stranger, and many other papers, have run stories about law-enforcement devoting "substantial resources" to nothing much at all (like, say, a years-long undercover investigation of a guy who used to know some people who might have known people who were in the ELF) and wreaking havoc on people's lives along the way. What's unusual in this case is the prestige of the ghost the FBI was chasing.

So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell's physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime... they also got their hands on and read through 20,000-30,000 pages of emails between Gen. Allen and Kelley...

This is a surveillance state run amok. It also highlights how any remnants of internet anonymity have been all but obliterated by the union between the state and technology companies.

But, as unwarranted and invasive as this all is, there is some sweet justice in having the stars of America's national security state destroyed by the very surveillance system which they implemented and over which they preside. As Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it this morning: "Who knew the key to stopping the Surveillance State was to just wait until it got so big that it ate itself?"

There's more to this story than socialites and petty duplicities after all.


Comments (21) RSS

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Delishuss 1
Maddow did a good segment on this last night.
Posted by Delishuss on November 14, 2012 at 8:48 AM · Report this
I think Greenwald's gone completely out of left field on this one. Send threatening e-mails to somebody? While having a security clearance? And being connected to the CIA chief? Expect somebody to read your emails.
Posted by GermanSausage on November 14, 2012 at 8:58 AM · Report this
I was wondering how this woman had gotten the FBI to do anything. I mean, many people get harassing e-mails and how often does the FBI intervene?

Having said that, it is interesting that Eisenhower openly had an affair with his driver during WWII and no one pulled him back.

I think it may be more that Petraeus was now CIA and not just military. It's a very sensitive job.

Broadwell and Kelley both seem like women who cannot keep their mouths shut. (Kelley was trying to invoke some imaginary diplomatic immunity to get the State Department to get reporters off her front lawn. She has no such standing.)

As a woman, I do wonder. What is it with men? You work a lifetime to build something great and you give it up for...some time in the sack? And yet it happens, guy after guy.

Petraeus is a good guy who will get redemption (this is the US after all) but he has lost a career.
Posted by westello on November 14, 2012 at 9:08 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 4
@3 Broadwell is equally to blame here. She's an intelligent adult, married with kids, not a teenager or intern. If she exercises some self-control, there is no scandal. Petraeus deserves a swift kick to the balls, for sure, but she deserves some castigation for getting involved in the mess as well.
Posted by Sir Vic on November 14, 2012 at 9:16 AM · Report this
Crooks and Liars has the complete story, and the reason to how this FBI agent was able to get this kind of access. From C&L quoting the NY Times:…

"Ms. Kelley, a volunteer with wounded veterans and military families, brought her complaint to a rank-and-file agent she knew from a previous encounter with the F.B.I. office, the official also said. That agent, who had previously pursued a friendship with Ms. Kelley and had earlier sent her shirtless photographs of himself, was “just a conduit” for the complaint, he said. He had no training in cybercrime, was not part of the cyber squad handling the case and was never assigned to the investigation.

But the agent, who was not identified, continued to “nose around” about the case, and eventually his superiors “told him to stay the hell away from it, and he was not invited to briefings,” the official said. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Monday night that the agent had been barred from the case.

Later, the agent became convinced — incorrectly, the official said — that the case had stalled. Because of his “worldview,” as the official put it, he suspected a politically motivated cover-up to protect President Obama. The agent alerted Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who called the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, on Oct. 31 to tell him of the agent’s concerns."

Eric Fucking Cantor. Are you starting to get the picture yet?
Posted by johnjjeeves on November 14, 2012 at 9:42 AM · Report this
Whatever. Petraeus had an affair. Who cares?

I care that:
1. the head of the CIA can't figure out how to have an affair and not get caught.
2. the head of the CIA put our national security at risk.
3. Petraeus will turn this into a fairly savvy presidential run.
4. We may have a culture of generals who act like Penn State's sports department or 70s era Catholic priests.

that said:
The guy did the right thing. He waited until after the election to quit while knowing an earlier resignation would help his party win the presidency.

He took full responsibility for what he did.

He tried to keep the episode from distracting us.

I would be more impressed, however, if his inner circle of sycophants were more Melrose Place than Jersey Shore.
Posted by six shooter on November 14, 2012 at 9:46 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 7
I'm still trying to figure out why Broadwell had classified documents in her possession. If true, she could be in big trouble. Did she steal them? Was she given them?
Posted by Pope Peabrain on November 14, 2012 at 9:49 AM · Report this
Your email is as private as any other records you leave in the hands of third parties. Generally private, but easily available for subpoena. Pretty much same as its always been.

If you want to be anonymous for whatever reason there are email services that are set up to allow such things.
Posted by giffy on November 14, 2012 at 9:52 AM · Report this
The affair matters IF it occurred when Broadwell was an active duty subordinate under Patraeus (FI when he was "in charge" in Afghanistan) which is against article 134 (Fraternization) in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

And it is indeed looking like that affair had been going on for quite some time.
Posted by tkc on November 14, 2012 at 9:55 AM · Report this
Westlake, son! 10
I loathe gmail/hotmail/yahoo mail for this reason. I can run an ssl imap server under my own purview, as is right and proper, but the other side of all my conversations is easily obtainable without a warrant. Bummer.
Posted by Westlake, son! on November 14, 2012 at 9:58 AM · Report this
@8 --

I don't know if the FBI needs a subpoena for gmail archives over 150 days old. I'm pretty sure we passed some kind of act for patriots that says law enforcement gets those just by asking.

And aren't you pissed the head of the CIA didn't know this?
Posted by six shooter on November 14, 2012 at 9:59 AM · Report this
This all reminds me of the plot of "Burn After Reading".
Posted by Jude Fawley on November 14, 2012 at 10:21 AM · Report this
@11 The ECPA gave recent emails more protection than other records and documents, but yeah that has been weakened by our promotion of Patriotic Acts.

Bank records for example can simply be subpoenaed for any period.

Generally speaking, if the records are not in your possession there is no Fourth Amendment or other protection, though there are some major exceptions.

Petraeus showed some grade A dumbassery. It is pretty trivial to set up an email account that would be much harder to access.
Posted by giffy on November 14, 2012 at 10:24 AM · Report this
From what I understand, I think the head of the CIA believed he could avoid discovery if he shared passwords and saved drafts instead of sending the emails.

I would be shocked to learn he thought of this gem of spycraft when his paramour sent his work email a link to
Posted by six shooter on November 14, 2012 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Greenwald does his usual superlative job, but also an excellent analysis here as well:

But the emails weren’t threatening at all, “a knowledgeable source” told the Daily Beast.

(see link below)…

[And most importantly, let us not forget the political power angle and the fact that the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller III, was first appointed to the DOJ as chief of their criminal division and succeeded in interdicting the investigation of BCCI and its connections to the Bush #1 White House --- Robert Mueller III is the grandnewphew of Richard Bissell, who was one of the top three CIA fellows fired by President Kennedy prior to his assassination, while Mueller's wife is the granddaughter of Gen. Cabell, the second of the three fired by President Kennedy.]
Posted by sgt_doom on November 14, 2012 at 10:33 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 17
@12 She cheated on her husband and brought a lot of grief to her family. The standard media angle is that she was just a little girl with stars in her eyes. That is just as insulting to women as slut shaming. She knew what she was doing was wrong, but went ahead with it anyhow. Hiding behind the skirt degrades all women who make choices, bad or otherwise, and just feeds the media's misogynist power play.
Posted by Sir Vic on November 14, 2012 at 11:00 AM · Report this
I did meant to imply that Broadwell was an innocent; far from it. She betrayed her own marriage and family and that's on her.

I just think it funny/odd that these people never think they will get caught.
Posted by westello on November 14, 2012 at 11:09 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 19
It's as if the chief spy didn't know that you can download apps on a burner phone to encrypt messages in pictures you post in your LOLCATS photo album ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on November 14, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Report this
"As a woman, I do wonder. What is it with men? You work a lifetime to build something great and you give it up for...some time in the sack?"

Some men do.
The reasons why vary with each guy.
But it does not appear to be about the woman.
Because most of the guys do no go on with long term, monogamous, relationships with those women.
Once it is revealed, it is over.

"And yet it happens, guy after guy."

But the thing is that you usually never hear about the guys who don't.
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on November 14, 2012 at 11:44 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 21
@18 I was watching a NOVA special about behavior. Apes all show a willingness to steal sex as long as they think no one is watching. I think this is instinctual behavior carried over from our ancestors. No matter how much power you accrue, instincts can overtake reason.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on November 14, 2012 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Ipso Facto 23
Ah, so The Stranger is aware of Glenn Greenwald.

Interesting then, that not a single writer at The Stranger saw fit to relay any of Greenwald's many critique's of the first Obama administration to its readers.

Here is Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now! today, talking about the Petraeus scandal, and about the liberal media's (e.g. The Stranger) track record of cheerleading for Obama:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So can you say a little bit, Glenn, about the significance of Obama’s re-election last week?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think that a lot of it depends not on what President Obama does. There is some expectation that he’s now suddenly going to reveal his true progressive self, now that he’s been liberated from the pressures of re-election. I think this is completely mythological fantasy thinking. I think we see who the true President Obama is. I take him at his word that the policies that he pursued in the first term are the policies that he believes in.

I think the question is: Will the Democratic Party, and specifically the progressive and liberal component of the Democratic Party, change its behavior from cheerleader, from blindly supportive, partisan apparatchiks, which is what they were in the first term, putting pressure on him in almost no instance, cheering for whatever it is that he did, no matter how contrary it was to their professed values, into some kind of a force where they actually fulfill their duties as citizens, which is to hold political leaders accountable?

And I think the very first test for this is going to be what Amy began the broadcast by discussing, what I know you’ve been covering here this week, which is the budget fight, where it is almost certainly the case that President Obama will do what he already attempted to do, which is target the crown jewels, legislative jewels, of liberalism, which are Social Security and Medicare, for cuts, in order to pursue this grand bargain with the Republican Party. And will the liberal wing of the Democratic Party do anything more than just make symbolic and empty gestures toward opposing it but at the end become good partisan soldiers, as they always do, or will they provide real opposition?
Posted by Ipso Facto on November 14, 2012 at 5:48 PM · Report this

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