Yet more security concerns emerge about Paula Broadwell’s access to Petraeus

November 10, 2012

CIA Director David Petraeus (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Newly reported information about CIA Director David Petraeus's alleged affair with Paula Broadwell, the military intelligence officer who also co-wrote a biography of the retired general, has focused more and more on the security risks that their secret relationship may have posed to the famously security-obsessed Central Intelligence Agency.

The FBI investigation that unraveled the story seems to have begun with threatening e-mails that Broadwell allegedly sent to another woman close to Petraeus, according to an extensive report by The Washington Post's Sari Horwitz and Greg Miller. Investigators initially feared that Petraeus's personal e-mail had been compromised. The Wall Street Journal reported that Broadwell or someone close to her had attempted to access that  account. Given the sensitivity of even Petraeus's personal e-mail, outside access to its contents could have presented a significant national security risk.

Broadwell's access to Petraeus appears to have been high, perhaps inappropriately so, even before the e-mail threats and FBI investigation. The Associated Press reports that some in the CIA had worried at how freely their director had invited her into his world, and at the spotlight-seeking Broadwell's care with what she learned.

But her access was unsettling to members of the secretive and compartmentalized intelligence agency, where husbands and wives often work in different divisions, but share nothing with each other when they come home because they don't "need to know."

In one incident that caught CIA staff by surprise, Broadwell posted a photograph on her Facebook page of Petraeus with actress Angelina Jolie, taken in his 7th floor office where only the official CIA photographer is permitted to take photos. Petraeus had apparently given Broadwell the photo just hours after it was taken.

 

Posting a photo of Petraeus with a movie star on a Facebook page is obviously not much of a national security breach. But what may have raised concern is the pair's apparent disregard, at least in this incident, for following security procedures and for circumspection. If she was posting unapproved photos of the CIA director's office on her Facebook wall, then, you have to wonder, what did she see as too sensitive for social media but fine to share with friends? Or what did Petraeus feel was appropriate to share with her privately?

The point is not that Broadwell had access to anything more sensitive than a forbidden photo of her secret lover's office, or that Petraeus had to share anything more. The point is that they, based on the reports out so far, disregarded normal CIA security procedures -- which would also require disclosing a secret affair, given the potential for blackmail -- and appeared to have invented their own. That Petraeus would invite someone into his personal and professional world -- especially someone who was well known for being temperamental -- without regard for normal security standards would be no small breach.

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Olga Khazan | November 10, 2012