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HindustanTimes Wed,17 Sep 2014
A four-star thriller
Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times
November 16, 2012
First Published: 23:24 IST(16/11/2012)
Last Updated: 23:36 IST(16/11/2012)

Suck it up, James Bond, you’re done. There’s a spy caper that’s captured the beltway box office in Washington that makes the latest 007 blockbuster, Skyfall, seem like a nursery book. In fact, most DC reviewers are happily giving this thriller four stars, to match those worn by its central figure, General David Petraeus.

For those who came in late, here’s the plot which defies central intelligence. Petraeus resigned as CIA Director on November 9, conveniently timed three days after the US presidential elections. The reason cited was his extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, co-author of his biography, ironically titled All In. Even as Broadwell and Petraeus were redefining the meanings of terms like exclusive access and embedding, it appears these clandestine operations weren’t quite limited to them.

Broadwell, reportedly, was the jealous type who sent off threatening emails to a Tampa, Florida-based “Army social liaison” Jill Kelley, warning her to “stay away from my guy”. Kelley informed her friendly neighbourhood FBI agent, who had earlier sent her shirtless photographs of his, always helpful in forging a working relationship. The FBI agent was taken off the investigation, though not before he’d squealed to a Congressman, who set the process of revelations in motion. Meanwhile, Kelley had exchanged thousands of “inappropriate” emails with General John Allen, Petraeus’ successor as commander of the US forces in Afghanistan. Curiously, Petraeus and Allen also supported Kelley’s sister in a child custody case. The twin sisters could easily have walked into the reality show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. That could get Kim Kardashian, who had a brief tabloid marriage to a basketball player, wondering why she had hooked up with a hoopster when the real players who attracted the hoopla were the Generals.

This complex saga has critics observing that this has gone beyond a love triangle to becoming a love Pentagon. And all this was occurring while Petraeus’ wife Holly was setting up a much-needed agency within the Obama administration: The Office of Servicemember Affairs.

Both Petraeus and Allen were tasked with implementing Obama’s drawdown policy in Afghanistan, but neither appears to be particularly clued in to the art of strategic withdrawal, which may explain why SNAFU may be the inappropriately appropriate term to apply to that theatre.

Petraeus certainly took the concept of going undercover seriously as emails between Broadwell and him apparently include references to “sex under a desk”, which may explain the empty chair in the CIA Director’s office as the Mid-East was roiling. Perhaps the new CIA has evolved from black ops to Fifty Shades of Grey. The pair used tactics pioneered by al Qaeda operatives to communicate their secret desires, sharing an email account and saving their missives in the draft folder. When the FBI got wind of that, it created the curious circumstance of America’s top spymaster being snooped upon.

As the spooky details were trickling in like water from a wikileaking faucet, Petraeus showed remarkable courage under ire by resigning just in time to avoid a Congressional hearing on the terrorist killing of four American diplomats in Benghazi. With perfect timing, that segued into one scandal covering up for another, sparing the Obama administration redder faces. Thus, before relieving Petraeus of his irresponsibilities, the newly re-elected president thanked him for his “extraordinary service”.

Petraeus’ fall marks a sordid end to a solid career. He commanded the successful surge in Baghdad but succumbed to an urge for Broadwell. As a result, he goes from being on a pedestal to becoming a punchline. And Allen, who was likely to become the next commander of Nato forces in Europe, may also be squeezed out by the sleaze.

This has some bearing on India’s security environment. So let’s try to figure out the positive side of finding out that the US Commander in Kabul was getting plenty of advice — seems like 40 emails a day, in fact — from a party planner in Florida.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The views expressed by the author are personal


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