Since he lobbied for and then obtained loya jirga approval of the Bilateral Security Agreement but then added new conditions before he would sign it, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has exasperated military planners in NATO and the US, confounded most of the Obama administration and spawned a growth industry among pundits trying to explain his actions. Karzai’s latest offering though, provides a delightful turning of the tables in which he has decided to characterize the actions of those who are pressuring him to sign the agreement. Here is how Tolo News described Karzai’s most recent gem:
Amidst highly public tensions with the United States over negotiating a long-term security deal for the coming years, President Hamid Karzai has said that the U.S. is behaving like a colonial power.
In a response to a somewhat leading question from the French newspaper Le Monde in an interview published Tuesday, “Do you think the USA is behaving like a colonial power,” President Karzai said:
“Absolutely. They threaten us by saying ‘We will no longer pay your salaries; we will drive you into a civil war.’ These are threats,” Karzai said. “If you want to be our partner, we must be friends. Respect Afghan homes, don’t kill their children and be a partner. So bluff or no bluff, we want respect for our commitment to the safety of Afghan lives and to peace in Afghanistan.”
I would have described the question from Le Monde as highly leading rather than somewhat leading, but Karzai’s response shows that he realizes that for those in his country, the situation indeed resembles colonialism with the US as the colonial power. And the US is clearly using that colonial positioning as a very blunt instrument with which to attempt to control Afghanistan. Karzai is telling us that only a colonial power would threaten to withhold salaries and generate a civil war. He wants the US to realize that he wants a partner and not a colonial overlord. The partner would have no trouble meeting his demands of secure homes and a negotiated peace with the Taliban.
I had missed it when it came out on Thanksgiving, but this Op-Ed in the New York Times could serve as Karzai’s primary example of colonial behavior by the US. It was penned by Michael O’Hanlon, who was perfectly described by Glenn Greenwald as a “really smart, serious, credible Iraq expert” who also clearly lends the same sort of intellectual firepower to his Afghanistan analysis and John Allen, the mental giant who opined that green on blue attacks in Afghanistan were caused by fasting at Ramadan (and appears to have found the perfect home for himself at Brookings with O’Hanlon after his retirement from the military). O’Hanlon and Allen open with a blast at Karzai’s lack of appreciation for all that the US has done for Afghanistan:
What is going on with President Hamid Karzai? The world’s only superpower, leading a coalition of some 50 nations, is willing to stay on in his country after a war that has already lasted a dozen years and cost the United States more than $600 billion and more than 2,000 fatalities — and yet the Afghan president keeps throwing up roadblocks.
Isn’t that just the height of ungratefulness? We (the world’s ONLY superpower!) waged war in Karzai’s country for twelve years, have offered to continue doing so and he has the gall to throw up roadblocks? Really!
But this paragraph is perhaps the height of colonial positioning by O’Hanlon and Allen: Continue reading
The continuing saga of Zakaria Kandahari, who has been at the heart of the torture and murder cases that prompted Hamid Karzai to ban US Special Forces troops from the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardak Province took another huge twist Sunday, as Afghanistan confirmed that they have Kandahari in custody. An important point to keep in mind while reading the accounts of Kandahari and the US personnel he worked with is that a strong case can be made that Kandahari most likely was affiliated with the CIA, either directly as an agent or as a contractor. US denials of Kandahari working for Special Forces then become a ruse, since even if Special Forces were present with him, they likely would have been tasked to CIA for those particular missions, providing deniability for the entire group with respect to the missions being carried out by US Special Forces, ISAF or NATO.
From the New York Times story on Kandahari’s arrest:
Afghan officials confirmed Sunday that they had arrested and were questioning Zakaria Kandahari, whom they have described as an Afghan-American interpreter responsible for torturing and killing civilians while working for an American Special Forces unit.
The arrest of Mr. Kandahari, who had been sought on charges of murder, torture and abuse of prisoners, was confirmed by Maj. Gen. Manan Farahi, the head of intelligence for the Afghan Defense Ministry. He said Mr. Kandahari, who escaped from an American base in January after President Hamid Karzai demanded his arrest, had been captured in Kandahar by the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service. There had been speculation for the last three weeks that Mr. Kandahari was in custody.
The Times leaves out a few important details when they mention Karzai’s demand last January that Kandahari be arrested. Back in mid-May, they claimed it was the head of Afghanistan’s military who demanded the arrest and provided details on John Allen making false promises that he would be turned over:
Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.
According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.
Note that the Times said that there had been “speculation for the last three weeks” of Kandahari’s arrest. The article on the arrest in the Washington Post states that he was arrested about six weeks ago: Continue reading
Back in April, I ridiculed the Senate Armed Services Committee and especially ISAF Commander Joseph Dunford for continuing to hold on to the delusion that the US can still “win” in Afghanistan. As the situation in Afghanistan continues to get worse, a new wave of summer propaganda is being trotted out to combat the gore being produced by the Taliban’s summer offensive. One arm of the propaganda has been to tout an individual vigilante group that claims to have cleared a hundred villages of Taliban fighters in one small region. I’ll return to the problems with that a bit later, but the big propaganda blitz that is now hitting is so pitiful that I keep checking the URL of the report to make sure it wasn’t published by The Onion.
The feel-good war hawk think tank that is supposed to make the left love war, Center for a New American Security, just released a “report” that is meant to get the country to buck up and continue to support the war effort in Afghanistan. In order to get anyone to lend their name to this drivel, the group had to sink so far as to recruit serial “liberal” war apologist (and always wrong) Michael O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon was joined by John Allen, the former ISAF Commander who is so smart that he blamed green on blue killings on Ramadan fasting and former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy. But even this hand-picked group of people guaranteed to be in favor of any kind of violence that the US can wage could only muster half-hearted enthusiasm for “success” in Afghanistan. From the report (pdf):
The United States can still achieve its strategic objectives in Afghanistan if it maintains and adequately resources its current policy course – and if Afghan partners in particular do their part, including by successfully navigating the shoals of their presidential election and transition in 2014. The core reasons for this judgment are the impressive progress of the Afghan security forces and the significant strides made in areas such as agriculture, health and education, combined with the promising pool of human capital that is increasingly influential within the country and that may be poised to gain greater influence in the country’s future politics. However, the United States and other international security and development partners would risk snatching defeat from the jaws of something that could still resemble victory if, due to frustration with President Hamid Karzai or domestic budgetary pressures, they were to accelerate disengagement between now and 2014 and under-resource their commitment to Afghanistan after 2014.
Note that this group is carefully laying out several potential villains on whom to blame the upcoming failure. Continue reading
Many times throughout recorded history, would-be empires have attempted to conquer Afghanistan, only to fail. These failures often have been so spectacular that they end up taking the would-be empires down for their efforts, as most recently seen when the Soviet Union’s ill-fated war in Afghanistan was one of several factors leading to its demise.
Ignoring that history, the US invaded Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. The Bush administration subsequently diverted attention and resources from Afghanistan into its war of choice in Iraq. Barack Obama made Afghanistan his “necessary war” as he campaigned for office in 2008, and yet the joint management of the war in Afghanistan by his administration and the military has been no more professional than the fiasco under Bush.
Remarkably, there has been little criticism of the mismanagement of this war, although when General John Allen was snared into the panty-sniffing investigation of David Petraeus’ extra-marital affair, AP noted that Afghanistan has been killing the careers of top commanders:
At the international military headquarters in Kabul, it’s jokingly being called the curse of the commander’s job.
The last four U.S. generals to run the Afghan war were either forced to resign or saw their careers tainted by allegations of wrongdoing.
That second paragraph can now be revised, as the official announcement has now come out that Allen will retire rather than face a confirmation hearing on his previous nomination to head NATO. The official explanation is that Allen is resigning so that he can help his wife deal with a number of health issues, but Ed (“Did You Beat Tiger?!?”) Henry informed us last week that Allen was “pushed” in an article that strangely seemed to link the sacrifice of Allen with an expected eventual confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary.
A voice in the wilderness daring to criticize the failures of military command in Afghanistan and Iraq has bee Tom Ricks. He wrote in the New York Times in November:
OVER the last 11 years, as we fought an unnecessary war in Iraq and an unnecessarily long one in Afghanistan, the civilian American leadership has been thoroughly — and justly — criticized for showing poor judgment and lacking strategies for victory. But even as those conflicts dragged on, our uniformed leaders have escaped almost any scrutiny from the public.
Our generals actually bear much of the blame for the mistakes in the wars. They especially failed to understand the conflicts they were fighting — and then failed to adjust their strategies to the situations they faced so that they might fight more effectively.
Ricks even understands why the military has escaped criticism: Continue reading
Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a fascinating story about how the NeoCons–in the form of Fred and Kim Kagan–kept control of the strings on our Generals in (Chandrasekaran’s story is limited to) Afghanistan. The Kagans effectively moved to Afghanistan and served as private, high level advisors for Petraeus, all funded by the defense contractors funding AEI and Institute for the Study of War.
The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications, according to current and former senior U.S. military and civilian officials who served in the headquarters at the time.
The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said.
The pro-bono relationship, which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple. The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank. For Petraeus, embracing two respected national security analysts in GOP circles helped to shore up support for the war among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. [my emphasis]
Perhaps more frightening than that is the way the Kagans threatened Stanley McChrystal to be allowed to check his work in Afghanistan.
The Kagans should have been thrilled, but they soon grew concerned. They thought McChrystal’s headquarters was not providing enough information to them about the state of the war. The military began to slow-roll their requests to visit Afghanistan. In early 2010, they wrote an e-mail to McChrystal, copying Petraeus, that said they “were coming to the conclusion that the campaign was off track and that it was not going to be successful,” Fred Kagan said.
To some senior staff members in McChrystal’s headquarters, the e-mail read like a threat: Invite us to visit or we will publish a piece saying the war is lost.
Worried about the consequences of losing the Kagans, McChrystal authorized the trip, according to the staff members.
The story notes that John Allen has afforded them access as well.
So effectively, Neocons who have repeatedly led the cry to escalate our wars have been given personal access to the war, paid for by the people profiting off these escalations.
As fascinating as the story is, it doesn’t yet tell the full narrative of what the Kagans were doing.
For example, why is Chandrasekaran just reporting it now? Has David Petraeus’ star fallen sufficiently for sources to start revealing what was apparent to all of us watching, he was a NeoCon puppet? Or is it surfacing because of the review by military lawyers, bolded above?
Or is it coming to light now because of the close scrutiny Petraeus’ communications and actions received after he was caught diddling his biographer? Chandrasekaran’s sources claim the people running the war didn’t know Neocon advisors were camped out with SCI clearances reading Taliban intercepts (hey! didn’t we try to make peace with the Taliban?!?!).
The extent of the couple’s involvement in Petraeus’s headquarters was not known to senior White House and Pentagon officials involved in war policy, two of those officials said.
So if they just discovered it after the Paula Broadwell affair, it would make sense that it is now leaking.
Then there’s a temporal feint Petraeus’ allies are trying to pull off. A former aide suggests Petraeus brought the Kagans in simply because he had less knowledge of Afghanistan than he had in Iraq.
“Petraeus relied on the Kagans for a fresh set of eyes . . . because he didn’t have the same nuanced understanding of Afghanistan that he had of Iraq,” a former aide to Petraeus said.
That is, Petraeus wants to suggest this arrangement existed only in Afghanistan (not insignificantly, the period of time when Petraeus’ communications would be under review because of the Broadwell scandal).
But Chandrasekaran makes it clear it goes back further. Petraeus started providing Neocons access back in Iraq, and he did so, in part, because they served as publicists for the publicity hound General.
The Defense Department permits independent analysts to observe combat operations, but the practice became far more common when Petraeus became the top commander in Iraq. He has said that conversations with outside specialists helped to shape his strategic thinking.
The take-home benefit was equally significant: When the opinion makers returned home, they inevitably wrote op-eds, gave speeches and testified before Congress, generally imparting a favorable message about progress under Petraeus, all of which helped him sell the war effort and expand his popularity. [my emphasis]
These think tankers, funded by defense contractors, were selling Petraeus right along with their escalating wars.
Besides, we know Fred Kagan, at least, was getting this kind of access during Iraq and using it to sell the escalation. As I noted in 2008, the back channel between Dick Cheney–who after being instructed by the Saudis, was pushing the surge–and Petraeus through Jack Keane is the untold story of the official narrative of Iraq.
And then there’s the curious near-total absence of Dick Cheney from the first three-fifths of the book, the part describing the debates over a new strategy in Iraq, even while Woodward admits Cheney continued to “offer his views directly to the president.” Cheney’s absence is particularly problematic given the reports that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “summoned Cheney” to Riyadh to express displeasure (andissue threats) about the Iraq Survey Group’s proposals just before the time when–Woodward reports–Bush made up his mind to support a troop escalation.
According to Hadley, that moment [when Bush decided in favor of a surge] had come when the president called him in mid-December 2006 and said, “I’m getting comfortable with my decision, but I don’t want to give a speech yet.”
Particularly given Woodward’s portrayal of the way Cheney later fiercely guards his back channel access through Jack Keane to David Petraeus–breaking the chain of command to protect the surge from all regional considerations–the description of Cheney as distanced from the decision to support the surge seems odd.
Woodward made it clear, though, that AEI (that is, Kagan) was getting classified information to build his theory of the surge.
So this puppet mastery is in no way new to Afghanistan. It’s just that the Afghan story is coming out, without yet being connected to the escalation that still remains the fictional success story orchestrated by the heroic General Petraeus and his merry band of think tanker-publicists.
And aside from my point above–that their access to Taliban intercepts means the Kagans would have had a view on any peace negotiations–there’s Chandrasekaran subtle suggestion that the Kagans dictated the surge in Afghanistan, too, advocating for the targeting of the Haqqani network at a time when President Obama was trying to reel in the war.
Their immersion occurred at an opportune time. Petraeus was fond of speaking about the importance of using troops to protect Afghan communities from insurgents, but he recognized that summer that the Obama White House wanted to narrow the scope of the war. As a consequence, the general decided to emphasize attacking insurgent strongholds — and so did the Kagans.
The Kagans believed U.S. commanders needed to shift their focus from protecting key towns and cities to striking Haqqani encampments and smuggling routes, according to several current and former military and civilian officials familiar the issue.
In the late summer of 2010, they shared their views with field officers during a trip to the east. “They implied to brigade commanders that Petraeus would prefer them to devote their resources to killing Haqqanis,” said Doug Ollivant, a former senior adviser to the two-star general in charge of eastern Afghanistan.
But Petraeus had not yet issued new directives to his three-star subordinate or the two-star in the east.
The suggestion is the Kagans drove the new focus on the Haqqanis–indeed, were even issuing orders to officers before Petraeus was doing–just at the time Obama was trying to de-escalate the war.
The implications of this story are quite sobering, though Chandrasekaran has just begun to map it all out. Paid representatives of the war industry twice intervened with David Petraeus to get him to extend and expand the war. And in the case of Afghanistan (and I suspect even in the case of Iraq) they did so by bypassing the entire chain of command.
As the “fighting season” for the tenth full year of US forces being in Afghanistan comes to a close, the Defense Department has released its most recent report (pdf, required every Friedman Unit by law) on “progress” in the war. Although the military does its best, as always, to couch its report in language describing progress against goals which always must be redefined in order to claim any progress, those who have been paying attention knew from the report prepared early this year by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis that the vaunted surge of troops in Afghanistan, despite being billed as guaranteed to work as well as the Iraq surge, has been a complete failure.
Here are the latest results on enemy initiated attacks, on a monthly basis:
Note that in order to not remind us of how violence escalated in Afghanistan while our troops were present, this figure cuts off the early years of the war. A similar chart, with the early years included (but showing events on a daily basis rather than monthly, so the scale is different) can be seen in this post from early last year. However, by cutting off the early years, the Defense Department allows us to concentrate on the surge and its abject failure. Obama’s surge began with his order in December, 2009, so this graph gives us 2009 as the base on which to compare results for the surge. Despite a small decrease in violence from the peak in 2010, both 2011 and 2012 are worse than 2009, the last pre-surge year.
Daniel Davis explains how the reduction in violence in Iraq was unrelated to the surge or Petraeus’ vaunted COIN strategy. From my February post on the Davis report:
Once we realize the fact that the surge in Afghanistan has not worked, the natural question arises of why it didn’t since the Iraq surge is so widely credited with turning around the violence trend there. After all, both surges have been sold as the model for the new COIN centered around the idea of protecting the population.
The answer here is that we were sold lies about the underlying forces behind the decrease in violence in Iraq. In short, violence decreased for reasons mostly unrelated to the surge and the new COIN approach. From page 57:
“As is well known, the turning point in 2007 Iraq came when the heart of the Sunni insurgency turned against al-Qaeda and joined with US Forces against them, dramatically reducing the violence in Iraq almost overnight. The overriding reason the Sunni insurgency turned towards the United States was because after almost two years of internal conflict between what ought to have been natural allies – al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the greater Sunni insurgency – a tipping point was reached whereby the Iraqi Sunnis finally and decisively turned against AQI. Had this unnatural split not occurred, by all accounts I have been given on both the Iraqi side and the US military side, “we would still be fighting in Iraq today,” in the words of two officers I know who fought there.”
There simply has been no turning against insurgents in Afghanistan in the same way there was in Iraq. The COIN strategy has been the same in both places, so it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the military’s current version of COIN alone is insufficient to end violence in Afghanistan.
The Petreaus-Allen-Broadwell-Kelley scandal very conveniently will prevent this evidence of failure receiving the attention it deserves. Should Congress decide to take a realistic look at Afghanistan, it’s hard to see how they can conclude anything other than that our presence has accomplished nothing but death and destruction. Getting out now rather than two years from now is the only responsible decision.
Jim had a perceptive post this morning talking about how, now that Obama has won re-election promising an Afghan withdrawal plan, his Administration has started negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement that will allow forces to stay past 2014. There were several other hints today that we’ll be in Afghanistan past that promised date, starting with General Joseph Dunford’s confirmation hearing to take over the Afghan Command from General John Allen (which Jim will hit in detail tomorrow).
Then there’s this. For the first time ever, Treasury has designated a key Taliban member–Mullah Naim Barich–not a terrorist, but a drug kingpin.
The Treasury Department has previously sanctioned Taliban leaders and affiliates for their support of terrorism, as well as money-exchange housessupporting the Taliban, but Thursday’s designation marks the first time the department has designated a senior Taliban official for narcotics trafficking.
Treasury said Thursday that Mullah Naim Barich, the “shadow governor” of Afghanistan’s largest opium-producing province, is a narcotics kingpin.
“Today’s action exposes the direct involvement of senior Taliban leadership in the production, manufacturing, and trafficking of narcotics in Afghanistan and underlines the Taliban’s reliance on the drug trade to finance their acts of terror and violence,” David S. Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a news release. “Treasury will continue exposing links between the international narcotics trade and terrorist networks, in Afghanistan, and wherever else they exist.”
Now, the Taliban and other Afghans have been neck deep in the opium trade forever. Indeed, Wikileaks just released a 2007 Stratfor document claiming that DEA had been ordered to back off Hamid Karzai’s now-deceased brother Ahmed Wali Karzai’s drug involvement.
Yet, as WSJ notes, Treasury has always gone after the Taliban via terrorism designations, not drug ones.
Terrorism designations will be more difficult to sustain if we “pull out” in 2014 declaring victory in Afganistan.
Worry not! We’ve got the Global War on Drugs in Afghanistan now.
With General John Allen now floating in some sort of purgatory where he has been tainted by figures in the Petraeus scandal, the “orderly” transition planned for Allen to step up to commanding NATO and General John Dunford to move up to replace Allen in Afghanistan is stalled at least in part. And while Washington has come to such a complete halt over this scandal that Howard Kurtz may well have taken an interest in a penis or two that may have voted Republican, leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken advantage of the distraction in Washington to take concrete steps toward the kind of political reconciliation that will be essential once US forces have been (at least mostly) withdrawn from the area.
From the AP story carried by the Washington Post:
Pakistan freed several Taliban prisoners at the request of the Afghan government Wednesday, a move meant to facilitate the process of striking a peace deal with the militant group in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.
The release of the prisoners — described as mid- and low-level fighters — is the most encouraging sign yet that Pakistan may be willing to help jumpstart peace talks that have mostly gone nowhere, hobbled by distrust among the major players involved, including the United States.
Wednesday’s release of the Taliban militants came in response to a personal request by Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of an Afghan government council for peace talks with the Taliban, said a Pakistani government official and an intelligence official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the release.
We get more from Reuters:
Afghan officials have suspected that Pakistan has been holding Afghan Taliban members in jail to retain some control over peace efforts and have a say in any settlement.
Those in detention include former Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi and Mullah Jahangirwal, former secretary of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Allahdat Tayab, an ex-deputy minister, Afghan High Peace Council officials say.
“We have asked Pakistan to release them because they were the policy makers of the Taliban and close aides to Mullah Omar,” Habibullah Fawzi, a senior member of the Afghan peace team, told Reuters.
Their release could encourage a number of Taliban commanders and fighters to join peace efforts, he said. Afghan embassy officials in Islamabad said the names of about 10 Afghan Taliban militants had been floated.
We learn from Dawn that the talks will continue today:
Talks between the peace delegation led by Mr Rabbani and Pakistani officials would continue on Wednesday when the two sides are expected to come up with a joint statement on the progress made by them.
A Pakistani official, who had been briefed on the talks, told Dawn that “significant progress has already been made”.
The release of Taliban detainees in Pakistan has been a longstanding Afghan demand for catalysing the slow moving process.
A keen follower of the negotiations, who didn’t want to be named, said the release of prisoners was a positive step, which would provide the right environment for reconciliation.
Who could have guessed that getting all of Washington distracted by a tawdry sex scandal could have set just the right conditions for significant peace talks to break out? There are even hints from Khaama that this breakout of peace talks might even expand to include the Haqqani network.
The old adage that “fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity” seems to have been turned on its side here. Even though it may have been under his desk, David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell appear to have been fucking for peace, since their affair has disengaged the US war machine long enough that those who must make peace once we are gone have decided to start the process ahead of schedule.
Here’s the first inkling of something Jim and I have been speculating about: that Jill Kelley may have some tie to intelligence, which led the FBI to take Paula Broadwell’s harassing emails to her more seriously.
A military officer who is a former member of Petraeus’s staff said Kelley was a “self-appointed” go-between for Central Command officers with Lebanese and other Middle Eastern government officials. She was a fixture at social and charity events involving Central Command officials in Tampa.
Add that to the news that DOD learned of General Allen’s emails with Kelley via his NATO command vetting. Why would FBI, in the course of such vetting, be reading Allen’s emails in the first place unless Kelley had become some kind of trigger? (Indeed, it may not be–or not just be–that some of the emails included flirtation.)
If Kelley had some tie with intelligence, then it would explain why the FBI investigated a catfight, particularly given Broadwell’s comments indicating close awareness of Petraeus’ location. And it would explain why this got escalated into a National Security concern so quickly. And it would explain why Kelley thinks she needs the assistance of Abbe Lowell.
Three years and one day before FBI briefed DNI Clapper about the questionable email practices of David Petraeus, and less than three years before FBI alerted Leon Panetta to John Allen’s perhaps less questionable email practices, an Army officer who had been the subject of a 6-month investigation into his questionable emails killed 13 people and wounded another 29 at Fort Hood, TX.
While a number of people are criticizing the FBI (rightly, in the case of the agent who reportedly made this investigation his or her own personal project) for being out of control in the investigation that started with Jill Kelley’s email, I’d like to put the FBI’s decision to inform Petraeus’ and Allen’s superiors about their emails in the context of the failure to stop Nidal Hasan.
I don’t mean to suggest that Petraeus and Allen’s smutty emails to some beautiful middle aged housewives equate to an Army psychiatrist writing a radical anti-American cleric. At least given what we know, there were far more serious red flags in Hasan’s emails to Anwar al-Awlaki than there were in Petraeus’ love notes to Paula Broadwell (though Petraeus’ use of counter-surveillance techniques would, by themselves, be a red flag).
But the point is–and one key lesson of the failure to stop Hasan–is that the FBI can’t always know how important inappropriate email contacts are without talking to a person’s superiors. If they had done with Hasan what they did here–inform the officer’s superiors after concluding no criminal behavior had taken place (which is what they concluded with Hasan)–they might have learned of the more troubling context behind the emails.
Besides, the most damaging leak, today’s stories revealing a huge chunk of Allen emails that may be flirtatious but in no way problematic, came from a senior US defense official, not the FBI. There were surely more appropriate ways to delay Allen’s confirmation hearing later this week, but that decision was presumably DOD’s, not FBI’s.
Carrie Johnson captures some of the other disclosure issues FBI faced. But the question as to why FBI informed Clapper and Panetta can be answered, IMO, by pointing to lessons learned with the Nidal Hasan case. FBI almost certainly had no reason to doubt Petraeus and Allen. But I don’t blame FBI for not wanting to make the final decisions about how this email behavior affected the Generals’ fitness to command.