by Glenn Greenwald
The Petraeus scandal is receiving intense media scrutiny obviously due to its salacious aspects, leaving one, as always, to fantasize about what a stellar press corps we would have if they devoted a tiny fraction of this energy to dissecting non-sex political scandals (this unintentionally amusing New York Times headline from this morning - "Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers' Ethics" - illustrates that point: with all the crimes committed by the US military over the last decade and long before, it's only adultery that causes "concern" over their "ethics"). Nonetheless, several of the emerging revelations are genuinely valuable, particularly those involving the conduct of the FBI and the reach of the US surveillance state.
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. The emails Kelley received were, as the Daily Beast reports, quite banal and clearly not an event that warranted an FBI investigation:
"The emails that Jill Kelley showed an FBI friend near the start of last summer were not jealous lover warnings like 'stay away from my man', a knowledgeable source tells The Daily Beast. . . .
"'More like, 'Who do you think you are? . . .You parade around the base . . . You need to take it down a notch,'" according to the source, who was until recently at the highest levels of the intelligence community and prefers not to be identified by name.
"The source reports that the emails did make one reference to Gen. David Petraeus, but it was oblique and offered no manifest suggestion of a personal relationship or even that he was central to the sender's spite. . . .
"When the FBI friend showed the emails to the cyber squad in the Tampa field office, her fellow agents noted the absence of any overt threats.
"No, 'I'll kill you' or 'I'll burn your house down,'' the source says. 'It doesn't seem really that bad.'
"The squad was not even sure the case was worth pursuing, the source says.
"'What does this mean? There's no threat there. This is against the law?' the agents asked themselves by the source's account.
"At most the messages were harassing. The cyber squad had to consult the statute books in its effort to determine whether there was adequate legal cause to open a case.
"'It was a close call,' the source says.
"What tipped it may have been Kelley's friendship with the agent."
That this deeply personal motive was what spawned the FBI investigation is bolstered by the fact that the initial investigating agent "was barred from taking part in the case over the summer due to superiors' concerns that he was personally involved in the case" - indeed, "supervisors soon became concerned that the initial agent might have grown obsessed with the matter" - and was found to have "allegedly sent shirtless photos" to Kelley, and "is now under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the internal-affairs arm of the FBI".
[The New York Times this morning reports that the FBI claims the emails contained references to parts of Petraeus' schedule that were not publicly disclosed, though as Marcy Wheeler documents, the way the investigation proceeded strongly suggests that at least the initial impetus behind it was a desire to settle personal scores.]
What is most striking is how sweeping, probing and invasive the FBI's investigation then became, all without any evidence of any actual crime - or the need for any search warrant:
"Because the sender's account had been registered anonymously, investigators had to use forensic techniques - including a check of what other e-mail accounts had been accessed from the same computer address - to identify who was writing the e-mails.
"Eventually they identified Ms. Broadwell as a prime suspect and obtained access to her regular e-mail account. In its in-box, they discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus's account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages."
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 - at most, they had a case of "cyber-harassment" more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people - and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.
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