BANGKOK — In the midst of a scandal that has ensnared the NATO commander in Afghanistan, one of the most prominent generals of his generation, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review ethics training programs for senior officers, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
Panetta, who was in Bangkok to sign a new defense cooperation agreement with Thailand, directed the chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, to determine whether the training programs were adequate and to report back in time for him to send an interim report to President Barack Obama by Dec. 1.
“The fundamental mission of the Department of Defense is to protect the nation," Panetta said in a memo to Dempsey sent Wednesday. “Any behavior that negatively impacts our ability to perform that mission is unacceptable."
Pentagon officials said Panetta was not reacting to pressure from the White House and the impetus for the review had come from him. They insisted that Panetta had planned the review of the ethics programs even before David Petraeus, a celebrated retired general, resigned as director of the CIA on Friday because of an extramarital affair.
Since then, Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, has come under investigation for what a law enforcement official said Wednesday were a series of sexually explicit emails between him and Jill Kelley, a woman from Tampa, Fla., active in local military circles. Associates of Allen say the emails are innocuous.
In his memo, Panetta said the Defense Department would continue to hold officers accountable for violations of its standards and rules.
“An action may be legally permissible but neither advisable nor wise," he said.
He noted that the “vast majority" of senior military officers led by example and enforced ethical standards.
Panetta said at a news conference in Bangkok on Thursday that there was no evidence so far that more military officers would get drawn into the scandal enveloping Petraeus and Allen. Nonetheless, he spoke cautiously.
“I am not aware of any others that could be involved in this issue at the present time," Panetta said. “Obviously, as this matter continues to be investigated both on Capitol Hill and by the inspector general, I’m sure we’ll have to wait and see what additional factors are brought to our attention."
A law enforcement official said Thursday that the anonymous emails ultimately traced to Paula Broadwell, the woman who engaged in an extramarital affair with Petraeus, went not only to Kelley and Allen but also to at least two other high-ranking military officers. But the FBI investigation has turned up no compromising information on those officers, said the official, who spoke anonymously because the matter remains under investigation.