Petraeus’ fall from invincibility

Scott Shane, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Peter Baker / New York Times News Service /

WASHINGTON — David Petraeus’ “Rules for Living” appeared on The Daily Beast website on Monday, posted by his biographer, a fellow West Point graduate 20 years his junior named Paula Broadwell. The fifth rule, beneath his familiar portrait in full military regalia, began: “We all make mistakes. The key is to recognize them and admit them.”

Petraeus took his own advice Friday and resigned as director of the CIA after admitting to an extramarital affair; officials identified the woman in question as Broadwell. The full back story is not yet clear, though his affair came to light after FBI agents conducting a criminal investigation into possible security breaches examined his computer emails.

The scandal started with harassing emails sent by Broadwell to another (unidentified) woman, eventually leading the FBI to discover the affair, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Saturday. The FBI investigation supposedly began several months ago with a complaint against Broadwell, a 40-year-old graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and an Army Reserve officer. That probe led agents to her email account, which uncovered the relationship with the 60-year-old retired four-star general.

The Petraeuses

The decision to step down from the CIA was Petraeus’ alone. Few imagined that such a dazzling career would have so tawdry and so sudden a collapse. Petraeus, a gaunt fitness fanatic, is known as a brainy ascetic. He and his wife, Holly, whose father was the superintendent at West Point when Petraeus graduated in 1974, and their two grown children had long been viewed by military families as an inspiration, a model for making a marriage work despite the separation and hardship of long deployments overseas.

After he took the CIA job in September 2011, the couple settled into a house in the Virginia suburbs and began the closest thing to a normal life together that they had had in years. After years in war zones, Petraeus told friends, he was amazed to eat dinner most nights with his wife and to discover weekends again. He told friends that on the day his daughter was married last month, he went for a 34-mile bike ride.

“It’s a personal tragedy, of course, but it’s also a tragedy for the country,” said Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and a presidential adviser.

Code of conduct

Petraeus had seemed all but indestructible. He had been shot in a training accident, had broken his pelvis in a sky diving mishap and survived prostate cancer. But inside the military, where Petraeus compiled such a stunning record, views of him were more complex. His circle of advisers included iconoclasts from the Army’s ranks as well as freethinking civilian analysts.

“P4,” as he was called for the four stars he earned, was viewed with respect, but often grudging. His celebrity brought positive attention to an all-volunteer force that at times struggled to meet recruitment numbers. But that same publicity, and the fiercely ambitious man who pursued it, drew private criticism from some officers, who nicknamed him King David.

Like many others in jaundiced Washington, Riedel wondered whether the affair really required Petraeus, who turned 60 on Wednesday, to step down and leave the agency leaderless. But under the military law that governed his 37-year Army career, adultery is a crime when it may “bring discredit upon the armed forces.” And a secret affair can make an intelligence officer vulnerable to blackmail.

The CIA director, Riedel said, probably felt he had no choice. “I think (he) grew up with a code that’s very demanding about duty and honor. He violated the code.”

Concerned that the emails he exchanged with Broadwell raised the possibility of a security breach, the FBI brought the matter up with Petraeus directly, according to one official. The FBI approached the CIA director because his emails in the matter were in most instances sent from a personal account, not his CIA one.

Petraeus decided to quit, abruptly ending a high-profile career that might have culminated with a run for the presidency, a notion he was believed to have been considering. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” Petraeus wrote his staff.

Petraeus handed his resignation letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday. By Friday evening, multiple officials identified Broadwell, who spent the better part of a year reporting on Petraeus’ time in Afghanistan. Her best-selling biography, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” was published in January. Since Petraeus’ resignation, the book jumped in Amazon’s rankings, from 76,792 on Friday to 111 by mid-Saturday.