The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Election 2012

November 14, 2012

What we don't know about the Petraeus scandal: Questions for the FBI

By Emily Bazelon


WASHINGTON — The David Petraeus scandal has moved on to General John Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and sender of 20,000 to 30,000 pages of apparently questionable emails to Jill Kelley, the second woman, along with Paula Broadwell, at the center of this crazy story. I am stuck, though, on how this whole investigation got started and how it proceeded. Questions for the FBI:

1) Why did Jill Kelley's complaint launch an investigation in the first place? She got a half-dozen or so anonymous emails that everyone is calling "harassing." But from what we know so far, the messages don't sound alarming or threatening. From a Daily Beast source: "More like, 'Who do you think you are? . . . You parade around the base . . . You need to take it down a notch.' " From the Wall Street Journal: "One asked if Ms. Kelley's husband was aware of her actions, according to officials. In another, the anonymous writer claimed to have watched Ms. Kelley touching 'him' provocatively underneath a table, the officials said."

That was seriously enough to get the FBI involved? My reporting on cyberbullying tells me that if Kelley had gone to the cops in any decent-sized city, they'd have told her politely not to worry about it. And that's as it should be: Without anything like an explicit threat — and without any direct reference whatsoever to Petraeus or anyone else in a sensitive position of power — why should law enforcement pry with so little reason to think a crime has been committed? Stalking and harassment are broad charges, sure, and that can cause problems. But those statutes shouldn't trigger an investigation based on so little evidence. We now know, of course, that the FBI agent Kelley complained to has been accused of sending shirtless photos of himself to her. He's now himself under investigation. If he got this all rolling to show off to Kelley or to court her, then that is the real scandal. Even if you don't know much J. Edgar Hoover history, you can see that this is not what the power of the FBI is for. Maybe there is more to justify the FBI's entry: I'd like to know what persuaded the cybercrimes unit Mr. Shirtless informed to take the next step.

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