Saturday, 17 November 2012

Petraeus and the perils of bimbography

Glenn Greenwald’s take on l’affaire Petraeus in The Guardian remains the best to date:

Having the career of the beloved CIA Director and the commanding general in Afghanistan instantly destroyed due to highly invasive and unwarranted electronic surveillance is almost enough to make one believe not only that there is a god, but that he is an ardent civil libertarian.
Despite Greenwald’s musing that perhaps, just maybe, this self-consumption by the Security State of itself could lead to a national conversation about snooping, one should not err on the side of excessive optimism. Petraeus was a big fish, but he’ll be forgotten soon, and others will pick up the juicy pieces, including the many trillions of our private messages now being stored by the Matrix.

Nonetheless, gape-mouthed amazement is in order that the FBI could perform warrentless trolling through the private emails and computer files not of mere you and me, but of the nation’s top intelligence officials without even a nod at a court-approved warrant. They did this on the basis of a vague and not particularly threatening series of anonymous notes from a supremely stupid grown woman acting like an adolescent bitch and wrecking a half-dozen lives in the process. Well, yeah, police states provide lots of opportunities for people to rat on each other—is that what we want?

However, the implications of the scandal, now blooming and blossoming daily like genital cauliflower warts, are legion. Let us earnestly hope that much attention is paid to whether the hallowed general’s weenie wandering compromised state secrets. This is highly relevant given the immediate and Obama-endorsed assurances that Bradley Manning’s alleged document dump to Julian Assange at Wikileaks did exactly that and in fact was the full equivalent to intentionally shooting American soldiers between the eyes. Let’s hear the details about exactly how which piece(s) of sensitive data damaged U.S. security interests, and then let’s compare that with the evidence soon to be presented in the Manning trial. It will be great fun because in one case the state wants to prove nothing terrible happened, and in the other, the exact opposite.

Also of note is the less-than-ringing endorsement offered by Obama when commenting upon Petraeus’s departure. Let’s parse the exact phrases used:

I have no evidence at this point from what I've seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security.
In the first highlighted phrase, the prez is saying that he personally has not seen anything so far about classified information being disclosed. That leaves several lawyerly gaps through which truckloads of secret documents can be driven. If it turns out later that Petraeus did give his bimbographer the keys to the CIA safe, Obama can backtrack and clarify by adding, Well, I hadn’t seen anything then, but now I have, golly gee. Compare that to a statement that Obama could have issued but did not:

General Petraeus did not give that woman any state secrets.
Now how about the ‘would-have-a-negative-impact’ line: Obama is saying that even if the skinny that Paula got while sitting on David’s lap was classified, nothing bad came of it. That immediately suggests that the first half of the sentence is already known to be false or at least that there is a good chance secrets were in fact told. So Petraeus is getting two firewalls of legal protection, that he didn’t tell her anything classified—which is almost impossible since the government has long since gone wild and classified EVERYTHING—and that if he did, it doesn’t matter.

Contrast that take with Obama’s April statement on the Bradley Manning whistleblower case:

And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law. . . . We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.
So Manning did but Petraeus didn’t, okay. But aside from the legal pirouetting, it’s remains pretty incredible that the guy charged with managing the nation’s secrets, for pity’s sake, is being carried off in a sedan chair before any sort of thorough investigation can be done on whether he got caught in the oldest intelligence goof in human history: the Venus spy-trap. So is the man a moron?

Clearly, no. But Petraeus’s careful massaging of reporters to the point where they will perform hagiography on him is a well-known secret of his success: he has been playing the media for decades to make himself out as the smart guy in the room, an image which many sheepish reporters are now recognizing publicly that they unduly burnished. One aspect of that ambitious strategy was to go off the record with them and discuss issues beyond the usual official line, a practice journalists love because they get more meaty insights into what’s going on. But they can also be more easily played that way, and were.

So Petraeus’s possibly excessive “access” granted to Ms. All In Broadwell is just part and parcel of his well-known propensity for chatting up reporters to show off his intellectual chops and promote his career. Given that top military officers are now quasi-politicians in their own right and have to polish their image right along with their rows of medals, this spectacular nose-dive of his golden career should not really come as such a great surprise.

[P.S.] Anyone notice how the right-wing press (e.g. the New York Post) have used the word-play on Petraeus/betray us that got MoveOn into so much trouble years ago? So you can’t criticize as disloyal a guy who is organizing death squads in Iraq, but it’s open season if he puts his penis somewhere he shouldn’t.

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