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Privacy violations pose a greater threat than Petraeus’ affair

Bjorn Thompson, Contributing Writer
December 1, 2012 • 1,800 views

 David Petraeus was the most admired military man for more than a generation.

After graduating from West Point in 1974 and earning degrees in international relations from Princeton and Georgetown Universities, he became commander of U.S. Central Command, overseeing military forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. In 2010, Petraeus succeeded Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commanding general of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Since September 2011, Petraeus had been working as director of the CIA until his resignation on Nov. 9.

I say “was” the most admired because an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell,  forced him from office. The affair emerged after an FBI probe revealed that Broadwell and Petraeus had been creating Gmail accounts and saving email drafts – many of them sexually explicit – to the account, after which the other would delete the account entirely. Despite the fact that the correspondence did not contain any security-sensitive information, President Obama accepted Petraeus’ resignation.

Ever since Nov. 9, one of the greatest military minds has been unemployed, left to face a barrage of media and FBI inquiries.

Whether or not it was morally sound of him to have extramarital relations is an issue entirely separate from his work with the CIA. He should be held responsible by the woman he married, not the entire nation.

Many people speculate about whether Petraeus’ sexual indulgences compromised his ability to lead. To those, I say: Look at Allen Dulles, the director of the CIA in the 1950s and ’60s. The New York Times published an article by Stephen Kinzer on Dulles entitled “When a CIA Director Had Scores of Affairs.” The article highlights Dulles’ success as the agency’s director from 1953 to 1961, at the height of the Cold War, when he helped overthrow governments in Iran, Egypt and the Congo. While aiding in the establishment of U.S. hegemony abroad, Dulles also had numerous affairs, which his sister would later write numbered “at least a hundred.” Kinzer asserts that one of Dulles’ deviations was Queen Frederika of Greece, who on a number of occasions would visit the director alone in his office where an aide once walked in and “heard noises from the adjoining dressing room.”

Dulles and Petreaus alike were subject to the human condition, a private affair which is just that – private. I do not condone any part of his behavior. It is incredibly unfortunate for his wife, Holly Knowlton, to have to undergo this ordeal on a national scale.

This begs the questions, “Why did this scandal go public?” and “How does the FBI have the authority to read our email accounts?”

The affair has turned out to be a simple affair, merely sexual. What is to prevent a national ordeal of this magnitude from occurring to the rest of us, those of us who use Gmail daily? It has been 51 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower made his famous speech warning the public against the military industrial complex. His words have developed special meaning in the electronic age where “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

David Petraeus should not be at fault. We must not ignore the larger issue at hand – the usurpation of our privacy by central intelligence.

 

Bjorn Thompson ’15 (thompsba@stolaf.edu) is from Edina, Minn. His major is currently undecided.

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