The culture change was clearly hard on Petraeus. Determined to win over "the building," Petraeus arrived from Kabul last year without his large coterie of scholar-soldier acolytes. He decorated his CIA office with military mementos. At a recent event, he even weirdly pinned his military medals onto his business suit. The 60-year-old general faced his first-ever civilian job adrift and isolated from everything he had known in a glorious military career.
The bigger question is whether Petraeus was hard on the CIA's culture. It's difficult to know about something so intangible in an agency so secret, but the indicators are not good. As David Cloud and Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times recently noted, word inside the agency was that Petraeus had lived in his deferential military bubble for so long, the former general would "sometimes visibly blanch in meetings when junior officers spoke up to disagree with him." It is also telling that Petraeus didn't sleep with just any woman. He slept with his "biographer," someone he knew would be likely to write hagiography. Broadwell had no writing credentials but plenty of hero worship. That should have raised some red flags as well as eyebrows: A man who selects someone so unqualified to speak the truth of his own life might have difficulty speaking truth to power or rewarding others who do.
The third concern about putting generals at the helm of the CIA has to do with rules. Rules are the lifeblood of an organization, making clear what matters. In the military there are all sorts of rules about appearance and fitness. How fast you can run, how many push-ups you can do, whether your hair is short enough, how neatly your clothes are pressed. Why? Because unit discipline and individual fitness can spell the difference between life and death, success and failure.
Ever seen a bunch of CIA people? Let's just say appearance and fitness do not spring to mind. Instead, CIA rules are fixated on guarding information, everywhere, all the time. Why? Because in intelligence, that's what can spell the difference between life and death, success and failure. It is hard to overemphasize just how seriously security procedures are taken in this world.
Nobody knows yet whether Petraeus played fast and loose with security rules as he was playing fast and loose with his lover. The CIA is concerned enough that it is conducting its own investigation, and the FBI's "closed" investigation of the affair's security implications suddenly is not so closed. Last weekend's box haul from Paula Broadwell's house found classified documents on her home computer. Her clearance has been suspended. Whether Petraeus gave her access to information she had no business knowing remains to be seen.
But here's the thing: Petraeus did not have to give away the nuclear codes or other "vital national security secrets" to have done a serious wrong. In the intelligence universe, any security breach is serious because big secrets can eventually escape through small holes. Anyone who starts thinking the secrecy rules do not apply to them is a ticking security vulnerability, especially if his mistress has become a jilted lover unhinged enough to send creepy/stalky emails.
Only time will tell whether Petraeus's indiscretion was marital or more. But it's high time we stopped thinking that generals can always run everything. David Petraeus was a soldier and a patriot. But the CIA was a bridge too far for him.