While Washington is afire with speculation about whether the White House knew about the David Petraeus affair – before or after election-day – and whether the FBI did or didn’t report the probe against his mistress, insider Washington circles and most Middle East intelligence chiefs say the affair itself came as no surprise.
For them, it had been an open secret for years, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report, from the time when Petraeus was head of the US Central Command in Tampa and later US commander in Afghanistan. His habit of surrounding himself with strong and ambitious women, with some of whom he had romantic ties, was common knowledge, they said.
When Petraeus took up his CIA appointment on April 28, 2011, and carried on as before, most Middle East intelligence insiders calculated his downfall was only a matter of time. It was inconceivable, they said, to transpose semi-open relationships from the military field milieu to the dark corridors of intelligence. If he tried to do this, the general was bound to stumble and trip up.
Those insiders drew most of the information about Petraeus’s shenanigans from four sources, listed here in order of importance:
Saudi Prince Bandar tipped off Mid East colleagues
1. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Director of Saudi General Intelligence and a former long-serving Saudi ambassador to Washington, who was a familiar guest at the White House and Pentagon.
Bandar knows Petraeus well and was on excellent terms with him as a general and after he was appointed CIA director.
But at the same time, the prince warned Saudi officials and friendly Middle East rulers and spymasters to beware of maintaining serious intelligence ties with the former general. Bandar also advised official Arab and foreign friends how to choose their CIA contacts so as to keep their secrets away from Petraeus.
2. Two high-ranking Russian intelligence officials: Foreign Intelligence Chief Mikhail Fradkov and Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of Russia.
Margelov, the senior Russian envoy to the Arab states and Africa, leaked the first hint of scandal surrounding Petraeus to Iranian and Syrian intelligence colleagues. He also advised them on how to exploit it to their advantage.
3, Heads of the four most prominent Western spy services:
Erard Corbin de Mangoux, head of the Directorate-General for External Security DSGE, which is France’s foreign intelligence service; Sir John Sawers, head of the British MI6; Jonathan Evans, head of MI5 UK counter-intelligence; Tamir Pardo, director of the Israeli Mossad; Gerhard Schnidler, President of the BND-German intelligence agency.
Women close to Petraeus were excellent sources of intelligence
The scuttlebutt about Petraeus’ affairs was easily obtainable by agents of all these services: All they had to do to obtain first-hand intel was to approach any of the women close to him, or send observers to their lectures, appearances or social events and listen to them sounding off.
Paula Broadwell was especially forthcoming during her Middle East travels, especially at appearances in Israel and Jordan.
Good sources of general intelligence were also provided by certain British, German, French and Israeli businessmen who reported on business and social events they attended at which Petraeus was present, both before and after his appointment as CIA chief. They were amazed at how approachable he was and how easily engaged in direct conversation.
British, French, German and Israeli leaders and their intelligence chiefs have been wracking their brains for ways to keep the CIA director ignorant of their actions and out of reach of information they put before the White House.
4. Emails were another source. That Petraeus and Broadwell did not use their inboxes for exchanging messages but rather deposited them in a Gmail account in a draft folder or an electronic “dropbox,’ was an open secret in Western and Middle East intelligence circles.
This method of communication enabled anyone to log onto the same account and read the draft without leaving an email trail. This is exactly what the FBI did later in its investigation.
Incredibly, this was exactly the trick al Qaeda began using for its clandestine communications years ago. It has meanwhile been picked up by teenagers in many countries.
Obama denies Petraeus’s affair jeopardized national security
The first clue to David Petraeus’s impending fall as CIA chief was picked up by these spymasters from the Sept. 10, al Qaeda attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three CIA and US special forces officials.
They saw the attack as attesting to the radical Islamists, including Al Qaeda followers, having penetrated Petraeus’s internal communications system to discover where captured terrorists were being held.
President Barack Obama answered reporters’ questions Wednesday, Nov. 14, by saying he had seen "no evidence" that US national security was jeopardized in the unfolding scandal between former CIA director David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
"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," said the US president.