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A spy or just incredibly foolish behaviour?

She had a face that launched a thousand ships, they said of Helen of Troy. The “face” triggered the Trojan wars when Helen left her husband the departed for Troy with her lover Paris. Since then, the story has lived on as a reminder to the dangers of illicit love affairs and infidelity. Now at least one top soldier is in trouble again because of an illlicit love affair with a beautiful woman. This time around the lady in question is not Helen, but Paula. Paula Broadwell to be precise. She is not a princess, but clearly a woman with lofty ambitions who was quite willing to get involved with a married man, none other than the Head of the US Central Intellegence Agency, General David Petraeus. Petraeus has been forced to resign.

So who is Paula? By all accounts she cannot match Helens credentials as the daughter of a god. She is just a former US Army soldier and an author. This very attractive woman now seems to be the key figure behind the downfall of one of the “greatest heroes” in US military history, as the US magazine Newsweek so proudly describes Petraeus.

If so, what was Paula hoping for? Was it just love? Was it about personal gain and her career? Or was there something more sinister? Was it a honey trap involving a foreign intelligence agency perhaps? Was Paula an agent provocateur? Washington is awash with rumours.

Let us look at the theory that sees Paula as agent provocateur. After all, some historians have accused Helen of treachery too. Agent provocateur is a French word which, according to the Oxford English dictionary, means “a person employed to induce others to break the law so that they can be convicted.” The word is reminiscent of the Cold War when female Russian spies infiltrated enemy networks and killed their illicit lovers once they had the information they needed.

Of course, the potential security risks that such an affair entails were not lost on Petraeus. He tried to keep things secret but rumours about the couples relationship had been in circulation for a while before the revelations that forced him to quit. After all, Paula authored Petraeus’ biography, “All in”, after she met Petraeus at university and he offered to “help her out” with her studies. Helping the beautiful Paula with her studies obviously got out of hand. In hindsight the books title appears to be more a statement about the couples commitment to each other than about Petraeus military career.

Initially, one assumed that Petraeus’ resignation and his confession to having an extra-marital affair was because of the questioning he was to face in the Congress over the attack on the US embassy in Libya. But the latest developments cast doubt on that theory. Federal agents have raided Paulas house in Charlotte, North Carolina and have confiscated a computer and several boxes with papers, believed to be full of confidential information that Paula could have received from Petraeus in the course of their liaison. Indeed, there are reports that Paula may have had access to Petraeus’ email account.This raises serious questions about the security risks this might have entailed. But that proves nothing of course without evidence of an espionage network behind her activities. So the jury is still out on the honey trap theory although this would make it easier for the scriptwriters of the inevitable Hollywood film to follow the affair.

There is however mounting evidence to suggest that those involved were just plain foolish and that the whole affair is nothing but a tale of unfaithfulness and nastiness. Another woman, it seems, unwittingly played a key role in exposing the scandal. Jill Kelley, who says she’s been a friend of the Petraeus family for over five years and who also has close contacts with several other military families, reportedly spoke to Petraeus’ second-in-command, General John Allen, about the relationship between Petraeus and Paula! What? So things could not have been that secret and obviously Kelley was not trying to keep things that way.

Now General John Allen, who happens to be the top US commander in Afghanistan, is under the scanner for “inappropriate communication” with Jill. Thousands of emails are reported to have passed between them. Kelley reportedly told Allen all about the harassing emails she received from Paula. One could easily imagine Paula being pretty annoyed when she found out that a women she knew (and trusted?) was talking to one of her lovers former subordinates about the affair. And, all the time, the FBI was monitoring the email traffic and investigating not only Petraeus’ involvement with Paula but also Allens involvement with Jill. If a writer had presented this kind of plot to a publisher he would have been turned away on the grounds that the whole plot was too implausible.

Paula herself not surprisingly – refuses to comment. Does her silence bolster the theory that she may have sprung a honey trap? It is admittedly hard to draw a line between the research every author writing a biography about a top member of the establishment must carry out in order to write a credible book and the work of an intelligence agent. But it appears more likely that she is simply a very ambitious woman who saw advantages for herself and her career in her involvement with Petraeus. Little did she suspect that Jill would be so indiscreet. Paula’s silence now is probably explained by fear of prosecution by the authorities. She may be indignant that she as a woman – is the one in the media spotlight rather than Petraeus himself. She may also just be ashamed of herself. She may also be considering Hollywood offers.

What is also causing consternation in Washington is that the generals and the women involved showed such scant interest in security concerns. Petraeus also showed scant concern for his wife and his children. But that is not really so very important from a media perspective. After all, when married men have extramarital affairs, the media generally deal with them more leniently than with the woman concerned. Mrs Petraeus is reportedly scandalized by the behavior of Paula and very understandably furious with her husband. He does not look very much like a hero anymore.

In some ways this drama really does have all the makings of a Greek tragedy. The FBI will no doubt keep us up-to-date. Perhaps a Trojan horse will still put in an appearance. And don’t forget: Helen’s precise role in the story of the Trojan horse remains a mystery to this day.

Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

Editor: Grahame Lucas


15.11.2012 | 9:23