Editor's note: On Wednesday, November 14, retired Gen. David Petraeus announced he will voluntarily testify before Congress about the events in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
Honey Trap. The phrase played a big role in the movie “Munich,” when a sexy assassin lured an Israeli hit man to bed and killed him.
Now questions are being raised about whether it might have played a role in the soap opera that brought down CIA boss David Petraeus and may end the career of our top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen.
“So-called honey traps are typically used by foreign spy agencies to ensnare top men, such as General Allen and former General Petraeus, in order to try to extract information out of them,” Wall Street Journal reporter Maria Abi-Habib said yesterday in an audio dispatch from Afghanistan posted on WSJ.com.
There is no evidence the generals’ female friends are spies, but Abi-Habib says the affair has raised concerns “of a so-called honey trap, which was a very famous spy tactic used by the KGB.”
Wow. Just when you thought the plot couldn’t get any thicker, it does. Even cheap novels are usually more conventional with their story lines.
But this real-life tangle is so messy that a scorecard is in order. Jill Kelley is the woman who received the harassing e-mails from Paula Broadwell that set off the investigation that led to the discovery of Broadwell’s affair with Petraeus. Both Allen and Petraeus are close to Kelley, who lives in Tampa, and Allen succeeded Petraeus in Afghanistan and was nominated to be the next commander of NATO, a nomination now on hold.
As riveting as the “honey trap” theory is, there are also serious caveats. Although Allen reportedly sent up to 30,000 e-mail pages of correspondence to Kelley, some of it described as “potentially inappropriate,” there is no public evidence they had a sexual relationship. And reporter Abi-Habib doesn’t offer any evidence to support the “concern” she cited. I e-mailed her, asking for any details, but got no response.
Part of the anything-goes atmosphere stems from the fact that there are so many shocking events spilling out so quickly that it’s hard to get your head around them.
In ordinary times, the fact that the FBI was reading the emails of the CIA chief and discovered an affair with his biographer would have been sensational enough.
That the probe and discovery happened in the middle of a presidential campaign but was kept secret by the Justice Department until the votes were counted — that, too, would have been enough. The claim that President Obama didn’t know anything would ordinarily cause a political storm.
Yet the central issue — so far, at least — remains the connection to Benghazi. Petraeus’ bizarre role in affirming the White House political line that the murderous attack on the anniversary of Sept. 11 was not a preplanned terror attack but a spontaneous hijacking of a demonstration about an anti-Muslim video never made any sense. That narrative was false — there was no demonstration to be hijacked — and Petraeus would have come under withering questioning at a scheduled congressional hearing this week for spinning that yarn.
Instead, he is suddenly and conveniently out, his career and life in shambles and his testimony canceled. And all of that happens in the week between the election and the hearing.
You don’t have to be a conspiracy buff to wonder who benefits from the strange sequence and the torrent of leaks from the administration about the case. Petraeus’ silence becomes even more important with the ABC News report that he recently went to Libya to “personally investigate” the attack to prepare for his testimony.
Petraeus was the most acclaimed military commander of our era, and his behavior, which is said to include the use of anonymous e-mail names, is as tragic as it is puzzling. He set high standards for himself and his soldiers, according to Vernon Loeb, who helped Broadwell write her biography.
Loeb, an editor at The Washington Post, said in an essay that he never guessed that Broadwell and the general were having an affair. He had covered Petraeus in Iraq, and was deeply impressed by him.
“He’d always preached to his protégés that character was what you did when no one was watching,” Loeb said of Petraeus. “And he would always hasten to add, from his most public of perches, that ‘someone is always watching.’ ”
He was right about that. As this bizarre case continues to unfold, the whole world is watching.
This column originally appeared in the New York Post. For more, click here.