In Petraeus’ case, it was not a matter of financial transactions being reported that did him in, but jealously between his paramour and another woman; jealousy that resulted in a chain of e-mails. While the e-mails between the two women do not appear to constitute communications reasonably considered to be “threatening,” when the FBI got hold of them, its agents believed otherwise, and launched an extensive investigation. As with the investigation of Spitzer, the feds maintain with a straight face their investigation was launched to “protect” the public figure.
The lessons we glean from this incident are many. Most are obvious, such as not engaging in behavior in which Petraeus engaged, and certainly not creating e-mail records thereof if you break Rule Number One.
Perhaps not quite so obvious, however, are lessons we as a nation ought to contemplate in the wake of this scandal.
Have we mistakenly elevated military leaders like Petraeus to near God-like status, and in so doing fostered in them a sense that they serve on a level far above the average military personnel or civilian citizen? Petraeus was, by all objective accounts, an outstanding military officer. But should we really allow a fawning biographer to spend months following a top Army general around, while he is supposed to be engaged in vital military duties, just so he can look good in a subsequently-published biography?
Is any general – or retired general holding a top-level civilian post in government – so exceptional that the normal rules of public service, including obligations to respond to legitimate inquiries from our elected representatives, are deemed not to apply?
And, do we really want to live in a society in which our every action involving some form of electronic communication – from a personal e-mail to a simple credit card transaction -- is easily accessible by a federal investigator sifting through secret algorithms to “discover” patterns of behavior seemed “suspicious,” and thereafter to be investigated? Because that’s right where we are, folks.