Sunday, November 11, 2012

Spies in the Bedroom


Perhaps it's the continuous seepage of the Women's Movement into our rotting culture, or perhaps its the afterecho of Rick Santorum, who warned us that we had better get ahold of ourselves.  Whatever, the abrupt resignation of General David Petraeus as Director of the CIA puts us on notice that the times they are a'changing, the clandestine balances and restraints inside our swollen National Security bureaucracy have collapsed, and matters regarded as venial by our more sophisticated forebears seem to be more than enough to break careers overnight and set the government itself wobbling.

It happens that I myself spent ten years poking around Langley and interviewing, ultimately, more than a hundred top serving and recently retired functionaries in the CIA while preparing to write The Old Boys:  The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA. Once attacked by propagandists for the Agency, this book is today on virtually every desk around CIA headquarters.  Lively reading still, controversial in many places, The Old Boys serves as the Agency's widely acknowledged secret institutional history.

I suspect that if the founders of the CIA came back to life they would be astonished that the threat of exposure for having had a lady friend or two on the side seemed to be grounds for forcing out an otherwise exemplary director.  They would be even more astounded that another co-equal bureaucracy in the government, in this case the FBI, took it upon itself to comb out the CIA Director's e-mails and seemed to threaten to expose the liaison it had surfaced.  Amazing!

Powerful men have assumed the perogative of acquiring a romantic interest on the side at least since King David's reign.  Ask Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin.  Grover Cleveland was elected twice in spite of the fact that the superPACs of the era ran a slogan against him pointing up his bastard child :  "Ma, ma, where's pa?  He's in the White House, ha, ha, ha."  FDR appreciated  the occasional  interlude of female companionship, especially when Eleanor wasn't around.  As for JFK or Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton?  In every case the occasional indiscretion leaked, but our leaders kept their jobs.  There were a lot more important considerations, even around the Bible Belt.

To start with, there were matters of war and peace.  I remember sitting in the office of the Deputy Director at the Agency, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, when the warhawks around Ronald Reagan were manipulating the press and instigating incidents on the ground -- Iran-Contra ultimately -- in hopes of starting a war with Nicaragua.  He was about to leave, Inman assured me.  Himself a far more experienced intelligence officer than the Director, William Casey, a Wall Street sharpie with a few months of World War II service in London with the OSS, Inman had served as director of the much larger and more important NSA and hated the direction the warhawks were headed under the clueless Reagan.  "I"ve got to leave before they drag me out of this place by the ankles, kicking and screaming," he confided to me.  Weeks later he was gone.  In those days policy issues, not the irrevelancies of anybody's private life, decided who kept his or her job.

Agree with him or disagree, David Petraeus is without a doubt a valuable, seasoned leader, one we will miss.  Does his flirtation with his knockout of a biographer, Paula Broadwell, really compromise his effectiveness?  Is Paula in league with the Chinese Commies or Iran or the Soviet Union -- a historical memory, except to Mitt Romney -- or anybody else we might not like this week?  Where is Missus Grundy going to take us all?

Answer me that, troopers.


Burton Hersh


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