Former CIA Director David Petraeus’ reputation took another hit on Wednesday with a front page report in The Washington Post detailing the extraordinary access he granted to two civilian, neoconservative analysts when he was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Frederick Kagan and his wife Kimberly were both working for conservative think tanks in Washington, pushing for a more hawkish U.S. foreign policy. But in 2010, the pair left for nearly a year to work for Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan, where they were reportedly given top-level security clearances that allowed them to read classified intelligence reports and participate in senior-level strategy sessions.
“The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications,” writes Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the report’s author, who joined Hardball on Wednesday.
Petraeus declined to comment for Chandrasekaran's article.
In his piece, Chandrasekaran reveals some disturbing details about the level of access and influence given to the Kagans, whom Petraeus called his “directed telescopes.” This access became especially confusing and problematic when the Kagans began to advocate a more aggressive approach than some U.S. officers were recommending in combating a particular Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, known as the Haqqani network.
“The Kagans believed U.S. commanders needed to shift their focus from protecting key towns and cities to striking Haqqani encampments and smuggling routes,” writes Chandrasekaran. And by the late summer of 2010, the couple began sharing their views with field officers in the east, implying to some that they were also speaking for Petraeus, when in fact, the general had not yet issued any new directives with regard to the Haqqanis.
The result was reportedly huge confusion.
Fred Kagan did insist to Chandrasekaran that they were careful to note before every meeting that they were not speaking for Petraeus, but given how close the couple was to the general, it was unclear to some whose views they were expressing.
“Neocons tend to be very good at burrowing,” said msnbc political analyst David Corn on Hardball Wednesday. “[The Kagans] burrowed their way in, and they created, as Rajiv’s wonderful piece details, lots of confusion in the chain of command. People don’t know how to relate to them. Are they spies for Petraeus? Are they conveying orders from Petraeus?”
While the Kagans received no pay for the work they did in Afghanistan, in part to remain “completely independent,” their arrangement was not entirely without benefits.
According to Chandrasekaran, “The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank.” And in return, Petraeus became the subject of positive op-eds written by the couple, who also “gave speeches and testified before Congress, generally imparting a favorable message about progress under Petraeus, all of which helped him sell the war effort and expand his popularity,” writes Chandrasekaran.
The report does note that Defense Department travel rules permit civilian experts to work for government organizations without direct compensation. But military lawyers are now examining whether Petraeus’ relationship with the Kagans overstepped regulations.
For now, Petraeus’ decision to give two civilian analysts with neoconservative roots top-level access raises some new questions about Petraeus’ ideological attachments. Was he so much of a neoconservative that he would jeopardize order in his ranks just to surround himself with other hawkish voices?
“I don’t think Petraeus neatly fits into the world of the neocons, but he certainly is an individual who believes in the transformative power of the military,” said Chandrasekaran on Hardball Wednesday. “The Kagans were very helpful to him with the intellectual architecture of the surge in Iraq,” where Petraeus served as commanding general. “And [The Kagans] supported more forces in Afghanistan,” he added.
The Post's report comes just over a month after David Petraeus resigned from his position as CIA director after it was discovered that he was having an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, who also had access to substantial classified data.
The new information about the Kagans once again calls into question Petraeus’ judgment.
“Because he was so lionized, and almost worshipped as America’s greatest general since Washington, he seemed to be able to feel like he could get away with things,” said Corn. “He feels he had the license to do things that other generals couldn’t.”