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The Secret-Keepers: Petraeus, BBC, and Lockheed Martin

I don’t know. What is it with men? Within one week an incoming chief executive gets fired from a mega-defense company with lengthy and close personal relationships to the Pentagon because he had—to quote Lockheed Martin—“a lengthy close personal relationship” with a subordinate. At the same time General David Petraeus has to resign as head of the CIA because he had a lengthy close personal relationship with a good-looking nutcase.

Oh—and in more or less the same time frame we learn that the head of the BBC, George Entwistle, resigned after just 54 days on the job because: (a) it took a rival network to expose the long history of sexual malfeasance on the part of the BBC’s most famous and beloved television personality, Jimmy Savile, who won’t go to jail for hundreds of sex crimes since he is dead; (b) the BBC had known for well over a year about Savile’s longstanding preference for pubescent girls, in fact even had an expose of its own on Savile in the works—only the network refused to air it; and (c) perhaps to compensate for that signal lapse and subsequent embarrassment, the BBC decided to air a completely different report on child abusers—only in this instance falsely accused Lord McAlpine, a former Tory treasurer, of raping children. In fact, as it turned out, the BBC’s chief source on the allegation acknowledged he had made a mistake after seeing a photo of McAlpine.

Clearly, men—men worldwide, especially powerful men—don’t know how to handle sex scandals, sex maniacs, or even plain old sex itself.

So speaking of the last issue, sex itself, let’s go back to Petraeus. Let us assume that maybe generals get a pass when it comes to complications in their love lives: why shouldn’t they? None of our business who they’re sleeping with unless it’s the enemy.

And let’s assume also that even a CIA director might on occasion—well, say, just like a French president or, for that matter, an American one—have someone on the side. Not a great idea for a guardian of the world’s secrets perhaps, but then Petraeus is, the public has always been told, a fine judge of character. It would be natural to assume he would choose a woman who prided herself on discretion, a calm demeanor, and a high degree self-control.

Now let’s examine that Daily Show appearance by Petraeus’s mistress earlier this year, which, for obvious reasons, has gone viral of late. Paula Broadwell appears strangely tense, frightened, and practically monosyllabic in her efforts to flog her book, which is—surprise!—an adulatory biography of David Petraeus. Of course many people show tension during TV appearances, but not a lot of authors. You practically have to shut down an entire electric grid to get an author with a new book off the air. Authors have so much to say.

As it turns out, what Broadwell really had to say was never aired on television. It was consigned to e-mails, lots of them—and these e-mails, sent from Broadwell’s joint account that she shared with her husband, were addressed to one Jill Kelley of Tampa, Florida, of whom Broadwell was clearly jealous—so jealous that she ordered Kelley to “stay away” from her lover. Kelley, who is a liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command, which specializes in counterterrorism, considered these e-mails threatening. The FBI, which investigated those e-mails, did not.

But what the FBI thought is not the point. The point is that Broadwell was so crazy that she made no attempt to hide authorship of those e-mails: she clearly felt she had the right to send, even brandish her demands to a woman she considered a rival. The point also is that she and the CIA chief set up Gmail accounts, the better to exchange sexually explicit narratives. And the point is that Petraeus, a man who knows exactly how dangerous it is to convey details of secret love and sex over the Internet, lost all judgment in choosing a lover who clearly never had any to begin with.

What is the moral of all this? There is none. In fact, consider this:

  • Over the weekend the new BBC director general resigned: he received $715,000 for 54 days of work.
  • Mark Thompson, the former BBC director general under whose aegis the BBC canceled an investigation into Savile’s sexual abuse, is now the new CEO of the New York Times Company. “It didn’t occur to me that there was a contemporary corporate interest to defend,” he said. “You could say it’s a lack of imagination.”
  • Of all the entities directly affected by sex in all its forms: dumb sex, evil sex, crazy sex—the only one that has learned its lesson is Lockheed Martin. The company appointed a woman as its new CEO. I’m betting the farm she won’t hit on children, subordinates, or nutjobs during her tenure.
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