Did Petraeus mistress reveal new Benghazi details?

So here is a bizarre twist in the David Petraeus resignation saga.

Paula Broadwell, the biographer revealed as the woman having a secret affair with the now-former CIA director, gave a talk at the University of Denver on Oct. 26 in which she appeared to reveal sensitive, maybe even classified, information about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

The most interesting revelation is her claim that the CIA was holding several Libyan militia members prisoner, which may have prompted the attack. (Though she also sought to explain the Obama administration's initial view that the attack was linked to the YouTube video Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Islam polemic that sparked riots across the Muslim world.)

[UPDATE: The CIA has denied holding prisoners at the annex, according to the DailyBeast's Eli Lake. The Washington Post's Greg Miller adds in a tweet, "CIA adamant that Broadwell claims about agency holding prisoners at Benghazi are not true."]

Broadwell also said flatly that forces at the CIA annex had requested backup from a special Delta Force group she called the CINC's in extremis force. It was not clear whether she was basing her comments on an Oct. 26 Fox News report by Jennifer Griffin, or whether her information came from elsewhere. (Griffin refers to it as "Commanders [sic] in Extremis Force," but does not mention Delta Force. The report does, however, cite "a source on the ground at the time of the attack" saying that "the team inside the CIA annex had captured three Libyan attackers and was forced to hand them over to the Libyans. U.S. officials do not know what happened to those three attackers and whether they were released by the Libyan forces.")

A CIA spokeswoman disputed the Fox News account at the time, saying, "no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate." The agency later released a timeline of that evening's events that cast doubt on Griffin's story; the Pentagon also released its own timeline.

In any case, Broadwell's remarks, which were first reported by Arutz Sheva, are very interesting in light of this week's big news, as well as the Wall Street Journal's revelation that the FBI found that Broadwell was in possession of classified documents (though she was never charged with any crime).

Her comments came in response to a questioner who asked her to comment on Petraeus's handling of the events in Libya. I've transcribed them in full here:

Well, just to create some context for those in the room. As you know, the ambassaador in Benghazi was killed along with a couple of security agents who happened to be CIA security, paramilitary forces. That just came out today in Fox News.

But the challenge has been the fog of war. And the greater challenge is that it's political hunting season, and so this whole thing has been turned into a very political sort of arena, if you will.

But the facts that came out today were that the ground forces there at the CIA annex, which is different from the consulate, were requesting reinforcements.

They were requesting the, what's called the CINC's in extremis force -- a group of Delta Force operators, our very, most talented guys we have in the military. They could have come and reinforced the consulate and the CIA annex that were under attack.

Now, I don't know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that's still being vetted.

The challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position, he's not allowed to communicate with the press. So he's known all of this -- they had correspondence with the CIA station chief in, in Libya. Within 24 hours they kind of knew what was happening.

But if you remember at the time -- the Muslim video, the Mohamed video that came out, the demonstrations that were going on in Cairo -- there were demonstrations in 22 other countries around the world. Tens of thousands of people. And our government was very concerned that this was going to become a nightmare for us.

So you can understand if you put yourself in his shoes or Secretary Clinton's shoes or the president's shoes that we thought it was tied somehow to the demonstrations in Cairo. And it's true that we have signal intelligence that shows the, um, the militia members in Libya were watching the demonstration in Cairo and it did sort of galvanize their effort. Um, so we'll find out the facts soon enough.

As a former intel officer it's frustrating to me because it reveals our sources and methods. I don't think the public necessarily needs to know all of that. It is a tragedy that we lost an ambassador and two other government officials. Um, and something -- there was a failure in the system because there was additional security requested. But it's frustrating to see the sort of political aspect of what's going on with this whole investigation.

Um, so the most recent news that came out was a Fox News report by Jennifer Griffin. I got it on a distribution list I'm on, and it has some pretty insightful stuff in it, if you want to look for it."

In her prepared remarks, Broadwell, who attended the university's Josef Korbel School of International Studies, spoke at length of her career ambitions. "My longterm goal had always been to become national security advisor," she said.

That's probably not going to happen now.

You can watch the video below. The relevant portion begins at minute 35:


The tragedy of David Petraeus

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past five hours, you've probably heard by now that David Petraeus -- perhaps the most universally admired person in American public life -- suddenly resigned as director of the CIA for, as he told agency staffers in a message Friday, "engaging in an extramarital affair."

Slate's Fred Kaplan reports that his paramour was none other than Paula Broadwell, the co-author of a highly flattering biography of the former general, All In: The Education of David Petraeus. (FP tried to contact Broadwell via several channels Friday, but she did not respond.)

According to the AP, the affair came to light during an investigation by the FBI, presumably related to its counterintelligence function. (Other accounts are offering more salacious details, but I can't vouch for the quality of the reporting.)

As recently as Monday, Broadwell published an article titled "General David Petraeus’s Rules for Living"on the DailyBeast's website. Rule No. 1: "Lead by example from the front of the formation." Rule No. 5: "We all will make mistakes. The key is to recognize them and admit them, to learn from them, and to take off the rear­ view mirrors—drive on and avoid making them again."

What's clear is that Broadwell, a veteran whose book began as a dissertation project, was starstruck by her subject.

In January, when her book, co-authored with Washington Post editor Vernon Loeb, came out,  Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings ripped it as "such blatant, unabashed propaganda, it’s as if the general has given up pretending there’s a difference between the press and his own public relations team." When Broadwell appeared on the Daily Show to promote the book, she joked, "He can turn water into bottled water" and noted "he is a very high-energy person." They spent a lot of time together on runs, a favorite Petraeus activity. She said Petraeus had "no dirty secrets."

In her book, Broadwell describes how she first met Petraeus in 2006, when he was still a lieutenant general, at a dinner arranged by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "I introduced myself," she writes, "and told him about my research interests; he gave me his card and offered to put me in touch with other researchers and service members working on the same issues. ... I took full advantage of his open-door policy to seek insight and share perspectives."

Broadwell was also an occasional contributor to Foreign Policy, via Tom Ricks's blog. In one post, she lauded Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy; in another, she wrote, "Gen. David H. Petraeus's counterinsurgency guidance calls on coalition forces to be first with the truth."

This is a huge story, obviously, and the Twitterverse is going wild with off-color jokes. I'm sure more salacious details are going to come out, and we'll no doubt learn in more detail why Petraeus felt he had to resign. Some will say he shouldn't have. Ricks writes: "Petraeus is retired from the military. If the affair happened back when he was on active duty, it is part of the past. And there is nothing illegal about civilians having affairs." On the other hand, it's obviously not a good thing for your CIA director to be subject to possible blackmail.

Still, Petraeus's downfall is a huge loss for the United States. Not only was he one of the country's top strategic thinkers, he was also one of the few public figures revered by all sides of the political spectrum for his dedication and good judgment. He salvaged two disastrous wars, for two very different presidents. He would have been a useful check on groupthink inside the Obama administration -- an independent voice for a White House often accused of being insular and one-dimensional. And if anyone could have restored confidence in the CIA after Benghazi, it would have been him.

Petraeus's exit leaves a bitter taste. We all make mistakes. Here's hoping he makes a comeback.