David Petraeus Resigns As CIA Director, Admitting To Extra-Marital Affair

A surprise Friday resignation at the CIA.

Retired General David Petraeus has resigned as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency citing “personal reasons,” specifically his admission of an extra-marital affair of unknown length:

CIA Director David Petraeus resigned Friday, citing an extramarital affair he had.

Multiple sources tell NBC News that Mike Morrell, the deputy CIA director and a longtime CIA officer, would likely be offered the job as acting director but with the understanding that he may be elevated to the job permanently at some point.

That’s how George Tenet got the job, first as deputy director in July 1995, then acting director following the resignation of John Deutch in December 1996 and finally as director in July 1997, staying on in the Bush Administration.

Here’s the text of Petraeus’s letter:

HEADQUARTERS Central Intelligence Agency

9 November 2012

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair.  Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.  This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard.  Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.  I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.
Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,
David H. Petraeus

This is an unfortunate end to a distinguished military career, and it comes as something of a surprise. Some intelligence analysts on CNN are expressing surprise that he would resign over an affair, but it’s worth noting that anyone below Petraeus at the CIA who engaged in similar behavior would likely be forced to resign themselves due the fact that they would have exposed themselves to blackmail and other security risks. It’s possible that there’s more to this story, such as the fact that the relationship was with a subordinate or some such thing, and I’m assuming those details will come out at some point in the future.  Interestingly, it was just over a month ago that reports began to circulate that Petraeus was eyeing the exits at Langely, possibly to take a position as President of Princeton University. Whether those rumors are related to today’s events are unclear.

I can’t say that it appears that Petraeus will be leaving much of a mark at the CIA given his short tenure, but his military contributions to his country are something that nobody can take away from him.

Update: Noah Schachtman has further details:

Petraeus’ CIA tenure first appeared to be in jeopardy last week, when the Wall Street Journal published an article alleging that Petraeus has been, in effect, asleep at the switch during the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. But Petraeus former aide insists that wasn’t the reason for his departure.

“This had nothing to do with Benghazi or relationship with the White House — which by the way was excellent — or anything else for that matter,” the aide tells Danger Room. “Just his flawed behavior.”

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the President accepted Petraeus’ resignation, and offered his “thoughts and prayers [to] Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein, in a separate statement, added, ”I wish President Obama had not accepted this resignation, but I understand and respect the decision.”

Additionally, I’m already starting to see some people on the right putting forward conspiracy theories about this resignation based on the fact that Petraeus was scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week regarding the attack in Benghazi. Consider, for example, these tweets from Laura Ingraham:



Or this:


I’m sure there will be more of this.

Update: The President has released a statement:

David Petraeus has provided extraordinary service to the United States for decades. By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end. As Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he has continued to serve with characteristic intellectual rigor, dedication, and patriotism. By any measure, through his lifetime of service David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger.

Today, I accepted his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission, and I have the utmost confidence in Acting Director Michael Morell and the men and women of the CIA who work every day to keep our nation safe. Going forward, my thoughts and prayers are with Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time.

Reports this afternoon say that Obama originally did not want to accept the resignation, but Petraeus insisted.

Update: At Slate, Fred Kaplan purports to identify the woman Petraeus had an affair with:

The woman with whom Gen. David Petraeus was having an affair is Paula Broadwell, the author of a recent hagiographic book about him, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.


It had long been rumored that something was going on between Petraeus and Broadwell. Her book, co-written with Vernon Loeb, is widely regarded as a valentine to the general. When she was embedded with him in Afghanistan, they went on frequent 5-mile runs together. But Petraeus went on 5-mile runs with many reporters, and few people who knew him took the rumors seriously. In his personal life, he’s always been seen as a straight shooter, a square. Few could have imagined that his end would come as the result of a morals scandal.

Indeed. Additionally, the AP is reporting, without much clarification at the moment that the affair came to light during the course of an FBI investigation and NBC News is reporting that the FBI had opened an investigation into Paula Broadwell’s access to Patreaus’s email. Presumably, it was during this investigation that the affair was discovered.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Wow. That is sad. But I don’t see why it’s necessary, unless the woman was a CIA employee or a foreign national. If we lose every public servant who fools around we’ll empty Washington.

  2. Chris Berez says:

    I don’t get it. Does having an affair somehow compromise national security? Is the concerns that by having an affair, he’d be potentially vulnerable to blackmail by foreign agents?

  3. Geek, Esq. says:

    From this week’s Newsweek: General David Petraeus’s Rules for Living


    How long before Fox and Drudge make this about Benghazi?

  4. Chris,

    That’s exactly the concern. Blackmail is one potential problem and, of course, the honeypot is one of the oldest intelligence tools in existence.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I see nothing in his resignation letter that drives me to the conclusion that the correspondent in the affair was a woman.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    He probably would have been OK if it hadn’t been with Bubba from the motor-pool.

  7. Rob in CT says:

    Well that’s unfortunate. Man, apparently it’s really hard to keep one’s zipper closed in DC…

  8. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis

    What contribution? The man lost two wars and will pay no price for it.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Chris Berez: Yes. That was always cited as the reason homosexuals couldn’t serve in the military or otherwise hold security clearances, too. Being closeted was a genuine security risk and being open wasn’t allowed.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Ben Wolf: It’s absurd to say that Petraeus lost two wars. He didn’t enter us into them or assign himself unachievable objectives with too few resources.

  11. Scott says:

    Why or why can’t these people keep their zipper up.

  12. Tsar Nicholas says:

    What’s funny about this — in a tragicomedy sense — is that if a Republican president were involved in such a disastrous snafu as Benghazi and then tried to cover it up in such a ham-handed fashion, and then there were leaks which illustrated how bad the administration had screwed up, and then the CIA director suddenly resigned over an affair, literally days after the administration’s CEO was reelected, the chattering classes instantly would have cried foul over the timing, connected the obvious dots, and wondered aloud whether the de facto sacking (sorry for the pun) of said CIA director was part of a further cover up or a silencing/discrediting effort. Right? I mean, come on, isn’t the timing of this a little too coincidental? Isn’t it likely if not probable that Petraeus himself or someone close to him was the one leaking to Fox News and to Issa’s committee? Geez.

    In any event, it’s a bad way to end a career. But it’s sort of par for the course. McChrystal. Petraeus. There will be several others. Four more years is a long time.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Oh my God, is this one of those things everyone but me knew? I hate when that happens.

  14. Todd says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    How long before Fox and Drudge make this about Benghazi?

    Immediately. FoxNews and Drudge (and apparently Doug right here) both saw fit to put ‘extra-marital affair’ in quotes in their headlines. Also, as this was breaking, FoxNews on TV had Catherine Herridge talking about Benghazi … they clearly didn’t believe the affair story. Even after the letter from Gen Petraeus was made public, they still almost seemed to have a Karl Rove esque “are you sure” type moment.

  15. @Todd:

    How was I incorrect in calling it an extra-marital affair? He’s married. He had an affair. That’s typically what it’s called.

    And you need to look at the top of the post. I did not put Extra-Marital Affair inside quote marks.

  16. Ben Wolf says:

    @James Joyner: The counter-insurgency tactics we adopted were his baby, he lobbied for them, he promised the moon. I know you don’t believe additional resources would have made a difference in the end.

  17. Modulo Myself says:

    In order to silence Petraeus, the Obama administration forced him to admit to an extramarital affair and then resign. Or else, they must have implied.

    Because that makes sense.

  18. Todd says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Sorry, I was referring to the “personal reasons” in your lead paragraph. But really, looking at it again, writing it like that makes sense.

    The quotes in the Drudge and FoxNews headlines were clearing trying to imply something though.

  19. @Todd:

    “personal reasons” was a direct quote from Petraeus’s letter

  20. Geek, Esq. says:

    Other than Barack Obama, Petraeus is about the last person I would expect to behave this recklessly.

    Additionally, if this affair was going on while he was in uniform, wouldn’t that have been a violation of the UCMJ?

  21. stonetools says:

    Gotta think there’s more to it than just your garden variety affair. Either it was with a guy or a foreign national. I suspect we’ll eventually find out. The press is merciless for digging stuff like this out. Would that they were just as relentless in rooting out FINANCIAL corruption

  22. Todd says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Again, I apologize … I shouldn’t have included that parenthetical thought in my comment.

  23. stonetools says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    Additionally, if this affair was going on while he was in uniform, wouldn’t that have been a violation of the UCMJ?


  24. Lynda says:

    Who in their right mind would want a high profile job?

    Even if we have not personally experienced it, most of us have seen close family/friends either cheat or be cheated on and seen the agonizing fallout that results.

    Must be ten times worse to have strangers eagerly speculating and joking about the situation on Twitter.

  25. The obsession over Benghazi continues.

    I almost made a joke about it when this post first went up, but it seemed out of place.

  26. @Dave Schuler:

    The editor in feels obliged to point out that it is “co-respondent,” not “correspondent.” Sorry, not trying to be snarky, just caught my eye.

  27. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: plus he won’t have to testify about the libyan debacle!

  28. @Chris Berez:

    A defected GRU operator wrote that in spy school he was taught there were four main reasons someone could be doubled to work for Soviet intelligence. (I am sure this works the other way round, too.): It was the acronym MICE:


    He wrote that in his years as a spy in western Europe, money was by far the most successful inducement. But he and his comrades would use compromise when they could, then use money to sweeten and seal the deal.

    As an aside, he said that when someone offered to work for them for ideological reasons, they basically always said, “Thanks, here’s a few hundred dollars. We’ll be in touch,” and then never contacted him again. He and his comrades (and bosses, too) thought someone had who really did believe in Soviet Communism was just too stupid to be trusted. None of the spies did, he said.

  29. michael reynolds says:

    Richard Engle on MSNBC is reporting that there’s more. Involving Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell and a possible FBI investigation into improper access to classified docs. Ouch.

  30. How on earth does his resignation somehow call off his testimony to Congress? The Congress can still subpoena him, yes?

    I think this is what it says. I am guessing that the resignation was brought about by his wife discovering (or no longer willing to tolerate) the affairs and telling him it was divorce time. So he saw the writing on the wall.

  31. @michael reynolds:

    Well, that is a new wrinkle.

  32. Geek, Esq. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Just did the obligatory Google image search for Paula Broadwell. Would not be surprised if it were her.

  33. Geek, Esq. says:

    When she was embedded with him in Afghanistan

    Waa waa.

  34. Todd says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Richard Engle on MSNBC is reporting that there’s more. Involving Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell and a possible FBI investigation into improper access to classified docs. Ouch.

    If this happened while she was writing the book in 2010, you have to wonder how he was able to move to CIA in the first place. Even as a 4-star, you have to imagine DCI required even higher clearance … major fail by whoever did the background investigation.

  35. Dave Schuler says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    Right you are!

  36. michael reynolds says:


    to be clear, Engel did not say the affair was with Paula Broadwell. It was a quickie report with Chris Matthews, and I had the impression of a story very much in the early stages. I wish I could report it verbatim, but… Anyway, my impression was that Broadwell was the other person, and that it came to light because the FBI was concerned that she had access to some of the general’s e-mail. But again: brief report, vague, and second-hand via my limited memory.

  37. bill says:

    @Geek, Esq.: Nice, and the name is apropos!

  38. michael reynolds says:
  39. bill says:

    @Lynda: well, bill clinton can get away with it as it’s expected and immediately forgiven if you’re a democrat. i could care who’s banging who as long as they get the job done.

  40. michael reynolds says:

    Engle back on MSNBC. Adds that Petraeus is not himself under investigation and that no criminal charges are contemplated for Broadwell. The clear implication though is that Broadwell is the outside party. So much for the gay rumor. I will add that Broadwell is hot.

  41. legion says:

    @bill: Indeed, as @Donald Sensing points out, this changes next to nothing as far as any Benghazi issues go. It’ll be someone different sitting in the “CIA Director” chair at the initial hearings, but he was the Director at the time of the incident, and if there’s a real Congressional inquiry, he can and will be subpoena’ed back to speak.

    Unless you think a community organizer from Chicago could out-subterfuge the head of the CIA and the Army’s reigning expert in guerrilla warfare. In which case you’re just trolling.

  42. rudderpedals says:

    Modern science can improve on cesium clocks and pulsar time standards by setting reference to the three-day benghazi derangement timeout.

  43. Hal 10000 says:

    The Petraeus conspiracy theories just demonstrate that Frum was right about the conservative media lying to and deceiving their audiences. And that they have learned nothing from their humiliation on Tuesday.

  44. de stijl says:

    I just saw this over at a Talking Points Memo update from Josh Marshall. A TPM reader wrote:

    I’m a federal employment lawyer who has done a good amount of security clearance work. Petreaus simply could not continue as CIA Director. Even if they eventually found that he was not at risk for facing what is called “duress” in security clearance law, his security clearance would be immediately suspended pending investigation. Indeed, I have no doubt that his clearance has already been suspended and an investigation will happen to find out if any loss of information occurred. There is no way that he could continue.

  45. Franklin says:

    Information is coming in fast. If I was a Republican, I’d probably try gathering some of it before saying stupid stuff. For example, putting “affair” in quotes, since the evidence is building up awfully fast that that’s exactly what it was.

    But hey, what do I know? I didn’t just get monumentally destroyed at the ballot box the other day.

  46. al-Ameda says:

    I do not a strong opinion about Petraeus at all, however I honestly do not care. We don’t know what goes on in these peoples’ marriages. how well they manage their private lives. I believe it has no effect on how these people do their jobs.

  47. swearyanthony says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: I know right. Imagine if a Democratic presidency outed a CIA undercover agent for cheap political gain? They would totally get away with it.

  48. David M says:


    …I honestly do not care. We don’t know what goes on in these peoples’ marriages. how well they manage their private lives. I believe it has no effect on how these people do their jobs.

    Normally I’m right with you, but CIA Director isn’t a normal job where that would apply

  49. Herb says:


    “I believe it has no effect on how these people do their jobs.”

    In most cases, you’re right.

    But I think you should watch/read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy before saying it has no effect on how spies do their jobs. Yeah, I know it’s fiction, but a large theme of that movie/book is how Russian super-spy Karla is able to cloud George Smiley’s judgement by interfering with his marriage.

  50. James Joyner says:

    @Ben Wolf: I don’t think our goals in Afghanistan are achievable within the political constraints that operate. Nor do I think they’re worth the cost in blood in treasure necessary to achieve them. But I would point out that, according to the counterinsurgency field manual that Petraeus “wrote,” we needed orders of magnitude more boot s on the ground and for many more years than we were prepared to devote.

  51. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    to be clear, Engel did not say the affair was with Paula Broadwell. It was a quickie report with Chris Matthews, and I had the impression of a story very much in the early stages.

    Michael, when I first read the above, my eye skipped right over the word “report”, and so what I wound up reading was “Engel did not say the affair was with Paula Broadwell. It was a quickie with Chris Matthews….”

    …and then I don’t remember anything for about five minutes, because I passed out right there and then at my desk.