November 12th, 2012
02:26 PM ET

Assessing security implications of Petraeus' infidelity

With reporting from Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

While affairs may be commonplace in Washington, when they involve the director of the CIA, things can take on a different tone.

A U.S. official has said there was no breach of national security as a result of David Petraeus' affair, but that hasn't stopped discussion that Paula Broadwell could have gained access to classified information as a result of what she has routinely described as "unprecedented access" to Petraeus.

That discussion seemed to gain momentum Monday thanks to comments Broadwell made in a speech last month at the University of Denver.

"I don't know if a lot of you have heard this, but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to get these prisoners back," Broadwell said.

A senior intelligence official told CNN on Monday, "These detention claims are categorically not true. Nobody was ever held at the annex before, during, or after the attacks."

Broadwell's source for that previously unpublished bit of information remains unclear, and there's no evidence so far that it came from Petraeus. Administration officials have said the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack.

The New York Times also reported Sunday that investigators found classified documents on Broadwell's laptop computer. The newspaper cited investigators as saying Petraeus denied he had given them to her.

Retired Gen. James "Spider" Marks, for whom Broadwell once worked and who knows Petraeus, said he doubts security protocols were breached despite what seems an unlikely indiscretion on the part of Petraeus.

"There's almost zero percent chance that national security was compromised or at risk," he said Monday.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said an extramarital affair by a CIA officer is not automatically considered a security violation.

"It depends on the circumstances," the official said.

The official also said Broadwell did not have a security clearance from the CIA.

Another official said Broadwell, who is a reserve Army officer, did have some kind of security clearance and that there are no issues with Broadwell having unauthorized access to classified information.

Petraeus' resignation also presents challenges to the congressional inquiry into the Benghazi attack.

CNN has confirmed that Petraeus recently traveled to Libya to meet the CIA station chief to discuss the attack. He was scheduled to testify before a congressional committee this week on the assault and the U.S. government response to it.

That will now not happen, but it is possible that he could be summoned by Congress to testify later.

Some Republicans have criticized the administration's response to the Benghazi attack and have speculated that Petraeus' departure was linked to the congressional inquiry.

Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said elements of the story "don't add up." He called Petraeus "an absolutely essential witness, maybe more than anybody else."

However, a senior U.S. official said Petraeus' departure wasn't connected to the Benghazi hearing.

"Director Petraeus' frank and forthright letter of resignation stands on its own," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. "Any suggestion that his departure has anything to do with criticism about Benghazi is completely baseless."

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Filed under: CIA • Intelligence • Libya • Middle East • Petraeus
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