Petraeus biographer discussed him at Aspen summer conferences

by Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Paula Broadwell, the biographer whose affair with CIA Director David Petraeus led to his abrupt resignation last week, discussed the acclaimed general and their working relationship at two Aspen Institute conferences this past summer.

Petraeus, the four-star general who commanded forces in Iraq and Afghanistan before taking the CIA job as America’s top spy last year, cited their affair when he resigned on Friday.

Following the publication of her book, “All In: The Education of David Petraeus,” Broadwell spoke about the general on public panels at both the Aspen Ideas Festival and Aspen Security Forum, addressing Petraeus’ life, career and personal philosophy while concealing their romantic involvement.

She also discussed her access to classified information gained while writing the book.

“I was entrusted with this opportunity to sit in on high level meetings with Gen. Petraeus. ... [To] listen to classified chatter of terrorist talk and so forth,” she said at a panel on media and the military at the Security Forum, “and I had that background anyhow. So I knew a lot of that information for my writing, but I knew there was a clear line that I couldn’t cross when I was writing it out.”

A West Point graduate and reserve intelligence officer in the Army Reserve, Broadwell has top security clearance of her own, but in the wake of Petraeus’ resignation some have raised concern about what she knew and the risks of leaks. Petraeus’ resignation over the affair has been attributed, in part, to his vulnerability to blackmail if the affair remained secret.

Broadwell offered adulatory assessments of Petraeus as a leader and a patriot at the Institute events, while also speaking, once, of his physical prowess.

“He is quite a physical specimen,” she said during an hour-long public interview with the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon at Ideas Fest. “He really loves to work out. I think at the agency they call him a genetic mutant now. For any of you who have worked out with him, he is 59 and he can run around 6:30 [minute] miles, do over 120 push-ups, 120 sit-ups, 250 flutter kicks, which is pretty good for someone who has been in a high-demand job. He keeps physical fitness a priority.”

Broadwell, herself a triathlete who beat Jon Stewart and her husband in a push-up contest when she appeared on “The Daily Show” earlier this year, wrote on Twitter on July 24 that she was going for a run in Aspen with cyclist Lance Armstrong.

“Heading 2 @AspenInstitute 4 the Security Forum tomorrow!” she wrote. “Panel (media & terrorism) followed by a 1v1 run with Lance Armstrong. Fired up!”

 Screenshot courtesy of The Aspen Institute video
Paula Broadwell at the Aspen Security Forum this past summer.

Four days later, Armstrong tweeted that they’d gone for the run, and plugged her book. She responded: “Txs for not killing me on the Aspen altitude run! All in/Keep striving!”

At the Ideas Fest interview with O’Hanlon, she spoke about Petraeus as a friend and mentor, and of his struggle between his devotion to the country and to his family.

“In my experience of about five years now, getting to know him, I have gotten to know him as a friend and mentor, he is one of my Ph.D. advisers, my external Ph.D. adviser,” she said. “So I have known him in several capacities. ... He is very driven, he is driven to serve his country, I think ‘duty, honor, country’ — one of the models of West Point — he fully embraces it. In fact, he’ll admit he embraced it to the point of putting ‘duty, honor, country’ before his family. And you can see that in his eight years overseas away from his family. Thankfully, now he has a little bit more time to spend with them.”

When an audience member asked Broadwell whether Petraeus would ever consider running for the presidency, she said he would not for the sake of his wife, Holly.

“He’s been on public record for a long time saying he was not interested [in the presidency],” she said. “So the next question is, ‘Why not?’ Because he’s so driven and being No. 1 is so important to him and contributing is so important. Well, the excuse he gives is that Holly doesn’t want their family to be exposed to that. She’s a very private person and just feels like she’s supported him through all of his deployments and that’s something she doesn’t want to expose their family to, and he’s trying to honor that.”

Broadwell said Petraeus would, however, be interested in working in cabinet posts like Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State — unlikely possibilities now — but said he advised her against going into politics herself.

“He just feels like politics corrupts people,” she said.

On the five-member media panel at the security conference in July, Broadwell was joined by two journalists who have been breaking news about her since Friday.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, national editor of the Washington Post, wrote a long recounting of Petraeus’ storied career on Friday, and contributed to a story on Saturday that portrayed Broadwell unflatteringly — including claims that she dressed in inappropriately tight clothing while embedded in Afghanistan — and anonymously quoted military officials who said they had been put off by her close relationship with Petraeus. Michael Isikoff, of NBC News, also sat on the panel and on Monday reported details of the FBI cyber-harassment investigation that led to the revelation of the affair.