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Captain America, your pants down

Nov. 13: Two of the most stellar generals of their generation are under investigation tied to women they are not married to.

One general and his mistress used a trick, known to terrorists and teenagers alike, to conceal email traffic.

An FBI agent who had once sent shirtless photographs of himself started the fire unwittingly.

The attorney-general apparently knew something was amiss for months.

Yet, the commander-in-chief, who also happens to be the President and the most powerful man on the planet, was kept in the dark and told only two days after he won a re-election. The warning call was never made on the fabled scrambled phone on Air Force One.

Oh, yes, in the middle of all this, America was also fighting two wars that lasted longer than the Second World War.

The David Petraeus sex affair is threatening to snowball into a widening scandal as astonishing details keep tumbling out of the US military establishment, which runs the most fierce and fearsome fighting machine in the world.

The latest in a breathless cascade of disclosures is confirmation that Gen. John Allen, the top American and Nato commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation for what a senior defence official said was “inappropriate communication” with Jill Kelley.

Jill is the socialite in Tampa, Florida, who was seen as a rival for Petraeus’s attentions by Paula Broadwell. Till four months ago, Paula had an extramarital affair with Petraeus, the celebrated general who stepped down as CIA chief last week.

The defence official said 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails and other documents from Allen’s communications with Jill between 2010 and 2012 are under review. He would not say whether they involved sexual matters.

“Gen. Allen disputes that he has engaged in any wrongdoing in this matter,” the official said. If Allen is found to have had an affair with Jill, he could face charges of adultery.

But even the sheer volume of communication alone could raise questions. Allen and Jill were exchanging around 30 pages of communication per day, on average. Even if the notes were short, such intense interaction might have consumed a lot of Allen’s time.

Allen, a four-star Marine general, succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan in July 2011. He had been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next commander of the US European Command. Obama has now put that nomination on hold.

In what is known so far, Jill went to an FBI agent last summer after she was disturbed by harassing emails. The FBI began an investigation and learned that the emails were from Paula, Petraeus’s biographer. The FBI discovered two private Gmail accounts, one being used by Paula, and the other by someone using a pseudonym — who turned out to be CIA director Petraeus.

Rather than transmitting emails to the other’s inbox, Petraeus and Paula composed at least some messages and left them in a draft folder or in an electronic “dropbox”, officials said. Then the other person could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail that is easier to trace.

The FBI agent, who was approached by Jill, himself has a colourful history. He had pursued a friendship with Jill and sent her shirtless photographs of himself. ( )

On Wednesday itself, the Obama administration is expected to come under intense congressional scrutiny. A speech by Paula in October on the September 11 killing of the US ambassador in Libya could draw the attention of closed-door congressional sessions.

Paula had said the militant attack on the CIA annexe in Benghazi, after the assault on the consulate, was an attempt to free two Libyan militia members being held prisoner there. The CIA denied the claim but questions are being raised whether Paula had access to classified information because of her relationship with Petraeus.

Besides, the scandal could cloud Obama’s decision on the successor to Hillary Clinton when she steps down as secretary of state. A frontrunner and Obama favourite, Susan Rice, had already drawn fire for commenting in haste that the Libyan attack appeared “spontaneous”, which the administration later classified as a “terror” strike. If the Libya attack stays in focus because of the scandal, Obama may be compelled to look at a less controversial figure like John Kerry.

The scandal has also spotlighted the reluctance in America to criticise “the men and women in uniform”. The civilian leadership had taken the brunt of the blame whenever military matters went wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan — sometimes because the generals took questionable decisions.