A Brief History of Public Officials Electronically Embarrassing Themselves
They might be movers and shakers, but apparently they just can't handle technology—at least not enough to keep their secrets. Many of the headline-grabbing illicit affairs of the past few years involving political and military leaders came to light through an electronic trail of either stupidity or ignorance of how easily things can be traced on the internet. Here are the most infamous examples, from the ongoing Petraeus scandal and beyond.
General David Petraeus
The head of the CIA wins the prize for technical sophistication. Not that it did him much good. The retired general and his biographer-turned-mistress Paula Broadwell used a Gmail account to communicate without actually sending any email. They wrote messages for each other and saved them using the save-as-draft function; the other person would then log in to the account to read them. , it's a tactic used by many of the terrorists Petraeus pursued while leading U.S. forces.
also used a pseudonym for the Gmail account, but . Broadwell's anonymous threatening emails to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley were enough to trigger the salacious avalanche of details that has kept the media occupied for days.
Frederick Humphries II
One of the many weird twists during the first few days of the Petraeus scandal was the discovery that the FBI agent who started the investigation (and who is a decorated officer who helped stop a terrorist attack in 2000) wasn't too bright about his digital privacy, either. Known now and forever as "," Humphries sent a shirtless picture of himself to one of the women involved in the case. The picture turned out to be a joke, but it goes to show that even jokes between friends can't be considered immutably private anymore.
(An earlier version of this article based on early media reports misstated the nature of the image sent to Mrs. Kelley.)
General John Allen
is the commander of the armed forces in Afghanistan, and the latest high-ranking military officer to be pulled into the Petraeus affair. The FBI is currently combing through his correspondence with Jill Kelley, which stretches between 20,000 and 30,000 email pages. , in case you were curious what 20,000 pages of emails look like. Also, those 20,000 pages of emails, sent between 2010 and 2012, translates to more than 27 pages a day. How did they do anything else? Did running the war in Afghanistan really take that little time?
Rep. Anthony Weiner
With a last name like that, he should have known better. Then a U.S. Representative from New York, Weiner tweeted an explicit picture of himself to a 21-year-old college student in May 2011. After initially , he finally admitted that he had in fact been the person to tweet the photo, as well as being responsible for other explicit messages and pictures. It would've been bad enough had Weiner been exposed for sending the pics over a Twitter direct message, but the former rising star in Congress tweeted them out in the open for all to see before trying—too late—to delete them. The latest on Weiner? He's back on Twitter. And .
Rep. Chris Lee
Also a U.S. Representative from New York, to a woman through Craigslist. He subsequently resigned. Lee might not have much digital savvy, but he does have good timing: The scandal preceded the Weiner story by three months and was quickly overshadowed.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer
Spitzer's didn't come out in the court of public opinion; instead they came out in court once the scandal had already broken. The FBI obtained his texts and calls to the prostitution ring , but it actually wasn't those s that brought down the ring. Spitzer's initially led the FBI to the case, proving that illicit texts and e-mails are hardly the only forms of electronic communication that can give away indiscretions.
Gov. Mark Sanford
Remember this one? It is painfully obvious that former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford never intended between himself and his Argentinean mistress to ever see the light of day. The communications were just part of a bizarre case which involved the Governor disappearing to Argentina for five days on Father's Day weekend in 2009. Officials in South Carolina became nervous when they were unable to reach him, and were not placated in the least by that the governor was simply "hiking the Appalachian Trail." That excuse imploded when a reporter saw him getting off a plane in Atlanta, and the rest is history.
Rep. Mark Foley
Foley, a former congressman and all-around creep, resigned after a 16-year-old Congressional page sent by Foley. Foley apparently also to harass other pages.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: President Bill Clinton
Neither Twitter nor Gmail existed during the Clinton presidency. But, as we all know, that didn't stop Clinton from being caught in his infidelity, thanks to technology. It's been a while, but remember that between herself and Monica Lewinsky helped to bring the affair to light and ultimately resulted in Clinton's impeachment. Of course, going back even farther, President Nixon was captured on tape discussing many of his nefarious doings during the Watergate scandal.