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Two generals, Agent Shirtless, and 30,000 pages of sexts

The scandal that keeps giving.

Two American generals have been implicated in allegations of sexual misconduct stemming from a bizarre FBI investigation into accusations of online harassment.

General David Petraeus, who ran America's war in Iraq, was forced to resign from his new posting at the CIA on Friday, and today, General John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, was also confirmed to be under investigation.

The allegations started with a string of emails received by Jill Kelley, a friend of Petraeus, last June. The emails, while angry in tone, did not apparently hint at any illegitimate activity, nor contain any threats; nonetheless, Kelley's local FBI office in Tampa, Florida, traced the source back to an anonymous gmail account operated by General Petraeus' (married) biographer, Paula Broadwell. Broadwell, according to officials quoted in the NYT, saw Kelley as a rival for her affections with Petraeus.

When the FBI identified the Gmail account as the source of the emails, it managed to receive detailed metadata from Google related to the running of the account – not just the times when the emails were sent, but locations, as well, allowed the FBI to get enough information to identify and then monitor Broadwell.

From there, the agents found that Broadwell and Petraeus "had set up private Gmail accounts to use for their communications, which included explicit details of a sexual nature", according to the Wall Street Journal.

That was the – already tortuous – state of affairs come Friday. Today, the scandal has branched out in a number of directions.

Firstly, General Allen has entered the picture. The FBI has apparently found "between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of 'potentially inappropriate' emails" sent between Allen and Jill Kelley, the recipient of the original angry missives allegedly sent by Broadwell.

Allen's conduct is now being investigated by the Pentagon's inspector general, with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in a statement praising General Allen for his leadership in Afghanistan and saying that “he is entitled to due process in this matter.”

Secondly, the conduct of the FBI has been called into question. Fears were already raised by the ease with which the FBI has acquired confidential data from Google over a case which, regardless of what it turned into down the line, showed little hint of illegality, let alone something worth subpoenaing private communications for.

One of the triggers for the investigation looks likely to be the fact that the angry emails, although anonymous, reflected "an inside knowledge" of Petraeus. "One e-mail accused Ms. Kelley of 'touching' Mr. Petraeus inappropriately under a dinner table," writes the NYT's Scott Shane and Charlie Savage.

But there is another element to the FBI's involvement. Shane and Savage continue:

[Kelley] brought her complaint to a rank-and-file agent she knew from a previous encounter with the F.B.I. office, the official also said. That agent, who had previously pursued a friendship with Ms. Kelley and had earlier sent her shirtless photographs of himself, was “just a conduit” for the complaint, he said. He had no training in cybercrime, was not part of the cyber squad handling the case and was never assigned to the investigation.

It seems doubtful that knowing one FBI agent (who, as the only player in the saga to remain anonymous, has been dubbed "Agent Shirtless) ought to be enough to get the Bureau involved in an investigation into angry emails, even if they do apparently mention General Petraeus.

As well as for the people involved, the affair has also had repercussions for the Obama administration. The resignation of Petraeus came just days before he was due to testify at a hearing over the Benghazi attack – which conspiracists have viewed as a way to take heat off the president – despite the fact that the FBI had known about the affair for over a year. The details of the leak are still being investigated, but it appears to have made its way into Congress via Representative David Reichert, a Republican from Washington state.

This affair just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Expect new revelations as America begins to wake up to the news later today.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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