BANGKOK – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered the Pentagon to find out why so many generals and admirals have become embroiled in legal and ethical problems, a trend exacerbated by recent investigations of two of the military’s best-known commanders.
The Pentagon disclosed Panetta’s directive on Thursday after he arrived in Thailand as part of a visit to Asia. But aides insisted that he had been considering the review for some time and that it was not prompted by revelations that the FBI has been investigating former CIA director David Petraeus, a retired Army general, and Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The military has been scandalized by several other recent criminal and administrative probes into top officers, an exceedingly high number for a profession that prides itself on honor and probity.
The deputy commander of the storied 82nd Airborne Division was relieved in May in Afghanistan and is now facing criminal charges that he sexually assaulted or engaged in adultery with five women. Last month, the commander of an aircraft carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf was relieved for inappropriate leadership judgment and is under investigation by the Navy’s inspector general.
On Tuesday, Panetta demoted the former four-star commander of the military’s Africa Command and ordered him to repay $82,000 for taking lavish or unauthorized trips with his wife.
Another inspector general probe this fall castigated the three-star commander of the Missile Defense Agency for creating a toxic work environment, describing his style as management by blowtorch and pliers.
Panetta’s orders, which he signed Wednesday, directs Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to oversee a review of ethical culture in the military. The Pentagon said an interim report is due Dec. 1, and that Panetta will share the results with President Obama.
According to the directive, Panetta said he expects senior officers and civilian executives to exercise sound judgment in their stewardship of government resources and in their personal conduct. He added: An action may be legally permissible but neither advisable nor wise.
Panetta has directed the Defense Department’s inspector general to investigate potentially inappropriate behavior on the part of Allen after learning that the general and a Tampa socialite had sent each other thousands of emails over a three-year period.
The Pentagon has said that Allen, who is married, has denied any wrongdoing. Allen’s associates have said that he did not have an affair with the woman, 37-year-old Jill Kelley, who with her husband frequently entertained high-ranking military officials from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
The FBI has collected between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of documents, most of them emails, that Allen and Kelley sent to each other.
Kelley also was friends with Petraeus, who had been Allen’s boss at Central Command, which is based in Tampa. Petraeus’ mistress became jealous of their closeness and sent anonymous emails to Kelley, trying to keep the two apart.