Gen. John Allen Cleared In Email Probe

A Pentagon investigation has cleared General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The Pentagon had been looking into whether the general's email correspondence with a Florida socialite was inappropriate and violated military rules. Allen's nomination to become the top commander of NATO is still on hold, however.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, the Pentagon says the U.S. commander in Afghanistan is cleared. Gen. John Allen was caught in a scandal last fall. You may recall, he'd been corresponding by email with a Florida socialite; and the question for the Pentagon was whether Gen. Allen's emails were inappropriate. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman followed the story back then. He's with us now. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I feel like we need a little review here, for people who haven't memorized the national security section of TMZ. So could you just remind us - Gen. David Petraeus, who - a former general, the head of the CIA, resigned because he'd had an affair; and then Gen. Allen got drawn into this. How did that happen?

BOWMAN: It's very complicated. First of all, the emails were between Gen. Allen and a woman in Florida who was connected to the Petraeus case. And just to remind everyone, her name is Jill Kelley.

INSKEEP: Right.

BOWMAN: She's a socialite; sort of a social ambassador to the military at MacDill Air Force Base. That's where Gen. Allen and Gen. Petraeus served, in recent years. Now, Kelley's the woman who complained about receiving threatening emails, and that prompted an FBI investigation. And that, of course, led to the discovery that CIA director David Petraeus had been having an affair with a woman named Paula Broadwell. Now, initial reports from the Pentagon said there were about 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails...

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

BOWMAN: ...between Gen. Allen and Jill Kelley, over several years; but that seemed, you know, pretty high. The numbers seem to be much smaller - in the hundreds. And Gen. Allen denied any wrongdoing, right from the start. He denied any kind of affair with this woman.

INSKEEP: OK. So the Pentagon's inspector general looked into this. The question was, what? Did he violate any military regulations - that was the question?

BOWMAN: That's right. Improper conduct and allegations of, quote, "inappropriate communications" were not substantiated, in the end. And right now, there's not much more detail we have, than that.

INSKEEP: So this means he's cleared of all wrongdoing. He's in the clear - is that right?

BOWMAN: That's right.

INSKEEP: OK. So he had been the president's choice to lead NATO. Is that still going to happen? Because even if he's been cleared, his name has been out there in an uncomfortable way.

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know yet. The White House says his nomination to be head of NATO is still on hold. But the good news, for him, is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put out a statement last night, saying he has complete confidence in Gen. Allen. So we'll just have to wait and see.

INSKEEP: Is it clear to you, Tom, what was in these - perhaps hundreds of communications? Do the - does the investigation say any more about that?

BOWMAN: You know, it doesn't. And they were looking at - I was told - about half-dozen emails they thought were sort of untoward. But someone I spoke with said there really wasn't anything, in the end. There was kind of - little smoke, but not really any fire here.

INSKEEP: And if he had been found to be having an affair, would that have been a violation of military regulations?

BOWMAN: Right. It's against UCMJ, Uniform Code of Military Justice, to have an affair. And there may have been other charges tacked on as well. But yeah, it's against military law.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's broaden out our picture of this man - John Allen. A lot of people had probably not heard his name until the scandal, but he's well-known in military circles, isn't he?

BOWMAN: That's right. He's a very brainy guy; kind of quiet. He would sometimes call women "sweetie" or "darling" - his aides said - in a sort of courtly, Southern way; also, not - Steve - your really, kind of hell-raising Marine. But the important thing is, he was a key figure during the Iraq War. He was an architect of what was called the Sunni Awakening, back in 2006 and 2007. And that was an effort to get Sunni leaders and their fighters to work with the Americans and the Iraqi government.

INSKEEP: Right.

BOWMAN: And that really helped tamp down the violence in Iraq, and it really turned the war around. And I don't think he ever got enough credit for that. But he, again, was a key figure. And of course, the last couple of years, he's been in Afghanistan, managing the drawdown of U.S. troops.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

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