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Ethics questions reach top echelons of military


Tom Vanden Brook


WASHINGTON -- Three of the military's most senior leaders are embroiled in ethics scandals, a black eye for an institution that prides itself on integrity.

The latest, Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation for more than 20,000 pages of material, including e-mails sent to Jill Kelley, the woman involved in the scandal that led David Petraeus to resign as CIA director. Allen succeeded Petraeus in Kabul.

The two did not appear to have a romantic relationship, said a senior Pentagon official who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because of the investigation. An Associated Press report Tuesday morning called the e-mails "flirtatious."

Allen is married and has children. Military law makes adultery illegal.

Experts speculate that these alleged lapses may stem from the sense of entitlement in the upper reaches that exists not just in the armed services.

"It's an old narrative that those at the top often become poisoned by their power," said Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "We've unfortunately seen the same thing in business, politics, sports, etc. on a regular basis. The difference is, I guess, we've come to expect the worst in these other once respected institutions, sadly even in the church."

Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst also at the Brookings Institution, advised caution in assessing Allen's case and drawing any larger conclusions about military leadership.

"I remain strongly of the view that Gen. Allen is innocent until proven guilty -- and I am of the view that he probably isn't guilty of anything at all," O'Hanlon said. "Let's learn a little more before even fashioning hypotheses."

Two other members of the top brass face ethics probes of their own.

Adm. James Stavridis, head of European Command, was criticized last week in a Pentagon inspector general's report that cited his use of military aircraft for personal business, including a trip to a Burgundy wine-tasting society.

This year, Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward, head of U.S. Africa Command, was hammered by another inspector general's report for lavish travel and improper use of military transportation and staff. The report said Ward and his wife had staff pick up their laundry and do their shopping.

Tuesday, a senior U.S. official said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has stripped Ward of a star, which means that he will retire as a three-star lieutenant general, and that he will repay the government $82,000. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss a personnel matter.

Allen is one of the military's star officers. He gained prominence in Iraq in 2007 as a deputy commander in what was then the restive province of Anbar. Marines there helped tame the insurgency.

It was Allen whose disclosures to USA TODAY about the success of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected trucks in protecting troops from roadside bombs caught the attention of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who made them the Pentagon's top priority.

Allen quickly ascended the upper ranks of the military and beginning in 2008 spent three years based in Tampa as deputy commander of Central Command.

Tampa is also Kelley's home, where she acted as an unpaid social liaison to the military.

Allen had been scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing this week for his new post: succeeding Stavridis as chief of European Command. That hearing has been postponed at the request of Panetta and the White House.

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