Flirting over e-mail is not a crime

Sending flirtatious e-mails is not a crime. It’s not even a social faux pas. So if that is all General John R. Allen has done, the Pentagon’s inspector general should say so as soon as possible and put this distracting inquiry to rest.

So far, Pentagon officials have declined to describe exactly what would constitute “inappropriate communication” between Allen and Jill Kelley, an unpaid social liaison in Florida who frequently threw parties for top military brass. Until they let the public know what that means — and whether Allen is guilty of it — the entire US military will be left pondering whether calling someone “sweetheart” in an e-mail violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It should not, and, barring an actual breach of national security or military rules, the Pentagon should back off.

President Obama has said he has “faith” in Allen, who is the top military commander in Afghanistan, and that the emails posed no security threat. More than likely, the Pentagon is scrutinizing e-mails between Allen and Kelley out of an abundance of caution following the admitted affair between another four-star general, the now-retired David Petraeus, and his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Adultery is a violation of the uniform code of military conduct if it brings dishonor to the armed forces or interferes with military duties. If sergeants are prosecuted for it, then generals should be as well.


But so far, there is no evidence that Allen is guilty of anything other than using a familiar tone. It is unfortunate that Petraeus’s terrible judgment is threatening to derail the career of a colleague who does not appear to have made the same mistake.

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Both sets of e-mails came to light when Kelley complained to the FBI about harassing e-mails from an anonymous person, who turned out to be Broadwell. One e-mail, apparently written under the name “KelleyPatrol,” reportedly warned Allen that Kelley was a “seductress” and that he should not get involved with her.

Allen, who is in the midst of planning the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, has more important things to worry about than e-mails from a woman who acts like a fifth-grader. The Pentagon should do all it can to investigate quickly, and then return the military’s focus to threats that actually matter.