Pentagon downplays Allen emails

The general’s emails were “flirtatious,” but not a security breach.

That’s the leading message being spun out of the Pentagon on Tuesday, where a defense official, speaking anonymously, hastily huddled reporters to offer an official description of the emails between Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen and Jill Kelley, the Tampa woman who allegedly was being harassed by former CIA Director David Petraeus’s mistress.

“They’re not security-related. They’re not, I don’t know, information about acquisition or contracting. They’re not hate or threatening. We picked that word to kind of help put it into a category,” said the official.

The word describes 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails now under investigation by the Defense Department inspector general, revealed in a statement by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta early Tuesday morning. Panetta is traveling in Asia, and the Allen investigation was revealed to reporters aboard his airplane en route to Australia.

The emails were described as “current,” running from 2010 through this year, but the official was hesitant to characterize just how explicit was the language between the general and the Florida socialite.

“‘Flirtatious’ can cover everything from something fairly innocuous all the way over to something -- sexting.”

“He has denied he had an affair,” said the official, of Allen. “I believe he has told the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey].” Secretary Panetta has not spoken with Allen, the official added.

President Obama has "faith" in Allen, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday. Carney said the White House had no personnel changes to announce relating to the scandals and cautioned against "extrapolating" from the Allen and Petraeus cases any wider misconduct across the officer corps.

Still, the massive volume of correspondence warrants the inspector general’s investigation to determine if they indeed violated a military code, namely “conduct that would bring discredit to the service,” according to the defense official.

Allen was in Washington when the scandal broke, where he was preparing for a Thursday confirmation hearing to become the next NATO commander. That nomination is now on hold, but Allen remains scheduled to return to Kabul on Saturday, the official said. “He is entitled to due process in this matter,” Panetta said in his statement.

Allen delivered his long-awaited recommendations for how President Obama should prosecute the war in Afghanistan through 2014, it was revealed on Monday. Panetta said the Pentagon and White House have begun their review of those recommendations, which have not been made public.

Gen. John Dunford is still scheduled to keep his Thursday confirmation hearing appointment with the Senate Armed Services Committee to become Allen's replacement as COMISAF. Reportedly, Dunford was supposed take command from Allen in February. By law, Allen has to give up the command within 60 days of Dunford's confirmation by the full Senate, which could slide the change-of-command deadline into January.

Though Panetta, in his Tuesday statement, requested the Senate to “act promptly” on Dunford’s nomination, the official said, “The secretary has not made indication that he is going to change the timeline.”

DOD photo