When a story has all the right elements to draw an audience in – political intrigue, emotional drama, philandering government officials – then it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way onto a screen of some size, somewhere. Such is the hope of producers Ron Senkowski and Michael De Luca, who have just acquired the book Collateral Damage: Petraeus, Power, Politics And The Abuse Of Privacy, written by Jill Kelley.
Jill Kelley is an American socialite and Honorary Ambassador to the U.S. Central Command Coalition whose stalking complaint to the FBI in 2012 sparked a controversy that toppled the CIA Director, General David Petraeus. More than just a political scandal, however, the episode highlighted the issue of privacy with regard to government surveillance – as Jill Kelley explained to Deadline.
“In 2012, I innocently reported a life-changing stalking crime. As a result, politically pressured government agents snooped through my private e-mails, unfairly turning my innocent family’s life upside down, and it cost my closest friends, General John Allen, FBI Agent Fred Humpheries and CIA Director David Petraeus, their reputations and careers. Even though politicians tell generals to not politicize things, it’s a farce. The government ultimately controls things in ways nobody yet fully understands, but which many are beginning to believe. Beyond what Snowden has brought to the public’s attention, my harrowing story is a cautionary tale that every American fears: the damage that can be caused by our government’s intrusive surveillance and electronic overreach — the collection of everything about everyone –and the catastrophe that can occur when government agents are given free rein to collect and dragnet private communications.”
When Kelley complained to the FBI that she was receiving threatening emails in 2012, the ensuing investigation uncovered the fact that the emails allegedly originated from biographer Paula Broadwell, who had been working closely with General Petraeus on a book. It seemed that Broadwell and Petraeus had engaged in an extra-marital affair, and that Broadwell was jealous of Kelley’s platonic friendship with the CIA Director. As official concern moved the investigation to the question of whether Petraeus had shared classified information with Broadwell, Kelley found that her own private communications were also being trawled for evidence.
Producer Ron Senkowski expanded upon all the reasons why this story would make for a compelling limited television event.
“Nothing is missing from this true story. It has it all: a scorned ex-mistress entrapping the sitting director of the CIA, the FBI secretly reading CIA private communications for over six months and holding back evidence during an historic presidential election, a national manhunt called off by a Defense Department power broker who calls himself the Big Dog, and CIA bodyguards jet-skiing on the Potomac while protecting the director so he could have secret meetings while paddle-boarding. Add in sexual intrigue, exposed cover-ups and the fact that even today new information is being revealed, and we have a story for a very wide audience.”
But it is the hot-button topic of surveillance and vulnerability in the digital age that make the idea of Collateral Damage so interesting – not least for those that have already experienced the scrutiny that type of intrusion brings, like producer Michael De Luca.
“Any of us can make mistakes and one bad moment should not define your entire life. Add to that the invasion of Jill’s privacy, and the overreach of surveillance that is becoming more of an issue. How much privacy can we count on? As a victim of that Sony hack, this cuts very close to the bone for me.”
While the project is in its earliest days, Collateral Damage will undoubtedly prove to be a high profile endeavour once a script is eventually completed. With The People Vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story having been a ratings winner, networks can surely rest assured that the audience is there to be tapped – it simply requires the right writers and directors to do so. We’ll be watching closely for further updates.