In the midst of a scandal that has ensnared one of the most prominent generals of his generation as well as the current NATO commander in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has ordered the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review ethics training programs for senior officers, Pentagon officials said on Thursday.
Mr. Panetta, who was in Bangkok to sign a new defense cooperation agreement with Thailand, directed the chairman, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, to determine whether the training programs were adequate and to report back in time for him to send an interim report to President Obama by Dec. 1.
“The fundamental mission of the Department of Defense is to protect the nation,” Mr. Panetta said in a memo to General Dempsey sent Wednesday. “Any behavior that negatively impacts our ability to perform that mission is unacceptable.”
Pentagon officials said that Mr. Panetta was not reacting to pressure from the White House and that the impetus for the review had come from him. They insisted that Mr. Panetta had planned the review of the ethics programs even before David H. Petraeus, a celebrated retired general, resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Friday because of an extramarital affair.
Since then, Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, has come under investigation for what a law enforcement official said Wednesday were a series of sexually explicit e-mails between him and Jill Kelley, a woman from Tampa, Fla., active in local military circles. Associates of General Allen’s say the e-mails are innocuous.
“This was going to happen anyway,” George E. Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said of the review.
This year, there have in fact been an unusually large number of senior military officers investigated or fired for sexual improprieties, sexual violence, malfeasance or poor judgment.
Gen. William E. Ward, the former commander of the United States Africa Command, was this week ordered to repay the Army $82,000 for misusing government money for travel and lodging, and will be retired at the lower rank of lieutenant general.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, is confronting the military equivalent of a grand jury to decide whether he should stand trial on charges of adultery, sexual misconduct and forcible sodomy. James H. Johnson III, a former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was expelled from the Army, fined and reduced in rank to lieutenant colonel from colonel after being convicted of bigamy and fraud.
The Air Force, in the meantime, is struggling to recover from a scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where six male instructors were charged with crimes that included rape and adultery. In the Navy, Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette was relieved of command of the Stennis aircraft carrier strike group because of “inappropriate leadership judgment.”
In his memo, Mr. Panetta said the Defense Department would continue to hold officers accountable for violations of its standards and rules and that he expected sound judgment as well. “An action may be legally permissible but neither advisable nor wise,” he said.
He noted that the “vast majority” of senior military officers led by example and enforced ethical standards.
Mr. Panetta said at a news conference in Bangkok on Thursday that there was no evidence so far that more military officers would get drawn into the scandal enveloping Mr. Petraeus and General Allen. Nonetheless, he spoke cautiously.
“I am not aware of any others that could be involved in this issue at the present time,” Mr. Panetta said. “Obviously, as this matter continues to be investigated both on Capitol Hill and by the inspector general, I’m sure we’ll have to wait and see what additional factors are brought to our attention.”