Washington: The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation that uncovered the extramarital affair leading to the resignation of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director David Petraeus began after a woman complained to law enforcement officials about harassing emails, according to two officials briefed on the probe.
The FBI traced the emails to Paula Broadwell, the author of a Petraeus biography identified as having the affair with him, these officials say. They say her messages warned the other woman to stay away from Petraeus.
In their probe, investigators stumbled across what one of those familiar with it describe as extensive online correspondence between Broadwell and Petraeus, most and perhaps all of it using their respective Gmail accounts.
Within weeks, one of the most decorated retired generals in the US and chief of the leading spy agency was submitting his resignation to a just re-elected President Barack Obama.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgement by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Petraeus, 60, wrote on 9 November to CIA employees. “Such behaviour is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”
Despite the national security concerns raised by the disclosure, one official said, Petraeus’s downfall reads more like a soap opera than a spy novel.
Concerned after discovering correspondence because of an earlier Chinese hack into the Google Inc. email service, which the McAfee Internet security company dubbed Operation Aurora, the FBI was investigating whether Petraeus’s private or CIA email accounts had been compromised, the official said.
They so far have found no evidence of a security breach, any loss of classified material or any evidence that another foreign power was aware of Petraeus’s infidelity, which the official said could have exposed him to blackmail.
Three people, all intelligence, military or congressional officials, have identified Broadwell, who wrote All In: The Education of David Petraeus, as the woman who had an affair with Petraeus. There were no responses to an email to Broadwell or phone messages left at her home.
While the investigators interviewed Petraeus for the first time in late October, the official said, the FBI didn’t tell Petraeus’s nominal superior, director of national intelligence James Clapper, of its findings until late afternoon of Election Day, 6 November, a second US official said. Clapper, this official said, recognized immediately that Petraeus couldn’t remain at the CIA and informed national security adviser Tom Donilon of the matter on 7 November.
The first official said there appear to be no criminal or national security matters involved, adding that it isn’t clear if the FBI has closed its investigation.
The discovery of the affair, and ultimately the resignation of Petraeus, marks the derailment of the career of the man widely commended for his oversight of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often mentioned as a future presidential candidate, Petraeus disclosed the affair and the surrounding investigation in a meeting with the President on 8 November, according to a person familiar with the matter. He offered his resignation, which Obama accepted the next day.
“By any measure, he was one of the outstanding general officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges,” Obama said in a statement on 9 November. “In Iraq and Afghanistan,” the president said, “Petraeus helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end.”
CIA deputy director Michael Morell took over as acting director with Petraeus’s departure, Obama said. The President said he was completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission.
One official said that although the investigators were surprised to discover email evidence that Petraeus was having an affair, they didn’t report that to the House and Senate intelligence committees, despite the fact that such a relationship could have exposed national security secrets.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the news hit like a lightning bolt. Speaking on Fox News on Sunday, she said she returned to Washington the night of 8 November and heard about it then. She said she and the intelligence panel’s ranking Republican should have been informed of the situation earlier.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican who is vice-chairman of Feinstein’s committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” he wasn’t told about Petraeus until 9 November, though the intelligence community knew about it late on 6 November, which was Election Day.
House majority leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement that he had been contacted about the Petraeus situation prior to its public disclosure.
“I was contacted by an FBI employee concerned that sensitive, classified information may have been compromised and made certain director Mueller was aware of these serious allegations and the potential risk to our national security,” Cantor said in the statement.
Michael Kortan, an FBI spokesman, declined to comment.
The sensitivity of an extramarital affair at the CIA stems from the potential for exposure to blackmail, according to one US official, as well as the issue of a leader setting a bad example for subordinates. In Petraeus’s case, however, the affair did not jeopardize his high-level security clearances, because he already had passed the polygraph exam required for a top secret clearance as a senior military officer and didn’t need to retake it at the CIA, the official said.
Broadwell’s book examining Petraeus’s career and leadership style began as her PhD dissertation. In 2010, Broadwell was embedded with the general, his headquarters staff and his soldiers on the front lines of fighting across Afghanistan, according to information on her website, www.paulabroadwell.com, which has been taken down.
In her book’s preface and during a 25 January appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”, Broadwell said she had interviewed Petraeus while the two went running.
“I thought I’d test him, but he was going to test me,” Broadwell told host Jon Stewart. “It ended up being a test for both of us.”