The FBI investigation that uncovered the extramarital affair leading to the resignation of CIA Director David H. Petraeus began after a woman complained to law enforcement officials about harassing e-mails, according to two officials briefed on the probe.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation traced the e-mails 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 G-mail accounts.
Within weeks, one of the most decorated retired generals in the U.S. and chief of the leading spy agency was submitting his resignation to a just-reelected President Barack Obama.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Petraeus, 60, wrote Nov. 9 to Central Intelligence Agency employees. “Such behavior 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. e-mail service, which the McAfee Internet security company dubbed “Operation Aurora,” the FBI was investigating whether Petraeus’s private or CIA e-mail 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 e-mail 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, Nov. 6, a second U.S. 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 Nov. 7.
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 U.S. 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 Nov. 8, 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 Nov. 9. 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 e-mail 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 Sunday,” she said she returned to Washington the night of Nov. 8 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 Nov. 9, though the intelligence community knew about it late Nov. 6, which was Election Day.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement 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 U.S. 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 Ph.D 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 Jan. 25 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.”
National Security Vacancy
The sudden departure of Petraeus leaves another national security vacancy for Obama to fill, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expected to leave sometime next year, possibly along with Clapper.
Morell, who is close to Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough and other members of the National Security Council staff, is a leading candidate to succeed Petraeus, along with Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss possible options.
Another potential candidate, former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, has shown no interest in the job.
Commending Petraeus for his “drive and focus” at the agency, Morell said in a statement to CIA employees that “our top priority now is what it always has been -- to stay focused on mission and on all the important work we do.”
Petraeus got mixed reviews from intelligence officers he commanded. While some admired his intellect and political savvy, others regarded him as too enamored of drone strikes and other military operations, excessively self-assured and not sufficiently interested in continuing to rebuild the CIA’s less glamorous human intelligence capabilities, officials said.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Petraeus retired from the Army in 2011 to take the helm of the CIA. Before that, he was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Petraeus, a specialist in counter-insurgency tactics, became well known in Washington circles during his time overseeing and implementing President George W. Bush’s 2007 “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq. In regular appearances on Capitol Hill, some involving members of Congress questioning both the war strategy and the conflict itself, he garnered support among many lawmakers.
The U.S. Senate, sharply divided along political lines, approved his nomination for CIA director by 94-0 in June 2011.
‘An Enormous Loss’
Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Feinstein called the resignation “an enormous loss” for the intelligence community and country.
“General Petraeus is one of America’s most outstanding and distinguished military leaders and a true American patriot,” Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who heads the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.
A fitness buff and avid runner who earned his Ph.D in international relations from Princeton University, Petraeus had a distinguished 37-year military career. He co-authored the army’s counterinsurgency manual, which became the blueprint for forces in Iraq under his leadership.
He also stepped in, at Obama’s request, to command the war in Afghanistan after Army General Stanley McChrystal resigned after an embarrassing article in Rolling Stone magazine.
Petraeus leaves an agency embroiled in the fallout from the deaths of four U.S. citizens, including the ambassador to Libya, in the Sept. 11 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Republican lawmakers have been pressing the Obama administration, CIA and State Department for more information about what occurred during the attack.
Petraeus was set to testify at the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. He no longer will appear at the Nov. 15 session, according to Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Feinstein. He also will not appear at a House Intelligence Committee hearing, according to a House aide.
Senator Chambliss said on ABC’s “This Week” that Petraeus may still be called to testify “at some point in time.” House Homeland Security committee’s King called Petraeus “an absolutely essential witness” on CNN yesterday.
Petraeus, who faced his first major combat experience in Iraq in 2003, was shot in the chest during a training exercise at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in 1991 when another soldier tripped and accidentally fired his M-16 rifle. The surgeon who operated on him was Dr. Bill Frist, who later served as a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee.
Obama said that he wished Petraeus and his wife, Holly, “the very best at this difficult time.” The president commended Holly Petraeus, assistant director for service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, helping safeguard military service members against fraud, for doing “so much to help military families through her own work.”
Petraeus and his wife met while he was a cadet at West Point. She’s the daughter of General William A. Knowlton, who was West Point’s superintendent when Petraeus was in school. The couple have two children.
During the ceremony last year marking Petraeus’s retirement from the military, the general praised his wife for holding the family together when he was gone. “She’s been Mrs. Dad for the bulk of the past decade,” he said.
Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, said at the ceremony: “I’m sure Holly hopes this next job will last a little longer, so she can finally take the movers off speed dial.”
Petraeus becomes the latest in a line of public figures whose careers were derailed or ended by affairs. Former Senator John Edwards, a presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008, acknowledged an affair and fathering a child out of wedlock.
Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, acknowledged an affair with a former campaign staffer and eventually resigned amid a Senate ethics probe. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned after he admitted cheating on his wife with prostitutes.
Others, including President Bill Clinton, have survived extramarital activities. Clinton denied having an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and was impeached for making false statements to federal investigators.
Clinton has returned to the public stage, campaigning for Obama’s re-election this year at nearly 30 events.
Broadwell graduated with academic, fitness and leadership honors from West Point, according to the Penguin Speakers Bureau. During more than 15 years of military service, she has served with the U.S. intelligence community, Special Operations Command and FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, the speakers bureau said.
In her book preface, posted online, she said she first met Petraeus in 2006 as a graduate student at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government when he was visiting Harvard.
Broadwell described Petraeus as a mentor, and said they went on “a lot of runs” in Kabul while she was researching her book. She said the general’s nickname was “Peaches.”
In a Nov. 5 Newsweek article she wrote about Petraeus’s rules for living, Broadwell lists as No. 5: “We all will make mistakes. The key is to recognize them and admit them, to learn from them, and to take off the rear view mirrors -- drive on and avoid making them again.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com