Connecting the Petraeus Dots: Details of His Affair Emerge Rapidly

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, gives his assessment of ongoing operations there during a program hosted by the National Journal and The Newseum, Friday, March 18, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo)
Photo: STF

All political sex scandals are special in their own way, but the circumstances surrounding David Petraeus’s resignation are especially riveting. Last night, it was revealed that Paula Broadwell, the author of a fawning biography of Petraeus, is the woman with whom he had the affair that caused him to give up his position as director of the CIA. Broadwell is a West Point graduate, mother of two, and wife to a physician (who apparently did not turn to the New York Times for advice on how to handle Broadwell’s romantic relationship with Petraeus.) She first met Petraeus when she was finishing up a graduate degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. After discussing her interest in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, the two began a correspondence that eventually inspired Broadwell to pursue a Ph.D. dissertation on Petraeus’s career (which later became All In: The Education of David Petraeus — hold the jokes, please).

While researching the book, she was embedded with Petraeus (who she called “Peaches”) in Afganistan, where the two regularly went on long runs together. During the many media appearances and interviews Broadwell did to promote the book, she referred to Petraeus as a “mentor.” In retrospect, her behavior hinted at an even closer relationship. In September, when the Daily Princetonian ran a story on Petraeus (a Princeton alum once seen as a possible replacement for the school’s outgoing president), the paper sought “independent comment” from Broadwell “as an author” and found that she instead acted like a spokesman: 

Gen. Petraeus is going to send some thoughts which I’ll pass along to you this afternoon,” she said in an email.

Even once the ‘Prince’ clarified that it sought independent comment from Broadwell herself as an author – rather than asking her to speak for Petraeus as a spokesman, because the ‘Prince’ had already contacted the CIA press office – Broadwell emailed responses that suggested that she had been in touch with him.

“He is not interested in the Princeton job that I know (though I know he knows it is open)” she said in response to one question.

“When he responds to your below email,” Broadwell said, referring to the email sent to the CIA press office, “I’ll share what I can.”

She was also frequently called out for her positively glowing depiction of her subject. In a 2012 interview with Arthur Kade unearthed by the New York Observer, Broadwell described a research process that included “extensive” interviews, phone calls, and e-mails. But, she said, “It’s not a hagiography, I’m not in love with David Petraeus, but I think he does present a terrific role model for young people, for executives, for men and women. No matter what, there’s a great role model there.” 

As Slate’s Fred Kaplan reported yesterday, “It had long been rumored that something was going on between Petraeus and Broadwell,” though many dismissed Petraeus as too “square” to cheat on his wife. Today, an anonymous source who supposedly knows both Petraeus and Broadwell told Business Insider, “I’m not sure anyone really ‘knew,’ per se. But it’s one of those things that, as soon as the announcement was made, I knew in an instant who it was. Everything made sense.” 

According to a source who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, the affair began in August 2011 — after Petraeus had retired from the Army — and ended a few months ago, but that timeline is called into question by the Washington Post’s reporting.  The affair was revealed semi-accidentally after the FBI was contacted “several weeks ago” by an unidentified woman who received “harassing” e-mails from Broadwell. The Post reports that the woman was “so frightened” by the content of the emails that she sought the agency’s protection and help in tracking down Broadwell. 

One Congressional official who was briefed on the matter on Friday said senior intelligence officials had explained that the F.B.I. investigation “started with two women.”

It didn’t start with Petraeus, but in the course of the investigation they stumbled across him,” said the Congressional official, who said the intelligence officials had provided no other information about the two women or the focus of the inquiry.

The Post provides no further information about the woman who contacted the FBI, but a source told the Times that she is neither a family member nor a government official, which, if true, would mean it wasn’t Petraeus’s wife. Was it someone else whom Broadwell felt she had reason to be jealous of? NBC has also reported that Broadwell is being investigated for “improperly” accessing Petraeus’s personal Gmail account. The FBI apparently became concerned that messages sent from Petraeus’s personal email “raised the possibility of security breaches that needed to be addressed directly with him.”

As many have pointed out, the possibility that Broadwell was able to get into Petraeus’s Gmail underscores its susceptibility to people even more dangerous than an angry girlfriend — like, for example, foreign spies. (Not unrelated: Buzzfeed reports that Broadwell’s own Yahoo address once appeared on a list of accounts hacked by Anonymous.) However, the Justice Department’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has since indicated that he “does not see the case as a security threat” and will not be investigating the matter further. 

The lack of a follow-up investigation suggests there was no security breach, and— contrary to conspiracy theories and questions from Rep. Peter King about when Obama was told —  also suggests that the matter was not reported to the President until recently because of its strictly personal nature. The Times quotes a government official as saying: “People think that because it’s the C.I.A. director, it must involve bigger issues” and “Think of a small circle of people who know each other.” 

Yet it seems that Petraeus had little choice but to give up his CIA directorship. Though President Obama reportedly took 24 hours to accept his resignation, Clapper reportedly told Petraeus that stepping down was “the right thing to do.” However, former CIA officer Bob Baer echoed the sentiments of many when he told Politico that he found it “extraordinary” that Petraeus had publicly acknowledged the affair: “People always say they’re leaving for, supposedly, family reasons…[Petraeus] could have gone to the CIA’s security chief and said, ‘I’m having an affair with an American citizen.’ And that would have been the end of it.”

So far, no one has been able to reach Broadwell for comment. The lights were off at her home in Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday night, though two cars were in the driveway. The New York Times reported that one curious (and, as of then, clueless neighbor) mistook the news trucks amassed outside the house for the crew of Homeland, which is shot in Charlotte. While this doesn’t quite equal the drama of Showtime’s CIA thriller, it’s already proving to be as interesting as a real life scandal can be. 

Details of Petraeus Affair Emerge Rapidly