FBI, DOJ Knew About Petraeus Affair For Months

The David Petraeus/Paula Broadwell story gets curiouser.

Every day seems to bringing out new revelations about the events that led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus. Originally, it was reported that the story had only come to light in the days preceding the resignation, then it was reported that the FBI investigation that led to the revelations had become several weeks ago but that White House officials weren’t informed until last Tuesday. Now, The New York Times is reporting that the FBI was aware of the affair since at least the summer:

WASHINGTON — High-level officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department were notified in the late summer that F.B.I. agents had uncovered what appeared to be an extramarital affair involving the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, government officials said Sunday.

But law enforcement officials did not notify anyone outside the F.B.I. or the Justice Department until last week because the investigation was incomplete and initial concerns about possible security breaches, which would demand more immediate action, did not appear to be justified, the officials said.

The new accounts of the events that led to Mr. Petraeus’s sudden resignation on Friday shed light on the competing pressures facing F.B.I. agents who recognized the high stakes of any investigation involving the C.I.A. director but who were wary of exposing a private affair with no criminal or security implications. For the first time Sunday, the woman whose report of harassing e-mails led to the exposure of the affair was identified as Jill Kelley, 37, of Tampa, Fla.

Some members of Congress have protested the delay in being notified of the F.B.I.’s investigation of Mr. Petraeus until just after the presidential election. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that her committee would “absolutely” demand an explanation. An F.B.I. case involving the C.I.A. director “could have had an effect on national security,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think we should have been told.”

But the bureau’s history would make the privacy question especially significant; in his decades-long reign as the F.B.I.’s first director, J. Edgar Hoover sometimes directed agents to spy improperly on the sex lives of public figures and then used the resulting information to pressure or blackmail them.

Law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the investigation, defended the F.B.I.’s handling of the case. “There are a lot of sensitivities in a case like this,” said a senior law enforcement official. “There were hints of possible intelligence and security issues, but they were unproven. You constantly ask yourself, ‘What are the notification requirements? What are the privacy issues?’ “

This raises several questions.

If the FBI new as long ago as summer that there was no national security breach involved in the relationship between Petraeus and Broadwell, which was apparently coming to an end at the time, then why did they continue investigating the matter? When did the “threatening” emails from Broadwell to another woman, now identified as State Department military liaison Jill Kelley, occur? Did that happen in the summer, or more recently as reports over the weekend indicated? If those emails were recent, then why was the FBI investigating the relationship between Petraeus and Broadwell over the summer, had something else come to light? And, what about the reports from some sources that Broadwell had access to Petraeus’s personal (non-CIA) email account? And, finally, if the CIA Director was under FBI surveillance months ago then why wasn’t someone in the White House informed? It seems to me that the fact that the FBI is investigating your CIA Director is something a President would like to be informed about.

Dylan Byers reports today that Broadwell often spoke of having access to classified information:

Paula Broadwell, the author, military reservist and West Point graduate who reportedly had an extramarital affair with former CIA director David Petraeus, told an audience this summer that she routinely had access to classified information while researching a book on Petraeus’s work as the commanding general in Afghanistan.

During a panel discussion, Broadwell said her background  in the military and her continuing obligations as a major in the Army Reserve made her particularly careful not to disclose sensitive information she was privy to while an “embed” in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

“I was entrusted with this opportunity to sit in on high level meetings with General Petraeus. Sitting in on SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility] meetings in the morning, listen to classified chatter of terrorist talk and so forth. And I had that background anyhow, so I knew a lot of that information for my writing, but I knew there was a clear line that I couldn’t cross when I was writing it out,” Broadwell said in the July 2012 discussion at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Broadwell acknowledged that her connection to the military and her role as a writer sometimes caused confusion among military personnel she encountered while working on the book.

“I was embedded with Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan and it was a little confusing for some of the folks there because I’m also a military reservist with a top secret/SCI clearance and then some. So, a lot of my former peers didn’t know how to treat me. Was I journalist Broadwell or was I Major Broadwell?” she recalled. “I had to follow very clear lines of non-disclosure and signed non-disclosure agreements like my colleagues. I felt like I was almost held to a higher level of accountability because I could lose my clearance.”

And Eli Lake notes that Broadwell may have revealed classified information in a speech last month:

The woman at the center of the alleged adultery scandal that led CIA Director David Petraeus to resign on Friday gave a speech last month asserting otherwise unreported information about the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Speaking on Oct. 26 at the University of Denver, Paula Broadwell—the married author of the highly favorable biography of Petraeus All In—was asked about the 9/11 anniversary attack.

“Now I don’t know if a lot of you heard this,” she replied, “but the CIA annex had actually—had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being vetted.”

(It’s possible Broadwell was confusing details broadcast ealier that day by Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffen, who’d reported that three of the Libyan attackers were briefly held at the annex—not the consulate—before being turned over to a local militia.)

As her answer continued, Broadwell seemed to speak on behalf of Petraeus: “The challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position he is not allowed to communicate with the press. So he’s known all of this, they had correspondence with the CIA station chief in Libya. Within 24 hours they kind of knew what was happening.”

I personally don’t care that David Petraeus the man had an affair, that’s a private matter between him, his wife, and the “other woman.” I do care that the CIA Director was hiding a potentially damaging secret for the better part of his tenure at Langley and that someone outside the organization such as Broadwell may have had access to information she should not have had access to. At that point we are talking about a National Security matter, and I really have to wonder why the FBI and the DOJ sat on this information for months.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. steve says:

    If you were CIA director and I called the FBI claiming you were having an affair, what level of evidence should they have before they take it to the White House or Congress? Assume summer means late August. Is 2 1/2 months a long time to investigate this? Just asking because I really dont know. It just seems to me that people keep making judgments based on inadequate information and knowing the eventual outcome. Assume the counterfactual. Someone makes an untrue claim. The FBI immediately tells Congress about the allegation, then investigates. What are the chances it is kept quiet? What harm would be done? Would it reward false claims?


  2. This didn’t start with someone coming to the FBI claiming that Petraeus was having an affair. It started with a woman in Tampa, now identified as Jill Kelley as noted above, who contacted a friend in the FBI after receiving something like 60 emails of a threatening natures. Those emails turned out to be from Paula Broadwell. It was in the course of discovering that fact that the FBI apparently learned of the affair with Petraeus.

  3. LaMont says:

    I’ll admit that I do not know much about FBI investigations or what triggers them but why did the FBI initially feel there was value in investigating someone’s complaint of “threatening” emails? Is it because of the nature of the position the complaintee holds? It appears to me that there may be more to that story then what we are being led to believe.

  4. Dave Schuler says:


    I think the answer is enough for a prima facie case which, according to reports, the FBI has had for some time. Continuing “until the investigation is complete” is thwarting Congress’s oversight responsibility.

  5. @Dave Schuler:

    Indeed, that’s the other angle to this. Neither of the Chairs of the respective Intelligence Committees in the Senate and House were apparently informed about this until sometime shortly before Petraeus’s resignation was announced.

  6. LaMont says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Jill Kelley …, who contacted a friend in the FBI

    I guess that could explain it too. She simply had “the hook-up”!

  7. Argon says:

    Doug: “I personally don’t care that David Petraeus the man had an affair, that’s a private matter between him, his wife, and the “other woman.” I do care that the CIA Director was hiding a potentially damaging secret for the better part of his tenure at Langley and that someone outside the organization such as Broadwell may have had access to information she should not have had access to.”

    These things tend to happen together, particularly among the ambitious and ego-driven. That’s why we should care about the head of the CIA having an affair. The borders between personal and professional life are *porous*. Broadwell got special favors and high levels of access to information and people from that relationship.

  8. Tillman says:
  9. Argon says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    One of the reasons the FBI would tend not to inform other groups is to prevent obstruction and interference in a case. In other words, to reduce the likelihood of political shenanigans.

  10. JKB says:

    The real question is, how can the FBI surveil the CIA director electronically and possibly physically without the CIA security detail running the director’s protection noticing? And once you have two agencies tussling, you have top level notification. If Holder knew, the White House knew.

    But it appears it was an indiscretion. One which we learned from Clinton isn’t a big deal. Access to his private email isn’t really an issue as it is a violation of security protocols to transmit classified information outside the classified networks. And she has a security clearance. As such, access to classified information at or below her clearance isn’t a breach if approved by the classifying authority. The D/CIA is a classifying authority and I suspect so would the various CinC billets held by Petraeus.

    So in reality, nothing illegal happened here.

  11. Tsar Nicholas says:

    I’m well aware the Internet is a naive place, but are we really that naive to think the White House didn’t know about this? Seriously? Really?

    Hell, that actually would a lot worse than if they did know about it but kept it hushed up until after the election.

    The latter scenario would be understandable in terms of the Machiavellian realities of politics. It would be axiomatic. Obviously they would not have wanted a scandal distracting from their reelection campaign. Then Benghazi happened and the White House immediately decided to go on all in on a cover up (a YouTube video? Really?). So at that point there would have been no way in hell they could have taken the chance of the public also finding out the CIA Director himself was tainted. Fine. Understood.

    But let’s go ahead and assume the opposite. If the White House didn’t know about l’affaire Petraeus then think about how many layers of clusterf***s had to be in the works. The CIA Director is being investigated and the POTUS is kept out of the loop. The CIA Director. Not the guy sorting mail at the CIA. The Director of the f’n CIA. So the POTUS is on a need to know basis not only regarding a cabinet official but specifically the guy in charge of the CIA. Really? Wow. Great. Terrific. I feel so much better now.

  12. rudderpedals says:

    No questions about Eric Cantor’s role in this? There should be. Avoiding the obvious political elephant in the room sets off the benghazi derangement / reality vs. closure alarm bells.

  13. Franklin says:

    curiouser? more curious?

  14. DC Loser says:

    CIA employees are routinely asked during their regular polygraph examinations (look up “lifestyle polygraph” on the internet) about their personal lives. Having an extramarital affair is considered poor judgment and can be exploited by foreign intelligence services if discovered. This alone can disqualify an employee from having a security clearance according to adjudication guidelines.

  15. Geek, Esq. says:

    We’re talking about the Military Messiah according to our media. One would have to proceed with extreme caution to preserve one’s career.

    “Do not wound the Prince.”

  16. Dave Schuler says:


    Reducing “political shenanigans” is not the FBI’s job. Oversight of the executive branch is Congress’s job. Interfering with Congress’s job is overstepping.

  17. Nick says:

    Not unlike the Benghazi affair, I can see that a lack of actual information will not keep you and other bloggers and bloviators from speculating about the nature of this affair. Bloggers really distinguished themselves for their lack of good judgement and shame over the election season. You would think you all would have learned, but sadly it appears that you haven’t.

  18. steve says:

    @DAve- Now I know even less. They were investigating the threatening emails and discovered what might be an affair. When did that happen? They interviewed the woman )ct 21 and Petraeus Oct 28. Should they interview first, then inform Congress? Do they just take the word of Ms Kelly? When do they turn it over?


  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Investigating is the FBI’s job, and if they had reason to believe that the committees would promptly blow up the investigation for the purpose of grandstanding, I think they’d have an obligation to put investigation first.

    Michelle Bachmann is on the House oversight committee. It would have been irresponsible of the FBI to rely on her sanity, let alone discretion, especially when they did not believe there was a security breach..

    If the committee wants to be taken seriously perhaps the Republicans could sift through their caucus and try to locate a few sane members, rather than appointing a mental patient merely because she’s a good fundraiser.

  20. EMRVentures says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Don’t often agree with the Tsar, but have to here. The FBI knows that the Director of the CIA is sleeping with crazy? I have to imagine that would have found its way up the flagpole one way or the other.

  21. @Nick:

    I made no speculation. I merely asked questions

  22. @rudderpedals:

    What exactly did Cantor’s office do wrong?

    What we know is that some whistleblower approached his office two or three weeks ago about this and they turned around and immediately called FBI Director Mueller.

    Sounds entirely appropriate to me.

  23. Gustopher says:

    Is this the new Benghazi? Are we going to be hearing claims that the president watched and did nothing?

  24. Me Me Me says:

    “At that point we are talking about a National Security matter, and I really have to wonder why the FBI and the DOJ sat on this information for months.”

    What is your understanding of the time period called “late summer”? Mine is that it would be a few weeks leading up to September 22.

    From September 11 onward the CIA was rather busy with a very pressing matter.

    It is not outside the realm of possibility that this was a factor in the delay.

  25. rudderpedals says:

    @Doug Mataconis: You don’t find it interesting that the investigating FBI agent contacted the Republican leader of the House rather than say his or her inspector general’s office or an intelligence overseer? This is an important National Security issue.

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @rudderpedals: What I find interesting is how you’re more fascinated with the minutiae of the matter than the substance. Fine details of protocol instead of the core facts. The appetizers over the main course.

    It looks like you’re trying to lay the groundwork for a “this is just a partisan attack by Republicans” argument, that you can then use to sweep the whole mess under the rug. Much like the Fast & Furious issue suddenly became a discussion on whether or not Darrell Issa’s hands are clean enough to be allowed to do his job…

    But just for giggles: Cantor’s district is fairly close to DC. Maybe the whistle-blower is one of his constituents…

  27. michael reynolds says:

    Jesus, people. Petraeus committed adultery. Now, maybe he should quit for that, fine, whatever the culture of the CIA dictates. But this is not a big deal. It just isn’t. Who was told and when they were told that Petraeus was banging his biographer is the same kind of obsessive nonsense that ended with the lunatic House Republicans trying to impeach Bill Clinton.

    Eisenhower had a mistress. FDR had a mistress. JFK had Marilyn Monroe, for God’s sake, not to mention apparently sharing a girlfriend with a mob boss. Every king or emperor pretty much ever had a mistress or six. I don’t care. It’s small. It’s trivial. And attempting to add a box of Scandal Helper to this sexual relationship is exactly the kind of time-wasting crap that keeps us from solving problems.

    He got laid. His girlfriend may have gotten into his emails. Diana Feinstein is cranky about it. Who gives a damn?

  28. rudderpedals says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Please continue

  29. Just Me says:

    Jesus, people. Petraeus committed adultery. Now, maybe he should quit for that, fine, whatever the culture of the CIA dictates.

    I don’t think adultery was why there was in investigation-the investigation was about Pretaeus allowing his mistress have access to classified materials, which IMO is a big deal when you are the general in charge of Afghanistan or the guy in charge of the CIA.

    I also don’t see Obama level scandal in this (it sounds like Obama was kept in the dark along with the relative congressional oversight committees). Now it may play out that Obama knew long before he said, but it really sounds to me like the FBI was running an investigation and kept it all close to their chest and kept just about everyone else who should have been told in the dark.

  30. Tillman says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The CIA Director is being investigated and the POTUS is kept out of the loop. The CIA Director. Not the guy sorting mail at the CIA. The Director of the f’n CIA. So the POTUS is on a need to know basis not only regarding a cabinet official but specifically the guy in charge of the CIA. Really? Wow. Great. Terrific. I feel so much better now.

    Pre-9/11, I’d agree with you.

    Post-9/11, DCI has become very much a shadow of its former self. Now, if we were talking the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), your stupefaction would be relevant.

  31. bill says:

    the 2nd term curse begins, of course they all knew about this stuff- just needed the right time to bring it out. and that time had to be after 11/6, just sayin……

  32. Jr says:

    @bill: That is stupid. Obama would rather be talking about his victory and potential mandate. This story undercuts it, if anything they would rather have had it come out prior to the election.

  33. al-Ameda says:

    Given that J Edgar Hoover used to love to leak (or plant) damaging information to harm people, isn’t a good thing that this did not come to light before the investigation produced evidence and results?

  34. bill says:

    @Jr: yet they didn’t, surprised? they held off until after the election, check out the “timeline” and pretend there’s a republican in the white house- looks different now doesn’t it!?

  35. stewpid bout the werld says:

    @JKB: Not necessarily. Just because she has a TS+ doesn’t mean something illegal/compromise didn’t occur: She is a reservist which means her clearance is active when she is active. If she’s not active, there’s an entirely different set of protocols because her clearance may not be active 24/7. Not sure about SCI but I suspect it’s not active unless she is. Level of security, active clearance, need-to-know: cleared by security officer, papers get signed stating perameters of your permission to view, hear, etc, for how long, debriefing procedures, etc. Protocol tends to be followed the least when higher-ups want their way. If one works under them, one constantly risks getting canned because they hate following the rules. Protocols don’t work unless everyone follows them, so lead by example…Petraeus pulled a no-no if he allowed this confusion about her actual need-to-know and clearance status in a SCIF environment and put everyone in there with him at risk. Need-to-know is similar to warrants- you have to be very specific as to what actual association you have and why it is permissable to give access. Partial access can be granted as well. So, I consider Broadwell’s ‘brag’ about SCIF access disturbing. If Petraeus would let her ‘tag along’, it’s MUCH more disturbing because it gives the appearance of breach of protocols he’s in charge of. Additionally, every piece of electronics associated with classified material has strict protocol, for obvious reasons. If she had classified material on an unauthorized machine, at a time when her clearance was inactive, this is BAD. If she had physical files and did not have an authorized safe, this is also BAD.Nobody’s reported that she’s shown anyone her ‘permission slip’…Did anyone ask at all? Who was the signing authority for release? Are they the legit signing authority or did someone want their way? Who knows?! One does not just walk into a SCIF…