There have been a lot of news stories about the investigation that led to the resignation of General Petraeus for having an affair. From what I can tell, it was a pretty surprising series of events that led to the General’s resignation. At the same time, one of the key issues remains unresolved.
The story began with an FBI Internet harassment investigation. Paula Broadwell saw Tampa socialite Jill Kelley as a romantic rival for the affections of General Petraeus, and she sent several anonymous messages to Kelley threatening her to stay away from Petraeus. Kelley managed to interest the local FBI office to investigate the source of threatening e-mails she had received. We don’t know the details of how Kelley persuaded the FBI to devote resources to her case, but it seems plausible that the national security angle provided much of the hook: The e-mailer appeared to know the non-public whereabouts of high-level generals.
The FBI identified Broadwell as the source of the senders of the e-mails by matching the locations associated with the IP addresses where she sent the e-mails (obtained either from the e-mail headers or from the e-mail providers themselves) to names of people known to have the same locations:
They did that by finding out where the messages were sent from — which cities, which wi-fi locations in hotels. That gave them names, which they then checked against guest list from other cities and hotels, looking for common names.
That led them to Broadwell, they said, noting that the pattern coincided with her travel to promote her book
Once the FBI focused on Broadwell, they obtained legal process (very likely a warrant) to get the contents of Broadwell’s regular e-mail account:
In its in-box, [the FBI] discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.
Looking the other account may have seemed particularly sensible because Broadwell and Petraeus were using the same account at times to share messages:
Petraeus and Broadwell apparently used a trick, known to terrorists and teen-agers alike, to conceal their email traffic. One of the law enforcement officials said they did not transmit all of their communications as emails from one’s inbox to the other’s inbox. Rather, they composed some emails in a Gmail account and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder or in an electronic “dropbox.” Then the other person could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail which is easier to trace. It’s a technique that al-Qaida terrorists began using several years ago and teen-agers in many countries have since adopted.
The FBI ended up questioning both Broadwell and Petraeus. Both admitted the affair, but the DOJ tentatively concluded that no crimes had been committed and no charges would be brought. At this point, though, the investigation was known only within the FBI and DOJ.
Here’s the part that I don’t understand. According to the New York Times, at that point the FBI decided to notify the Director of National Intelligence about the investigation. But it’s not entirely clear to me exactly why they did that or who else was notified, or exactly why Petraeus resigned. So the uncertain part of the story isn’t so much the investigation as it is the notification after the investigation had largely (if tentatively) ended. I’d be interested to know who was notified and why; and to the extent we can know, what role those notifications had in Petraeus’s resignation.
UPDATE: Making the story even stranger, the latest reports are that the FBI investigation into the threats ended up revealing that Kelley was having an affair with a different general, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
ANOTHER UPDATE: This story claims that Clapper told Petraeus to resign: “Petraeus planned to stay in the job even after he acknowledged the affair to the FBI, hoping the episode would never become public. He resigned last week after being told to do so by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. on the day President Obama was reelected.”