WASHINGTON // The sex scandal that led to the CIA director David Petraeus’s downfall widened yesterday with word that the top US commander in Afghanistan is under investigation for thousands of alleged “inappropriate communications” with another woman involved in the case.
Even as the FBI prepared a timeline for Congress about the investigation that brought to light Gen Petraeus’s extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, revealed that the Pentagon had begun an internal investigation into emails from Gen John Allen to a Florida woman involved in the case.
Gen Allen succeeded Gen Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan in July 2011, and his nomination to become the next commander of US European Command and the commander of Nato forces in Europe has now been put on hold, as the scandal seemed certain to ensnare another acclaimed military figure.
In a White House statement early yesterday, the national security spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said the US president, Barack Obama, has held Gen Allen’s nomination at Mr Panetta’s request. Mr Obama, the statement said, “remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who Gen Allen continues to lead as he has so ably done for over a year”.
It was Ms Broadwell’s threatening emails to Jill Kelley, a Florida woman who is a Petraeus family friend, which led to the FBI’s discovery of communications between Ms Broadwell and Gen Petraeus that indicated they were having an affair. Gen Petraeus admitted the affair when he resigned from the CIA post on Friday.
In the latest revelations, a Pentagon official traveling with Mr Panetta to Australia said “inappropriate communications” – 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails and other documents from Gen Allen’s communications with Ms Kelley between 2010 and 2012 – are under review. He would not say whether they involved sexual matters or whether they are thought to include unauthorised disclosures of classified information. He said he did not know whether Gen Petraeus is mentioned in the emails.
Gen Allen has denied wrongdoing. If he was found to have had an affair with Ms Kelley, he could face charges of adultery, which is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The Petraeus case has sparked an uproar in Congress, with legislators complaining they should have been told earlier about the investigation that has roiled the intelligence and military establishment.
Peter King, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House homeland security committee, called the latest revelations in the case “a Greek tragedy”.
“It’s just tragic,” Mr King said yesterday. “This has the elements, in some ways, of a Hollywood movie or a trashy novel.”
The issue of what the FBI knew, when it notified top Obama administration officials, and when Congress was told, has ben hotly debated.
The White House was not informed of the FBI investigation that involved Gen Petraeus until November 6, election day, although agents began looking at Gen Petraeus’s actions months earlier, sometime during the summer. The Senate intelligence committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said that she first learned of the matter from the media late last week, and confirmed it in a phone call to the then-CIA director on Friday.
That was the same day Obama accepted Gen Petraeus’s resignation, and the 60-year-old retired Army general, who headed US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan before taking charge of the CIA, acknowledged an affair with Ms Broadwell, and expressed regret.
Defending the timing of the notification, a senior federal law enforcement official on Monday pointed to longstanding policies and practices adopted following abuses and mistakes that were uncovered during the Watergate scandal under the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. The justice department – of which the FBI is part – is supposed to refrain from sharing detailed information about its criminal investigations with the White House.
The FBI also looked into whether a separate set of emails between Gen Petraeus and Ms Broadwell might involve any breach of security. That will be a key question today in meetings involving congressional intelligence committee leaders, the FBI deputy director Sean Joyce and the CIA deputy director Michael Morell.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation, said the FBI had concluded relatively quickly – and certainly by late summer at the latest – that there had been no security breach. In the absence of a security breach, it was appropriate not to notify Congress or the White House earlier, this official said.
Extramarital affairs are viewed as particularly dangerous for intelligence officers because of the risk of being blackmailed to keep the affair quiet.