Petraeus scandal: How a single spiteful email unlocked Pandora's box

Gen John Allen

It started in May with a spiteful email to the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. An anonymous writer warned Gen. John Allen that a friend with whom he was meeting in Washington the following week was trouble and he should stay away from her.

Allen thought the email was a joke because he didn't know how anybody else would know about his personal plans with his friend, Florida socialite Jill Kelley, a person close to Kelley said.

That email started a chain of events that led to the downfall of CIA Director David Petraeus, put Allen's career on hold and landed a decorated FBI agent in hot water for talking about an ongoing investigation. The FBI traced that email and others of a similar vein to Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer, who agents would soon learn had also been his lover.

The fast-moving scandal broke just days after President Barack Obama was elected to a second term in office. Obama's administration had been on the defensive for weeks because of a terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. Briefings on the attack had been postponed until after the election and are now focused more immediately on Petraeus' love life than on how terrorists were able to attack the poorly defended consulate.

Obama said Wednesday he's seen no evidence that national security was damaged by the revelations that ended his CIA director's career and imperil that of his Afghanistan war commander. But lawmakers aren't taking Obama's word for it and grilled FBI and CIA officials privately about the same issues: whether national security was jeopardized by the case and why they didn't know about the investigation sooner.

The FBI's investigation of the matter began last summer when Kelley turned over anonymous emails that had been sent to her and Allen. The first anonymous email was sent to Allen in May, under the pseudonym "Kelleypatrol,'' the person close to Kelley said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

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