Petraeus scandal widens, snares U.S. commander in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 14, 2012 1:44am IST

1 of 2. U.S. General John Allen, commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Afghanistan, speaks during U.S. Independence Day celebrations in Kabul July 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus widened on Tuesday as U.S. defense officials said they were looking into "flirtatious" e-mails between General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and a woman at the center of the affair.

Defense Department officials said they were sifting through 30,000 pages of email and other communications between Allen and Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite whose complaints about harassing messages led to the discovery of Petraeus' affair with his biographer.

The revelation threatens to fell another of the U.S. military's biggest names after Petraeus' surprise resignation last week. It also complicates President Barack Obama's efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan and reorganize his national security team following his re-election.

A senior defense official told Reuters the emails between Allen and Kelley were seen as potentially inappropriate because they were "flirtatious" in nature, not because they dealt with sensitive information. Allen has denied that the two had a sexual relationship, officials said on condition of anonymity.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Allen, a four-star Marine Corps general, would stay in his job for the time being, and the White House said Obama still had faith in Allen's ability to command U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

But asked how Obama saw the unfolding scandal at a time when his priorities include impending "fiscal cliff," Press Secretary Jay Carney said: "I certainly wouldn't call it welcome."

Obama suspended plans to transfer Allen to Europe, where he was to be the top commander of U.S. and allied forces in the region.

Both Allen and the official due to replace him in Afghanistan, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before they can take their new posts in February.

Top lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee said they would go ahead with a confirmation hearing for Dunford on Thursday. Allen's appearance was canceled.

Allen had just submitted recommendations on what role the United States should play in Afghanistan after most American combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

The investigations raised questions about how top U.S. officials in sensitive national security posts allowed themselves to become so personally involved with the women.

Kelley, 37, is a fixture in military circles in Tampa, Florida, where she was a volunteer social liaison at MacDill Air Force Base, home to the U.S. Central Command. She and her husband, surgeon Scott Kelley, became friends with Petraeus when he was stationed there from 2008 to 2010.

Her complaints about harassing emails from the woman with whom Petraeus had an affair, Paula Broadwell, prompted an FBI investigation that ultimately disclosed Petraeus' involvement with Broadwell.

People close to Petraeus say he had no romantic relationship with Kelley, but Broadwell may have seen her as a rival.

Both Petraeus and Allen had recently intervened in a bitter custody battle on behalf of Kelley's twin sister. The men wrote letters in September to the District of Columbia Superior Court in support of the twin sister, Natalie Khawam, as she sought more visitation rights with her son, court papers showed.

Officials suggested they were concerned by the volume of communications between Allen and Kelley over the past two years, rather than the possibility that the two shared classified material or engaged in an extramarital affair.

"We are concerned about inappropriate communications. We are not going to speculate as to what is contained in these documents," one official said.

Details on content of the emails were not revealed.

The FBI referred the case to the Pentagon on Sunday and Panetta directed the Defense Department's Inspector General to handle the investigation. Panetta also informed lawmakers who oversee military affairs.

FBI RAID, SHIRTLESS PHOTOS

FBI agents searched the Charlotte, North Carolina, house of Broadwell late Monday in a sign that the case involving Petraeus was not fully closed.

Agents entered the house carrying boxes at around 9 p.m. (0200 GMT Tuesday) and emerged four hours later, carrying away what appeared to be two computers and about 10 boxes.

Broadwell's family was not at home at the time.

U.S. officials had said in recent days that their investigation was largely complete and that prosecutors had determined it was unlikely they would bring charges in that case, which started when Kelley contacted an FBI agent in Tampa about harassing emails from an anonymous source.

That FBI agent, who has not been identified, came under scrutiny himself after it was discovered he had sent shirtless photographs of himself to Kelley "long before" this investigation, a law enforcement official told Reuters.

The FBI agent, who alerted an FBI cyber squad to the Broadwell case, apparently became frustrated at the pace of the investigation and complained to a member of Congress about it, the official said.

The emails between the two women were of a "childish", jealous nature and showed some one-upmanship of trying to come across as being more important to Petraeus, the official said.

Lawmakers and others have questioned whether Broadwell, who co-wrote a biography of the decorated former general, obtained classified information from him or another source.

Panetta had earlier said Petraeus did the right thing by stepping down, given the security concerns, but he was saddened by the end of the retired general's distinguished career.

(Additional reporting by Rick Rothacker, David Ingram, Toby Zakaria, Susan Cornwell, Matt Spetalnick, Margaret Chadbourn and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Andy Sullivan. Editing by Warren Strobel and Doina Chiacu)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
PhilAnderer100 wrote:
One would have thought that 2 top ranking military men would have been better at hiding their extra-marital manoeuvres and had the good sense to not cheat so close to home, especially when it is so easy to meet strangers on websites such as Undercover Lovers and Ashley Madison nowadays.

Nov 14, 2012 1:51am IST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Pricing Controls

REUTERS SHOWCASE

India-China Relations

India-China Relations

India says to defend China border after standoff ahead of Xi visit.  Full Article 

Importing Iron Ore

Importing Iron Ore

As mining curbs bite, India offers market to glut-hit iron ore.  Full Article 

Lower Output

Lower Output

IOC cuts refinery output as rains hit fuel demand - source.  Full Article 

Drug Approval

Drug Approval

Epirus, Ranbaxy win India approval for arthritis drug copy.  Full Article 

Farming and Technology

Farming and Technology

Climate smart farmers get tech savvy to save India's bread basket.  Full Article 

Rajan Speaks

Rajan Speaks

RBI chief Rajan says limiting reliance on foreign debt.  Full Article 

India-Vietnam Ties

India-Vietnam Ties

India tightens Vietnam defence, oil ties ahead of China Xi's visit.  Full Article 

Debt & Equity Deal

Debt & Equity Deal

KKR to lend $175 million to GMR Infrastructure - source.  Full Article 

Preparing for IPO

Preparing for IPO

Alibaba boosts IPO as demand strengthens.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage