All In, Indeed

Alleged Petraeus Mistress Suggested She Was Privy to State Secrets

In a public talk in October, Paula Broadwell—the biographer and alleged mistress of David Petraeus—claimed that the Benghazi consulate was attacked to free CIA-held prisoners. Eli Lake reports.

11.12.12 4:10 AM ET

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.)

The CIA Sunday denied her claim that prisoners were held at the annex, which has not been reported elsewhere.

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.”

Broadwell, herself a former military intelligence officer, began her discussion of the attack by referencing an exclusive Fox News report that had run that day. But while dramatic details of that story were later fiercely disputed by government officials, she relayed only parts of that story—like the attempt to send backup from a special-operations force—that were finally confirmed.

Later she lamented that the coverage of Benghazi had compromised U.S. efforts. “As a former intel officer,” she said. “It’s frustrating to me because it reveals our sources and methods. I don’t think the public needs to know all of that.”

A spokesperson for the CIA Sunday declined to discuss Broadwell’s relationship with Petraeus, whose wife of 37 years, Holly, is the assistant director for service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But the spokesperson did reject Broadwell’s allegation that the CIA annex held Libyan militia members as prisoners, telling the Beast:

“The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the Agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless.”

Efforts Sunday to reach Broadwell—who colleagues and friends of Petraeus say would often present herself as his gatekeeper—for comment were unsuccessful. On Friday, her personal website and Facebook page were scrubbed from the Internet. (The Washington Post reported Sunday that “Officers close to Petraeus grew concerned about her posts on Facebook, which they believed sometimes divulged sensitive operational details.”)

Petraeus was first contacted by the FBI in late October, according to Reuters, after the Bureau launched an investigation in the spring into threatening emails—which they determined had been sent by Broadwell—received by a woman in Tampa, Fla. The Washington Post reported Sunday that the woman who received the emails was Jill Kelley, an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base, and that she and her husband are longtime friends of the Petraeuses.

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The investigation into the threatening emails led the FBI to prove whether the personal email account of Petraeus had been hacked, and whether information shared on that account could be obtained by a foreign intelligence service. That in turn led the Bureau to the alleged affair between Petraeus and Broadwell, according to U.S. officials and Congressional staffers now familiar with the investigation.

The first administration official to be informed of the probe was Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a retired general. He was informed about the investigation that had led to the director of the CIA on 5 p.m. on election night, and reached out to Petraeus in an unofficial capacity, according to Shawn Turner, the director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Director Clapper, speaking as a friend, a colleague, and fellow general officer urged Director Petraeus to step down,” Turner told the Beast. 

But the president himself wasn’t given the news until after the election, according to a senior U.S. official, and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees also say they also weren’t informed until then. On Sunday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that she would “absolutely” look into why the FBI hadn’t informed top lawmakers of the investigation, despite statutes compelling‬ intelligence agencies to brief top lawmakers on probes that could impact national security. “I think we should have been told,” she said on Fox News Sunday.

While senior CIA officials have had extramarital affairs in the recent past and kept their jobs, an undisclosed relationship of this nature often lands top intelligence officials and military officers in hot water. An adulterous affair could be used as blackmail if it fell into the hands of a foreign intelligence service. Three U.S. officials familiar with the details of the alleged affair said senior-intelligence executives would lose their security clearance for doing what Petraeus allegedly did.

Whether or not Petraeus revealed classified information to Broadwell will likely be one focus of the CIA’s own security audit following his departure, one retired U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast.

"Like other agencies, the CIA has an orderly leadership transition process that includes auditing of communication equipment used by the former principal,” a senior U.S. official told the Beast. “Any problems discovered would be dealt with appropriately. Any unclassified system is totally separate from classified ones,” the senior U.S. official said. “It is important to remember that Petraeus wasn’t fired, he asked to be allowed to resign.”

Before resigning, Petraeus had been expected to testify next Thursday before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the Benghazi fallout. In his place, Mike Morrell, the acting CIA head who served as a deputy to Petraeus, will testify about the fatal Libya attack. Petraeus may still testify at a future hearing, Senators Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said separately on Sunday.

Broadwell and Petraeus are both dedicated runners who graduated from West Point, and high achievers who love military culture. The relationship the two forged intensified when the general took command of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Broadwell was able to follow him around as his biographer and—though she had never written a book—had extraordinary access to the general.

Thomas Ricks, the former top military correspondent for The Washington Post, wrote in a blurb for her portrait of Petraeus: “All In feels at times like we are sitting at his side in Afghanistan, reading his emails over his shoulder.”