The emails that Jill Kelley showed an FBI friend near the start of last summer were not jealous lover warnings like “stay away from my man,” a knowledgeable source tells The Daily Beast.
The messages were instead what the source terms “kind of cat-fight stuff.”
“More like, ‘Who do you think you are? … You parade around the base … You need to take it down a notch,’” according to the source, who was until recently at the highest levels of the intelligence community and prefers not to be identified by name.
The base described is MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, where Kelley serves as an unpaid “social liaison.” The source reports that the emails did make one reference to Gen. David Petraeus, but it was oblique and offered no manifest suggestion of a personal relationship or even that he was central to the sender’s spite.
Kelley herself seemed mystified as to what was behind the emails, much less who sent them.
“I don’t know who this person is and I don’t want to keep getting them,” she told the FBI, as recounted by the source.
When the FBI friend showed the emails to the cyber squad in the Tampa field office, her fellow agents noted that the absence of any overt threats.
“No, ‘I’ll kill you’ or ‘I'll burn your house down,’” the source says. “It doesn’t seem really that bad.”
The squad was not even sure the case was worth pursuing, the source says.
“What does this mean? There’s no threat there. This is against the law?” the agents asked themselves by the source’s account.
At most the messages were harassing. The cyber squad had to consult the statute books in its effort to determine whether there was adequate legal cause to open a case.
“It was a close call,” the source says.
What tipped it may have been Kelley’s friendship with the agent. The squad opened a case, though with no expectation it would turn into anything significant.
“They weren’t seeing this as the crime of the century,” the source says.
And certainly nobody was looking to do anything that might cause a huge fuss and maybe get them bounced from Tampa. The field office there is a $35 million palace with a second-floor fitness center whose plate-glass windows overlook Tampa Bay, and an eating area that includes an outdoor, screened-in extension for fed al fresco. The closest agents get to that in, say, cold and grimy New York is eating in their cars.
The agents soon determined that the emails were coming from Paula Broadwell. They then would have had to consult with the U.S. Attorney’s office in order to secure a search warrant enabling them to go into Broadwell’s email.
They apparently did so and are said to have found a number of nonclassified documents that seemed to have originated with Petraeus but had not been sent by an account bearing his name. And yet they did not seem to have been forwarded from anywhere.
The agents then determined that Broadwell and Petraeus had been communicating with each other via private email accounts. As the Associated Press reported on Monday, the pair would save unsent messages in their inboxes, and then log into each other's account to read them.
“She really knows him,” the agents told themselves, by the source’s account.
The question then was the nature of the connection.
“What it was and most importantly what it wasn’t,” the source says.
Some of the steamier messages made clear that it was an affair. The besotted Broadwell may have viewed the curvaceous Kelley as a threat. Broadwell may be able to run a six-minute mile with Petraeus, but Kelley looks like a woman who lets the guys do all the running—and in her direction.
Maybe Broadwell chanced to encounter Kelley on some occasion and felt snubbed. Or Broadwell could have just seen online photos of Petraeus and his wife visiting the mansion that Kelley shares with her doctor husband and three young children. Kelley likely assisted her 7-year-old daughter, Caroline, in posting an online photo album that includes a picture of the girl and her two sisters with Petraeus.
“I was with Ganrl Patrais?’ the girl’s handwritten caption reads. “He came to my haws.”
For Kelley to help post this if she were having an affair with the general would border on the pathological. Bad enough that the news of Kelley’s involvement in setting the case in motion broke just in time for reporters to swarm the house during Caroline’s seventh birthday party there, complete with bouncy castle.
Broadwell is herself married to a doctor and has two young children. Maybe the parallels were part of what set her off. Her father told the New York Daily News that there is “a lot more here than meets the eye,” though he declined say what that might be.
Whatever transpired, the FBI agents found no indication that it constituted a crime or a threat to national security. They confirmed this when they interviewed Broadwell and then Petraeus. They are both said to have been forthcoming and consistent, even telling the agents more than they already knew.
Petraeus seems to have been the first guy in memory not to lie about sex. And a good thing too, because lying to a federal agent is a crime. Martha Stewart found that out the hard way.
By that point, FBI headquarters almost certainly had been notified. One former agent with extensive experience estimates that it would have taken no more than 24 hours for word to get to Director Robert Mueller. A case that might never have been if the agents in Tampa had heeded their initial misgivings now presented the head of the FBI with a predicament in which there were no happy options.
In all electronic surveillance, including emails, the FBI is legally compelled to adhere to the principle of “minimization,” limiting the invasion of privacy as much as possible to what is specifically warranted. This applies even when a case involves the worst kinds of criminals.
Agents are required to abstain from even listening to such purely personal conversations as mushy talk between a mob killer and his mistress. Minimization in these instances may have saved lives, as Mafia wives are notably more liable to express their fury physically than, say, military spouses. The wife of one Gambino crime-family boss sent an email concerning her philandering husband that was unquestionably a death threat. She then followed it with an apology.
“I am sorry I misspelled ‘arsenic.’”
As the Tampa case did not involve a crime or a threat to national security, one might have expected the spirit of minimization to lead the FBI to keep any personal revelations within the bureau and not say anything to anybody.
Perhaps Mueller was worried that if it leaked out somehow he might be accused of being like the FBI’s first director, J. Edgar Hoover, who relished collecting dirt. Hoover was not shy about using it to blackmail even the president. Mueller might even have been accused to being party to a plot to muzzle Petraeus regarding the mess in Benghazi.
Mueller chose to refer the matter to Petraeus’s titular superior, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. The justification was that Petraeus was the head of an organization where such personal entanglements are considered a threat to security by making an agent a target for blackmail. No Bond girls for our spies. Mark it as an added twist that Skyfall opened in the midst of all this.
The CIA double-no code aside, nobody could possibly believe that Petraeus would allow himself to be blackmailed into betraying the nation over an affair. But the principle of the boss adhering to the rules remained. And Clapper is said to have urged Petraeus to resign on his own terms rather than await the jackals.
Petraeus dutifully went to the White House to tender his resignation. Never mind that the Oval Office has witnessed much philandering over the decades with nobody having to resign. Never mind that Bill Clinton remains living proof of the silliness of modern puritanism. Our present president is by every indication a faithful husband, but he needed Clinton’s help to get reelected.
The fact that the resignation came immediately after the election, even though the case is said to have begun back in late May or the beginning of June, has made more than a few people wonder about the timing.
Whatever the truth in this regard, it remains pitifully ironic that Petraeus could come to such grief over a little sex under a desk in a war zone where thousands of people were and are earnestly seeking to blow other people to bloody bits. Shoot but don’t schtup?
And just because Broadwell performed the literary equivalent of sex under a desk does not mean that any actual sex is anybody’s business.
By the long-honored principle of minimization, the members of Congress who are demanding to know why they were not told earlier about Petraeus’s affair with his biographer should be asking another question.
They should instead be demanding to know why anybody outside the FBI was told anything at all.