Person of Interest

Paula Broadwell: Is She Petraeus’s ‘Other Woman’?

Diane Dimond reports on what we know about Gen. Petraeus’s biographer.

Paula Broadwell lives in the historic, upscale Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., with her radiologist husband and two young boys. Their stately two-story brick home sits on a spacious corner lot where ancient old trees hang over the streets. The five-bedroom, four-bathroom home is listed on the tax rolls as being worth $908,000 and it is just three blocks from the city’s trendy uptown.

It hardly looks like the place where a national political scandal might lead, but it is here that Broadwell, 39, may have been when she learned that Gen. David Petraeus, director of the CIA, had quit his post due to the revelation of an extramarital affair.

A reporter’s drive-by on the evening the Petraeus scandal broke revealed two cars in the opened garage, a BMW and a Nissan Pathfinder, and the house completely dark except for the soft glow from the front porch light. (Ironically, this is also the neighborhood to which former senator John Edwards moved his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and their infant daughter.)

Broadwell, the attractive brunette with the expressive green eyes, is reported to be the “other woman” in the Petraeus affair. His letter to the president read in part, “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours." President Obama accepted the resignation.

To say Paula Broadwell is an overachiever is an understatement. She grew up in North Dakota, graduated from West Point and worked in military intelligence. She studied Arabic in the Middle East—Jordan in particular—and specialized in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and geopolitical analysis. This is not a field that includes many women, so the stunning Broadwell likely stood out among her peers.

As the story goes Broadwell and Petraeus first laid eyes on each other in 2006 when she was a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. After she told him about her interests he reportedly handed her his card, offered his help and told her to stay in touch. As she told the Charlotte Observer earlier this year, “He really cares about mentoring.” Broadwell’s first child, a son named Landon, would be born shortly after that meeting.

When it came time to write her doctoral dissertation Broadwell included a case study of Petraeus’s leadership techniques. She apparently did so with the general’s blessing and cooperation.

Routine contact between the young woman and the older man seems evident. In June 2010, after the birth of her second son, Lucien, she learned that President Obama had put Petraeus in charge of events in Afghanistan. It was then Broadwell got the idea to morph her dissertation material into a book.

Broadwell was determined to follow her mentor into the war zone to continue her research. She has said she enlisted the help of her husband, Scott, her mother, other relatives, and neighbors to take care of the boys while she spent time abroad. But first, Broadwell found a literary agent and a willing publisher at Penguin Press. This military-trained woman was not a tested author so she was teamed with veteran Washington Post journalist Vernon Loeb.

In January 2012 Broadwell’s book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus was released to good reviews. Historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin called the biography “majestic.”

During interviews with Charlie Rose, Sean Hannity, and Jon Stewart, Broadwell explained that she had made half a dozen trips to Afghanistan and had spent a total of three months there. She had embedded with combat troops and, she said, had interviewed General Petraeus a multitude of times, often for hours at a stretch and sometimes during runs they took together. In a photograph taken in June 2012, the pair exchange a glance during a flight to Helmand Province.

To be sure, there has been no official confirmation from any quarter that the extramarital affair Petraeus wrote about in his resignation was with Paula Broadwell. To be sure, there has been no denial of that widely reported supposition either. There is also no telling how long an affair it might have been.

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Several media reports, including one in The Washington Post indicate that the Petraeus admission came after the FBI conducted an investigation into the possibility that the CIA director’s e-mail security had been breached. How the bureau may have been alerted to a possible security problem isn’t known. Whether Broadwell was under suspicion of reading Petraeus’s classified e-mails is also unknown. Neither the FBI nor the CIA has commented.

“These are bad facts,” said Eric Dezenhall, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis manager. “It is very different if we’re talking about the CEO of Colgate Palmolive having an affair. He is head of the CIA and should never let anyone near who might be in a position to overhear a phone call or read an e-mail.” So is Petraeus’s career in Washington over? Dezenhall speculates: “His high-level civil service career is over. He’ll still have a lot of options but now he will have to realize what they are not.”

David Howell Petraeus, 60, is a graduate of West Point and steeped in the academy’s honor code—which demands that “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” His wife of nearly 40 years, Holly, also knows the code her husband lives by. When she first met the young Petraeus in 1973, he was a cadet at West Point where her father was superintendent.