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As more details come out about the alleged affair between former CIA director David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell, it's beginning to look like the story is about more than two married people cheating on their spouses. First, there's the possible security risk: Investigators reportedly found classified documents on Broadwell's computer, and she may have revealed secrets about the attacks in Benghazi September 11. (The CIA denies her claim that it was holding Libyan detainees in Benghazi.) Second, the affair exposes Petraeus's absurdly good instincts for his own public relations. Until he got caught, Petraeus was getting an incredibly good deal. Not only was he getting to sleep with a much younger woman, he also cooperated in getting a book published that portrayed him as a living god, and he got the ripple PR effects of starry-eyed reporters covering Broadwell's publicity tour. Here's what we know so far:

Affair timeline:

Broadwell met Petraeus in 2006, and she was seen going on daily runs with the general while he oversaw the Afghanistan war in 2010, but anonymous sources close to Petraeus have told The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that the affair began only after Petraeus left the military in the summer of 2011. 

The affair began about two months after he became CIA director in September 2011, the Times reports, and ended about four months ago. Why is the timing important to Petraeus? 

Under military regulations, adultery can be a crime. At the C.I.A., it can be a security issue, since it can make an intelligence officer vulnerable to blackmail, but it is not a crime.

Reuters reports the breakup was mutual.

Investigation timeline:

  • May: Jill Kelley begins getting between five and 10 anonymous harassing emails, The Wall Street Journal reports. Coming from seeveral pseudonymous email addresses, they accuse Kelley of being too friendly with Petraeus, and warned her to stop, or risk public exposure. They say things like, "I know what you're doing," but don't explicitly threaten violence, Reuters reports. Kelley tells a friend, an agent at the FBI, who helped get an inquiry going, The New York Times reports. The FBI figures out the emails were sent from an account used by both Broadwells, and uses metadata footprints, the Journal says, to show that Paula Broadwell was in the same place from which the emails were sent at the time they were sent. That gives the FBI probable cause to monitor Broadwell's email accounts.
  • Sometime early on: The FBI agent Kelley contacted sends Kelley shirtless photos of himself, The Wall Street Journal reports. But "supervisors soon became concerned that the initial agent might have grown obsessed with the matter, and prohibited him from any role in the investigation, according to the officials."
  • Summer: The FBI discovers Broadwell is trading sexy emails with another Gmail account. The other account belonged to Petraeus, who had used a pseudonym, the Journal reports. Investigators study "the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages," the Times reports, but they eventually figure out Petraeus really sent the messages. Petraeus and Broadwell were exchanging messages using a method often used by terrorists, The Washington Post reports. They shared an email account and would save messages to each other in drafts. This makes it harder to follow email traffic, and that's why investigators initially thought there was a possibility someone was hacking the accounts.  High level Justice Department officials are notified about the affair.
  • As the investigation continues: The shirtless agent, The New York Times reports, had no cyber crime training and wasn't assigned to Kelley's case. But the shirtless agent was nosy about the case, and superiors "told him to stay the hell away from it, and he was not invited to briefings."
  • Late summer: Investigators notify supervisors "that the case had become more complicated, and the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section began working on the investigation as well." The Washington Post reports that Kelley told Petraeus about the harassing emails, and about four months ago, he asked Broadwell to stop them. That was also near the time of the end of the affair. 
  • September: Investigators interview Broadwell, who admits to the affair and turns over her computer. Classified documents are found on it.
  • Week of October 21: Broadwell is interviewed again.
  • Week of October 28: Investigators interview Petraeus, who admits to the affair, too, and denies giving Broadwell classified information. Petraeus did not plan on stepping down, hoping the affair would remain private, The Washington Post reports.
  • Sometime in October: The shirtless agent gets it in his head that the investigation is being swept under the rug to protect President Obama, an idea an FBI source attributed to the agent's "worldview," the Times reports. He contacts Washington Rep. David Reichert, who contacts the staff of Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
  • October 31: Cantor calls FBI director Robert Mueller. The investigation has not stalled, contrary to the shirtless agent's belief.

  • November 2: Broadwell meets with investigators again and says Petraeus did not give her the classified info on her computer.
  • Election Day, 5p.m.: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is notified of the investigation. He calls Petraeus and asks him to quit.
  • November 8: Petraeus meets with Obama and offers his resignation. According to The Washingtonian, Paula and Scott Broadwell are on a romantic getaway at an inn in Little Washington, Virginia. Their moods were "good" and "upbeat."
  • November 9: Obama calls Petraeus to say he accepts his resignation. Petraeus's resignation is made public. The Broadwells "all of a sudden they are not in very good moods," the Washingtonian reports. They check out early from the inn Saturday morning, and cancel Paula's birthday party.
  • November 12: FBI agents are seen entering Broadwell's home and carrying out boxes.
  • November 13: The Pentagon tells reporters that Petraeus's successor, Gen. John Allen, is being investigated for 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails with Kelley that were "potentially inappropriate."

Did Broadwell hint she has inside knowledge on Benghazi? At an October 26 speech, Broadwell claimed the CIA was detaining Libyan militia prisoners at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and that the attack may have been motivated by that. That had never been reported before. The CIA denied holding prisoners to The Daily Beast's Eli Lake. But Lake explains: 

"[Broadwell] 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."

Wired's Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman point out that Broadwell seemed to know a lot about the U.S. response to the attacks:

Broadwell also identified a special-forces team initially requested to prepare for responding to Benghazi as “a group of Delta Force operators.” While Pentagon officials have provided enough information for reporters to figure out Delta was among those units, they have not explicitly confirmed Delta received orders to prepare for a Benghazi response.

Petraeus granted Broadwell special favors. Broadwell did not have much experience as a journalist, and Petraeus didn't treat her like one. She was given a room at Petraeus's headquarters in Kabul—rooms that were usually reserved for visiting dignitaries, the Los Angeles Times reports. She flew on his military plane. They regularly went on morning runs together. Petraeus took Broadwell on a government-funded trip to Paris in July 2011, an anonymous person told BuzzFeed. When Petraeus testified at a 2011 Senate hearing, Broadwell "sat with Petraeus’ retinue instead of with the press corps," Wired's Spencer Ackerman writes. Both an assistant and a mentor told Petraeus to think about "appearances."

Broadwell began acting as Petraeus's chief propagandist. Broadwell's book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, was described by Slate's Fred Kaplan as "a valentine." But that wasn't the end of her work in burnishing the general's reputation. The most obvious instance of this was in January 2011, when Broadwell wrote a controversial post on Tom Ricks's blog at Foreign Policy about the American military leveling an Afghanistan village. Broadwell claimed the villagers were thankful for the 25 tons of air and artillery dropped on their village—save for one man's "fit of theatrics"—and that no one was killed.

Later, Broadwell was not only writing stories that portrayed the Afghanistan war in a way that made Petraeus look good, but also was behaving as though she were some kind of press secretary for Petraeus. When The Daily Princetonian asked Broadwell in September whether she thought Petraeus was interested in becoming head of the school, she "acted as though she was his official spokesman," the paper says. She responded to the Princetonian's emails saying, "Gen. Petraeus is going to send some thoughts which I’ll pass along to you this afternoon." Her response to a follow-up email asking for her thoughts as a biographer indicated she'd asked him personally about it: "He is not interested in the Princeton job that I know (though I know he knows it is open)... When he responds to your below email... I’ll share what I can."

In an October speech that might have divulged classified information about Benghazi, Broadwell explained Petraeus was frustrated he couldn't be so chatty with reporters anymore:

"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... As a former intel officer... It’s frustrating to me because it reveals our sources and methods. I don’t think the public needs to know all of that."

Broadwell was this close to openly bragging about the affair. Broadwell was so flagrant about advertising her relationship with Petraeus it's hard to understand why people are surprised they were sleeping together.

  • She called him Peaches.
  • She talked about his body: "He is quite a physical specimen. He really loves to work out. I think at the agency they call him a genetic mutant."
  • She talked about knowing the real Petraeus, the one behind the "mask of command." Petraeus told CBS, "He, at the end of the day, is human, and is challenged by the burdens of command. He's mastered wearing the mask of command, if you will... So, he has this mask of command—you think he's really confident—but I got to see a more personal side."
  • She clarified that she was not in love with him. "It’s not a hagiography, I’m not in love with David Petraeus..."
  • In a January 24 interview, her gushing caused Don Imus to ask "Is he married?" and marvel, "So he must have liked you obviously, and you obviously liked him, I guess."

The Other Other Woman. Jill Kelley, 37, is an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, and the recipient of the harassing emails that started the whole investigation. Kelley and her husband became friends with the Petraeuses when he was head of U.S. Central Command from 2008 to 2010. Local news reports from the time indicate the Petraeuses attended parties at the Kelleys' house. The Kelleys have hired a crisis management specialist and a high-powered Washington lawyer. Smith put out a statement for the Kelleys saying, "We and our family have been friends with General Petraeus and his family for over five years. We respect his and his family’s privacy and want the same for us and our three children."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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