A Guide to Understanding the Increasingly Convoluted Petraeus Sex Scandal


Twenty to thirty thousand emails, shirtless photos, illicit sex (“under” a desk, no less): are we sure the Petraeus scandal isn’t actually a viral marketing campaign for the next season of Gossip Girl? If you haven’t been paying attention to the still-developing drama (we’re expecting a secret pregnancy to break this afternoon, followed by a covered-up drug overdose), today is probably a good time to start: catch up with our handy explainer.

The Cast of Characters

David Petraeus: the beloved “military intellectual” who resigned as director of the CIA last Friday, citing “extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair.” Increasingly looking like the sanest person in this tangled web, which isn’t saying much. Married with children.

Paula Broadwell: Army Reserve officer, military commentator, and co-author of the Petraeus biography All In (there are no more title-related jokes left to be made at this point, sorry) and Petraeus’s Confirmed Secret Girlfriend #1. Exposed her affair with Petraeus by employing the same cyberstalking tactics (and the same level of tact and expertise) used by bratty 8th graders. Married with children.

Jill Kelley: close Petraeus family friend and volunteer military social liaison, which is apparently a more boring term for “socialite”; according to the Tampa Bay Times, Jill Kelley has “established a name for herself as an extravagant hostess with a military guest list” and the Kelley mansion is “the place to be seen for coalition officers.” She’s also Petraeus’s Maybe Secret and/or Wannabe Girlfriend #2. Well, according to multiple sources, the two were totally just friends, but that’s not what Broadwell thought: she started sending Kelley aggressive emails from an anonymous account (way more on her emails later), which eventually led to the FBI probe. Married with children.

General John Allen: Succeeded Petraeus as the top US commander in Afghanistan, but that’s not the only thing the two men have in common: both are four-star generals and apparently extremely careless with their email correspondence! The FBI uncovered somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 documents, most of them e-mails (maybe some of them were Gchats?), of “potentially inappropriate” communication between Allen and Kelley. Allen “disputes that he has engaged in any wrongdoing,” and some other officials say the only thing he did wrong was call Kelley “sweetheart,” because he is from Virginia. Mmmk. Married with children.

Anonymous Shirtless FBI Agent: The wildcard! If you’re still following, you’ll recall that Kelley contacted a FBI agent in Tampa after receiving threatening emails from an anonymous source, who we now know to be Broadwell. The FBI agent was Kelley’s friend, and a very special friend, at that: he had apparently sent shirtless photographs to Kelley, but “long before” this investigation. According to the Wall Street Journal, supervisors told Anonymous Shirtless FBI Agent that “he was to have nothing to do with the case,” even though he never actually had a formal role in the investigation. To make matters weirder (It’s possible! Keep reading!), he thought the case was getting covered up to protect Obama and spilled everything to Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, thus speeding up the scandal’s exposure. Maybe he really wants everyone to see his pecs?

What the Fuck Happened

Petraeus was sleeping (and frenetically emailing) with Broadwell until last June, which is also when Broadwell emailed Kelley to tell her to stay away from Petraeus, after which Kelley told her FBI friend, prompting an official investigation, which found that the emails were from Broadwell, and that Broadwell and Pretraeus were having an affair, and ALSO that Kelley and Allen were emailing up a storm…the FBI friend was worried that the investigation would go too slowly so alerted Congress, which pissed off Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and a bunch of other politicians who thought the FBI mishandled the case and also made everything much more quickly; Petraeus resigned last Friday. Phew!

How Petraeus and Broadwell Went About Their Adulterous Business

According to CBS, the duo “composed draft emails which they both could read on a shared private email account,” which is apparently “a cyber trick known to teenagers and terrorists in an effort to hide their communications.” I CAN’T BELIEVE I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT. Also, I thought teenagers left inappropriate comments for each other on Instagram when they didn’t want anyone to know what they were up to? (Feel free to take that tip, FBI, if you’re not too busy sending shirtless pics.)

Matters of National Security

Did Broadwell ever obtain classified information from Petraeus that could’ve compromised national security? That’s unclear as of now. Her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, was searched last night by FBI officers who took away two computers and 10 boxes; according to the WSJ, they found copies of classified documents, but Petraeus and Broadwell both denied that he had given her the documents, and FBI officials believe them. Hmm.

A comment Broadwell made in an address at the University of Denver last month suggesting that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi had something to do with a secret CIA prison also made people nervous, but the CIA called her theory “baseless.”

About Those Emails (The Ones You Really Care About)

Officials say Broadwell used a variety of email addresses to send anonymous missives to an account shared by Kelley and her husband. Their content has been called “childish,” “threatening,” and “accusatory” by those in the know. According to the WSJ:

One asked if Ms. Kelley’s husband was aware of her actions, according to officials. In another, the anonymous writer claimed to have watched Ms. Kelley touching “him” provocatively underneath a table, the officials said.

According to CBS, Broadwell’s emails also contained “private security information about Petraeus’ travel schedule,” which may have incited the FBI probe — they thought she somehow had intel on Petraeus, but it turns out she was just using info that he had sent her himself. (“Hey babe, I’ll be back from an overseas mission at 7. Tacos tonight?”) We are very curious why Broadwell would’ve told Kelley about his travel schedule? Was it like a “you THINK you know Petraeus but I know what Four Seasons he’s staying at on Friday night” kind of thing?

According to CBS, Petraeus knew that Broadwell was emailing Kelley, and he “asked her to stop.”

But Broadwell didn’t stop with Kelley. According to The Washington Post:

The senior official said Allen received at least one e-mail about Kelley from an unidentified account that eventually was traced to Paula Broadwell, a former Army officer who was Petraeus’s biographer and, it turns out, his mistress. “

WHAT? Broadwell was secretly emailing Allen, too? Why? Perhaps it’s time for the “secret pregnancy” conspiracy theories…

Damage Control

According to Reuters:

A source close to the family said that Kelley is now being advised on how to respond to the Petraeus uproar by one of Washington’s most prominent trial lawyers, Abbe Lowell, a family friend who has represented high-profile criminal defendants like former U.S. Senator John Edwards and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Lowell did not respond to requests for comment.

Kelley has also enlisted the help of Judy Smith, a well-known crisis PR manager who is the model for the ultra-effective fixer and spin doctor Olivia Pope in the ABC Thursday night TV drama “Scandal.”

Oh my God.

Family Matters

How is Holly, Petraeus’s wife of 38 years, holding up? Retired Army Col. Steve Boylan told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she “is not exactly pleased right now. Furious would be an understatement.”

The saddest detail we’ve heard so far is from this New York Times piece, from the scene in front of Broadwell’s house:

Written in the family’s driveway in gold-colored chalk was a child’s inscription: “Dad ♥s Mom.”

Wait, this is a LOVE PENTAGON! Has anyone drawn a LOVE PENTAGON diagram yet?

Yes. Thank you, Gary Owen:

FBI Agent in Petraeus Case Under Scrutiny [WSJ]
Motives Questioned in F.B.I. Inquiry of Petraeus E-Mails [NYT]
Here’s What We Know About Jill Kelley [Business Insider]
Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan under investigation, scandal widens [Reuters]
Petraeus investigation ensnares commander of U.S., NATO troops in Afghanistan [Washington Post]
Details of Petraeus affair emerge as scandal engulfs Gen. John Allen [CBS]

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