Report: FBI investigation into CIA chief's email "started with two women," not Petraeus (updated)

The Washington Post reports that the investigation into CIA chief David Petraeus began "when a woman whom he was having an affair with sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him," citing "three senior law enforcement officials with knowledge of the episode" as sources. The Wall Street Journal reports the probe said the FBI began investigating after "a complaint from a woman in Florida" about Paula Broadwell, his biographer and lover. Other news accounts suggested that the FBI began snooping on the spy boss' Gmail account over fear it had been compromised by Chinese hackers.

If the prevailing narrative is true, Petraeus paramour Paula Broadwell used the same email account to send

A) Sexmail to Petraeus, and B) Threatmail to another woman.

Initial media speculation was that this "other woman" was a romantic rival (or perceived as one by Broadwell), but who knows? Bloomberg reports that the emails from Broadwell warned the woman to "stay away from" the general. But what if, instead, the target of Broadwell's threatening email were someone who knew too much? A woman who had knowledge of the affair and represented a threat of exposure. A Washington insider, maybe a reporter. "Stay away" not because you're a romantic rival, but because you might out us, and in so doing, destroy our lives.

The WSJ's late-Saturday story follows a love triangle narrative: the Florida woman's complaint "alleged Ms. Broadwell was sending harassing emails to her about the nature of the relationship between Mr. Petraeus and the Florida woman," and while no reporters claim to have seen the emails' contents, "people familiar with the investigations said they suggested Ms. Broadwell suspected the other woman was in a relationship with Mr. Petraeus." There is no evidence her suspicions were true, the WSJ adds.

The FBI worked with prosecutors in North Carolina (where Broadwell is based) and Florida (where the woman she emailed was based). The investigation initially focused on "the possibility of email hacking, because at least some of the emails sent by Ms. Broadwell to the other woman included contents of messages that appeared to come from Mr. Petraeus's own account."

Using one (insecure) email account for clandestine romantic communication and for personal threats to a third party is not very smart security protocol, and less than one might expect from a West Point grad who spent so many years in military circles.

Snip from AP counterterrorism/intel reporter Kim Dozier's account:

Broadwell has deep ties and friendships throughout the Washington media sphere and often was sought for comment on Petraeus' viewpoints as he proved harder and harder to reach. The CIA director had lowered his media profile, stopping his practice of emailing reporters and ending once-common background interviews by the agency.

By various accounts, the "other other woman" was neither a government employee nor a family member. My goodness, but this would make a good Jerry Springer episode.

From the WaPo:

The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said.

When Petraeus’s name first surfaced, FBI investigators were concerned that the CIA director’s personal e-mail account had been hacked and security had been breached. But the sexual nature of the e-mails led them to conclude that Petraeus and Broadwell were engaged in an affair, the officials said.

The identity of the woman who received the e-mails was not disclosed, and the nature of her relationship with Petraeus is unknown. The law enforcement officials said the e-mails indicated that Broadwell perceived the other woman as a threat to her relationship with Petraeus.

The WaPo account goes on to specify that national intelligence chief James Clapper learned about the matter "from the FBI on Tuesday evening around 5 p.m.” (that'd be election night), and that Clapper “advised Director Petraeus to resign,” which in civilian-speak sounds like he fired Petraeus.

An updated New York Times story today echoes a similar narrative: the investigation was triggered by a "complaint several months ago about 'harassing' e-mails sent by Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s biographer, to an unidentified third person." The Times reports that most of the relevant emails from Petraeus came from his personal account (identified elsewhere as Gmail), not his official account.

When F.B.I. agents following up on the complaint began to examine Ms. Broadwell’s e-mails, they discovered exchanges between her and Mr. Petraeus that revealed that they were having an affair, said the official, who spoke of the investigation on the condition of anonymity.

The person who complained about harassing messages from Ms. Broadwell, according to the official, was not a family member or a government official. One Congressional official who was briefed on the matter on Friday said senior intelligence officials had explained that the F.B.I. investigation “started with two women.”

“It didn’t start with Petraeus, but in the course of the investigation they stumbled across him,” said the Congressional official, who said the intelligence officials had provided no other information about the two women or the focus of the inquiry. “We were stunned.”

Who was the "other other woman" in Florida who contacted law enforcement about the "harassing emails," then? A professional connection, or a personal one? Why did Broadwell see her as a threat?

Bloomberg on questions of whether security was breached:

Concerned after discovering correspondence because of an earlier Chinese hack into the Google Inc. e-mail service, which the McAfee Internet security company dubbed “Operation Aurora,” the FBI was investigating whether Petraeus’s private or CIA e-mail accounts had been compromised, the official said. They so far have found no evidence of a security breach, any loss of classified material or any evidence that another foreign power was aware of Petraeus’s infidelity, which the official said could have exposed him to blackmail.

Elsewhere, the WaPo reports that eyebrows were raised for some time about the unusual closeness of Broadwell and Petraeus when she embedded with him (snerk) for a year in Afghanistan.

“Her credentials didn’t add up,” said a former Petraeus staff member interviewed by Broadwell. “I was underwhelmed. It was surprising to me that she was his official biographer.”

The general's staff were also annoyed by Broadwell's penchant for form-fitting attire in Afghanistan, where tight pants and bosom-hugging blouses on women "can offend local sensibilities." And then, there was her habit of Facebook-humblebragging from the battlefield:

Officers close to Petraeus grew concerned about her posts on Facebook, which they believed sometimes divulged sensitive operational details. The posts, intended for friends back home, were often playfully written and aimed at showing off her adventures in the war zone.

After he left the military to head the CIA, a Princeton newspaper tried to reach out to Petraeus, who is a Princeton grad ('87), and Broadwell, about a profile. Broadwell wasn't a government employee, but seized the role of personal media liason. “Gen. Petraeus is going to send some thoughts which I’ll pass along to you this afternoon,” she told the Daily Princetonian in an email. More details here, which echo reports elsewhere of this unorthodox role.

tl;dr: Guns were smoking for a while. Why was the CIA chief outed now, and in such dramatic fashion, and effectively by the FBI? For moral failings, or leaks/security breaches, or something more complicated?

(via Blake Hounshell, Chris Soghoian; thanks to Phosphorius for the Overly Attached Broadwell meme-generation)