TAMPA — For David Petraeus, the slide down from the top apparently began in early August 2011, when he returned home after serving as the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
He met with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, according to federal court documents filed Tuesday in North Carolina in conjunction with his agreement to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally possessing and storing classified information. Broadwell, an Army Reserve major, began asking Petraeus about his “black books,” a collection of “highly classified” information he had been gathering during his tour as the commander of the International Security Assistance Forces.
“They’re in a rucksack up there somewhere,” Petraeus told Broadwell, according to a conversation which the documents say Broadwell recorded.
“Okay,” Broadwell said. “You avoiding that? You gonna look through ‘em first?”
Petraeus seemed to hesitate.
“Umm, well, they’re really — I mean they are highly classified, some of them. They don’t have it on it, but I mean there’s code word stuff on there.”
But Petraeus, who had signed several documents pertaining to the handling of classified information, turned over eight black books to Broadwell that contained highly classified information about the identification of covert CIA operatives, war strategy, intelligence capability, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings and his discussions with President Barack Obama, according to documents filed in his plea deal.
The relationship between the two exploded into the news on Nov. 9, 2012 after it was revealed that Petraeus, at the time director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was stepping down because of an affair with Broadwell. Two days later, the story came to Tampa, when it was leaked that Jill Kelley, who along with her husband Scott have been friendly with military leaders at MacDill, inadvertently touched off the investigation by reaching out to the FBI after receiving what she claims were threatening emails sent to her husband’s account. The subsequent investigation had led to the discovery of the affair between Petraeus and Broadwell.
He now faces up to a year in prison, a $100,000 fine and up to five years probation.
According to court documents, prosecutors have agreed not to oppose Petraeus’ request for no jail time and both parties agreed to a two-year probation, and a $40,000 fine.
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Before his affair came to light, David Petraeus was one of this generation’s most revered general officers.
He rose to fame as the military commander leading the 2007 surge in Iraq. Credited with helping quell a disastrous situation there, he later came to MacDill as he became commander of all U.S. Central Command, overseeing U.S. military operations in the Middle East and South Asia. After Gen. Stanley McChrystal stepped down over a magazine article, Petraeus went to Afghanistan to lead U.S. and allied forces there. After he retired, he became director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Tuesday morning, after long speculation, Petraeus signed an agreement to plead guilty, which included new details of how the man who used to lead the CIA mishandled classified information, then lied to the FBI by telling investigators he never provided Broadwell classified documents and when he denied keeping books containing “highly classified” information.
Neither Petraeus nor Broadwell immediately answered emails seeking comment.
The following account is from the court documents.
During his time in Afghanistan, Petraeus collected the highly classified information that he stored in eight, bound, 5-by-8-inch black books.
But instead of turning those books over to the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., a repository for the Pentagon’s classified information, Petraeus not only kept them, but he gave them to Broadwell, who is referred to in the documents only as his biographer and not by name.
The handoff came in August 2011 when Broadwell was visiting Washington, D.C.
Broadwell, who had the black books for several days, did not use their classified information in the Petraeus biography she co-authored, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” according to the documents.
On Sept. 1, 2011, Petraeus recovered the black books from Broadwell and took them to his own home. Five days later, he became the director of the CIA. In July 2012, FBI agents visited Petraeus in office at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in connection with two media leak investigations.
“I understand that providing false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigations is a violation of law,” Petraeus affirmed during his interviews.
A little more than four months later, on Oct. 26, 2012, FBI agents again visited Petraeus in his CIA office, this time advising him that agents were conducting a criminal investigation. When asked about mishandling classified information, Petraeus stated he never provided any to his biographer or helped the biographer get access to classified materials.
“The statements were false,” according to the court documents. “Petraeus then and there knew that he previously shared the Black Books with his biographer.”
On Nov. 9, 2012 Petraeus resigned from the CIA over the affair with Broadwell.
About two weeks after that, Petraeus signed documents saying he had no classified information in his possession even though he still possessed the black books.
As the controversy of the affair swirled, the FBI on April 5, 2013, issued a search warrant for Petraeus’ Washington home and seized the black books from an unlocked desk drawer in the first-floor study, according to the documents.
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The Petraeus scandal blew up in Tampa on Nov. 11, 2012, after Kelley’s name was leaked to the media. She and her husband Scott, an oncologist, later sued the government, claiming her rights were violated by that leak.
The investigation into the emails began May 11, 2012, according to the suit, when Marine Gen. John Allen, one of the many military leaders the Kelleys befriended in Tampa, emailed Kelley to tell her he had received an email that “disparaged Kelley and made reference to an upcoming dinner they were having with several senior foreign intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.”
Allen, who had taken over for Petraeus in Afghanistan, “was troubled by the email, in particular that somebody knew about the dinner, which had not been publicly announced, thereby presenting a potential security concern,” the lawsuit states.
The nature of the email caused some senior commanders to urge Kelley to report the email to law enforcement, the suit states.
On June 3, Scott Kelley received an anonymous email disparaging and threatening Kelley, the suit states. That email, from someone identifying themselves only as “Tampa Angel...concluded with threats about avert[ing] embarrassment for all, including spouses, such as info in national headlines.”
Two days later, Scott Kelley received another email from “Tampa Angel” making “baseless allegations about Mrs. Kelley’s behavior.” Around the same time, the Kelleys were told that Allen and Petraeus, both family friends, were also receiving anonymous emails, the suit states.
By June 25, the FBI discovered that Broadwell “stalked a senior military official and sent the Kelleys, Director Petraeus, and Gen. Allen the threatening and defamatory emails about Mrs. Kelley.’’
As the investigation continued, the Kelleys’ suit contends that the FBI tried to insinuate Jill Kelley was having an affair with the FBI agent she first went to. Then, in July, agents arrived at her home, interrupted her trip to the airport and accused her of having affairs with Allen and Petraeus, according to the suit, allegations she denied.
The investigation eventually led to several thousand emails exchanged between Jill Kelley and Allen, who though cleared of wrongdoing by the Pentagon, opted to retire after news of those emails came out.
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Petraeus has “selflessly served our country with perhaps greater distinction than any other military leader of his generation,” said Jill Kelley in a statement to the Tribune. “The irony that our Justice Department appears to have no compunction about persecuting such a iconic general and patriot who has contributed so much to his country, yet neither the Department of Justice nor the Department of Defense has done anything to hold accountable or investigate their own officials who unfairly made our innocent family ‘collateral damage’ with countless leaks and lies to distract from their unlawful search of our private emails – after we reported anonymous threats from a cyber stalker.”
Kelley said she and her husband “pray Gen. Petraeus will prevail in this ordeal, and hope our country will have the good fortune to once again benefit from his epic service.”
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Paula Broadwell is still in the Army Reserve as an Individual Mobilization Augmentation officer, said Army Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, who could not comment about whether there are any open Army investigations into either Broadwell or Petraeus. As of Jan. 12, her security clearance had been suspended, but Conway did not immediately know the current status.
Mark Zaid, a Washington D.C. attorney who regularly handles national security cases and represents government employees accused of leaking classified information, said he doubts either will face military discipline. But Zaid expressed surprise at the criminal charge against Petraeus.
“Given the ferocity with which the Obama administration has pursued leakers and the jail sentences they have received, it raises significant questions as to why Petraeus would be dealt with so lightly,” said Zaid. “Obviously he has contributed to our country’s interests but one could argue it is the senior leaders who should be made examples of when criminality occurs rather than the lower-level officials.”