WRITTEN BY: Kevin Johnson, Jim Michaels and Carolyn Pesce, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - A trove of e-mails linking the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to the woman who triggered an inquiry that resulted in CIA Director David Petraeus' resignation, was discovered almost immediately after the FBI began its investigation earlier this year, a federal law enforcement official said.
The communications, described as flirtatious messages contained in thousands of documents recovered from the computer files of Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, have since been turned over to the Defense Department inspector general who is reviewing the behavior of Gen. John Allen.
TIMELINE: The Petraeus Affair
Allen's involvement represented a dramatic widening of an inquiry that began in late spring as low-level, cyber-stalking allegations brought to the FBI by Kelley. The alleged harassing e-mails were later traced to Petraeus' biographer Paula Broadwell, whose records eventually revealed a romantic relationship with the then-CIA director and concern that classified material might have been compromised.
The federal law enforcement official, who has been briefed on the matter but is not authorized to comment publicly, said Allen was never a subject of the criminal investigation nor was there any evidence that classified material in his possession was compromised. Federal investigators also have since concluded that no classified information in Petraeus' control was leaked.
Allen, however, was regarded as a potential witness in the harassment inquiry because of his connection to Kelley. It is also believed, the law enforcement official said, that Broadwell communicated with Allen. Those communications were not of a romantic nature, the official said.
Because of the ongoing inspector general investigation, Allen's Senate confirmation hearing related to his nomination as Commander of the United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe was postponed Tuesday. But a source familiar with communications involving Allen said there was no sexual relationship between Allen and Kelley. The source also said the communications were not sexually explicit.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he asked the Pentagon's inspector general on Monday to look into 20,000 to 30,000 pages of e-mails and documents from Gen. John Allen to Jill Kelley. He said the FBI referred the matter to the Pentagon on Sunday.
A senior defense official told USA TODAY that Allen's communications were with Kelley, who has been described as an unpaid social liaison at Florida's MacDill Air Force Base, which is headquarters to the U.S. Central Command. She is not a U.S. government employee.
It was Kelley who inadvertently tipped off the FBI to the Petraeus affair. She reported to an FBI agent that she was getting harassing e-mails linked to an e-mail account belonging to Petraeus. The agency traced them to Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer.
Investigators then uncovered the affair between Broadwell and Petraeus, 60, who as a result resigned as head of the CIA on Friday.
Allen, a four-star general, succeeded Petraeus in July 2011 as commander of the International Security Assistance Force, which oversees all international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Panetta said Allen would remain in his position while the investigation continues.
"His leadership has been instrumental in achieving the significant progress that ISAF, working alongside our Afghan partners, has made in bringing greater security to the Afghan people and in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists," Panetta said. "He is entitled to due process in this matter."
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that President Obama continues to support Allen.
"(Obama) has faith in Gen. Allen," said Carney, adding that the president "thinks very highly of Gen. Allen" and remains committed to his foreign policy goals.
Allen was due to become the next commander of the U.S. European Command and the commander of NATO forces in Europe. The Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday it was delaying a scheduled confirmation hearing for Allen.
The panel's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Allen should not step down, based on what he now knows about the case.
"No, I think he ought to stay on unless there is some reason going forward that he has done something wrong and then I think the military folks, the leaders should decide then what the actions should be," Levin said.
Allen denies any wrongdoing, a senior military official told USA TODAY. The senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the e-mails contained no classified information and were "flirtatious" in nature.
Following a Tuesday briefing with acting CIA Director Michael Morrell on Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said she was not entirely satisfied with how Congress was notified of the Petraeus affair, but she was confident that there were no national security concerns.
"I think that it's really important to note that this was a personal indiscretion, as far as we know,'' Pelosi said. "Why somebody would be personally indiscreet is their own problem. Why they would do it over e-mail is beyond my imagination."
It was Petraeus who recommended Allen to become his deputy when Petraeus took over Central Command, headquartered in Tampa, where Kelley lives with her husband.
Petraeus told former staffers and friends that he had regularly visited the Kelleys' home overlooking Tampa Bay. Kelley served as a sort of social ambassador for U.S. Central Command, hosting parties for the general when Petraeus was commander there from 2008 to 2010.
Friends and former staff members of Petraeus told the Associated Press that he has assured them his relationship with Kelley was platonic. They said Petraeus was shocked to learn last summer of Broadwell's e-mails to Kelley.
In a White House statement early Tuesday, National Security spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama has held Allen's nomination at Panetta's request. Obama, the statement said, "remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who Gen. Allen continues to lead as he has so ably done for over a year."
On Monday, FBI agents searched the Charlotte, N.C., home of Broadwell, who is also Petraeus' biographer. Broadwell had high security clearances as part of her former job as a reserve Army major in military intelligence. But those clearances are only in effect when a soldier is on active duty, which she was not at the time she researched the biography.
FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said agents arrived shortly before 9 p.m. at Broadwell's home. Lynch declined to elaborate on what prompted the search.
Earlier Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the FBI had concluded that no classified material related to Petraeus had been compromised.
Following a Tuesday briefing with acting CIA Director Michael Morrell on Capitol Hill, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said she was not entirely satisfied with how Congress was notified of the Petraeus affair, but she was confident that there were no national security concerns.
"I think there are some answers we have to have about notification of Congress, I don't have any reason to think that there are any national security issues at stake in what has transpired," she said. "I think that it's really important to note that this was a personal indiscretion, as far as we know. Why somebody would be personally indiscreet is their own problem, why they would do it over e-mail is beyond my imagination."
A Pentagon official said whether the e-mails under review involved sexual matters or whether they are thought to include unauthorized disclosures of classified information. He said he did not know whether Petraeus is mentioned in the emails.
The FBI also looked into whether a separate set of emails between Petraeus and Broadwell might involve any security breach. That will be a key question Wednesday in meetings involving congressional intelligence committee leaders, FBI deputy director Sean Joyce andMorell.