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The Petraeus affair: A lot more than sex

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David Petraeus (AP photo) and Paula Broadwell (Twitter photo)

Unlike many stories about powerful Washington figures having secret affairs, the downfall of spy chief David Petraeus goes deeper than sex.

The scandal surrounding the decorated four-star Army general who once ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involves questions of national security, politics and even the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Petraeus resigned Friday after acknowledging he had an affair with a woman later identified as his biographer, Paula Broadwell, a fellow West Point graduate who spent months studying the general’s leadership of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Days after Petraeus’ resignation stunned Washington, information continues to emerge. Among other things, a video has surfaced of a speech by Petraeus’ paramour in which she suggested the Libya attack was targeting a secret prison at the Benghazi consulate annex, raising unverified concerns about possible security leaks.

The affair came to light during an FBI investigation of “jealous” e-mails reportedly sent by Broadwell to a woman named Jill Kelley, a government source familiar with the investigation told CNN on Monday.

Kelley and her husband Scott released a statement saying they have been friends with Petraeus and his family for more than five years and asked for privacy.

Although Kelley lives in Tampa, Florida, she’s known as a member of Washington’s social circuit, according to the government source. The source has not spoken to Kelley, but says friends describe her as feeling like she is an “innocent victim.”

Petraeus has denied having an affair with anyone other than Broadwell, according to a friend of the former general who has spoken with him since news of the affair broke.

The scandal also is rumbling through the halls of Congress, where leaders in both parties are seeking answers about the FBI investigation and there’s much speculation about the impact Petraeus’ resignation will have into the inquiry into the Benghazi attack.

Petraeus was scheduled to testify on the attack and the government’s reaction to it this week.

Here’s a look at the major threads of this still-unfolding story:

Why does it matter? Security and Benghazi

While affairs may be commonplace in Washington, when they involve the director of the CIA, things can take on a different tone.

The Justice Department has said there was no breach of national security as a result of Petraeus’ affair, but that hasn’t stopped discussion that Broadwell could have gained access to classified information as a result of what she has routinely described as “unprecedented access” to Petraeus.

That discussion seemed to gain momentum Monday thanks to comments Broadwell made in a speech last month at the University of Denver.

“I don’t know if a lot of you have heard this, but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to get these prisoners back,” Broadwell said.

A senior intelligence official told CNN on Monday, “These detention claims are categorically not true. Nobody was ever held at the annex before, during, or after the attacks.”

Broadwell’s source for that previously unpublished bit of information remains unclear, and there’s no evidence so far that it came from Petraeus. Administration officials have said the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack.

The New York Times also reported Sunday that investigators found classified documents on Broadwell’s laptop computer. The newspaper cited investigators as saying Petraeus denied he had given them to her.

Retired Gen. James “Spider” Marks, for whom Broadwell once worked and who knows Petraeus, said he doubts security protocols were breached despite what seems an unlikely indiscretion on the part of Petraeus.

“There’s almost zero percent chance that national security was compromised or at risk,” he said Monday.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said an extramarital affair by a CIA officer is not automatically considered a security violation.

“It depends on the circumstances,” the official said.

The official also said Broadwell did not have a security clearance from the CIA.

Another official said Broadwell, who is a reserve Army officer, did have some kind of security clearance and that there are no issues with Broadwell having unauthorized access to classified information.

Petraeus’ resignation also presents challenges to the congressional inquiry into the Benghazi attack.

CNN has confirmed that Petraeus recently traveled to Libya to meet the CIA station chief to discuss the attack. He was scheduled to testify before a congressional committee this week on the assault and the U.S. government response to it.

That will now not happen, but it is possible that he could be summoned by Congress to testify later.

Some Republicans have criticized the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack and have speculated that Petraeus’ departure was linked to the congressional inquiry.

Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said elements of the story “don’t add up.” He called Petraeus “an absolutely essential witness, maybe more than anybody else.”

However, a senior U.S. official said Petraeus’ departure wasn’t connected to the Benghazi hearing.

“Director Petraeus’ frank and forthright letter of resignation stands on its own,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “Any suggestion that his departure has anything to do with criticism about Benghazi is completely baseless.”

The investigation

The affair came to light when an FBI investigation looked into a complaint that Broadwell was sending harassing e-mails to another woman close to Petraeus, a U.S. official told CNN.

During the investigation, other communications surfaced between Petraeus and Broadwell, a married mother of two, according to the official.

Petraeus used a personal account to e-mail Broadwell, not his CIA account, a U.S. official said Sunday.

The FBI interviewed Petraeus, said the official, who stressed that the CIA director was never the target of the investigation and his communications were never compromised. The official did not know whether Broadwell was interviewed.

The official could not say if the investigation continues.

Questions have arisen about why congressional leaders were not informed of the investigation immediately.

According to a congressional aide familiar with the matter, the House and Senate intelligence committees weren’t informed that there was an FBI investigation into the situation until Friday.

“The committees are required to be kept informed of significant intelligence activities,” the aide said Saturday. “If there was an official investigation that was looking, at least in part, at information that was compromising the CIA director, then I think there’s a solid argument to say that the committee leadership should have been notified to at least some level of detail.”

But former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes told CNN on Monday that if, as the investigation progresses, the FBI is not “uncovering criminal activity” or a “breach of security” then “there really isn’t a need” to notify members of Congress.

The FBI has “very strict protocols” about who should be notified in this type of investigation, Fuentes said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, knew in October about Petraeus’ involvement in an extramarital affair, a spokesman for the congressman told CNN on Sunday.

Doug Heye said Cantor was tipped to the information by an FBI employee. The congressman had a conversation with the official, described as a whistle-blower, about the affair and national security concerns involved in the matter, he said.

The affair

According to a Charlotte Observer story from January, Broadwell and Petraeus first met in 2006 at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where she was a student.

According to the newspaper, she told him about her interest in studying military leadership. He gave her his business card and offered his help.

“He really cares about mentoring,” she said.

Broadwell later traveled to Afghanistan, where she interviewed Petraeus repeatedly, sometimes on long runs that likely increased the general’s respect for her, Marks told CNN.

“She probably kicked his butt,” Marks said. “And it was probably the first time that had ever happened to him, so he let his guard down. He brought her in.”

Out of those conversations and months of other research came the best-selling book “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.”

In promoting the book, and defending it against critics who said it was too sympathetic, she frequently spoke of her unprecedented access to the general and glowingly of his character.

“I’m not a spokesperson for him, and if showing a role model to other people in the world or other readers is a repugnant thing, then I’m sorry, but I think the values that he upholds and tries to instill in his organizations are valuable and worth pointing out,” she told CNN in February.

The actual affair began about two months after Petraeus took over at the CIA in September 2011, according to Petraeus’ friend.

It ended about four months ago, and the two last talked about a month ago, the friend said.

The decision to end the relationship was mutual, the friend said.

According to her biography at the University of Denver, Broadwell graduated with honors from the U.S. Military Academy and has had “assignments with the U.S. intelligence community, U.S. Special Operations Command and an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

She is a now a doctoral student at King’s College in London, where her webpage indicates she is interested in studying military leadership, organizational and management theories and U.S. foreign, defense and intelligence policies.

CNN has not been able to contact Broadwell for comment. Her house did not appear occupied Monday.

Former Petraeus spokesman Steve Boylan said the retired general is devastated by the incident.

“He’s taking this hard,” Boylan said. “He is aware of the impact this has had on his family, and he knows what a wonderful family he has. On a personal level, he sees this as a failure, and this is a man who has never failed at anything.”

Credit: CNN. CNN’s Barbara Starr, Suzanne Kelly, Carol Cratty, Candy Crowley, Dana Bash and Pam Benson contributed to this report.