Forget love triangles. It's a love pentagon
The affair between the CIA director and his biographer may have stayed hidden if she hadn’t got jealous. The fallout has rocked the US government
David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell met at Harvard in 2006. Petraeus, then a commander in Iraq, delivered a guest lecture. Broadwell, a master’s student, attended a group dinner with him. An attractive woman 20 years his junior, she worked her way into Petraeus’s heart by professing an interest in counterinsurgency strategy. Petraeus asked for her card. They corresponded.
The four-star general was promoted to head of US central command at MacDill air force base, in Tampa, Florida, in 2008. Broadwell decided to write her doctoral thesis about him.
When President Obama appointed Petraeus to head the international coalition in Afghanistan in 2010, Broadwell transformed her thesis into a book.
The graduates of West Point military academy, both superachievering soldier-scholars and fitness fanatics, seemed destined for one another.
Petraeus had done a doctorate in international relations at Princeton in 1987. Broadwell had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the army reserves.
But both are married. Petraeus’s wife of 38 years, Holly Knowlton, is the daughter of the superintendent of West Point. She has been a model military wife, putting up with long separations during her husband’s deployments, parenting their two children and devoting herself to the cause of military families.
Broadwell met her husband, Scott, a radiologist, when both served in Germany. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina, with their young sons, Lucien and Landon.
Broadwell made six trips to Afghanistan to interview Petraeus. “That was the foundation of our relationship,” she wrote in her biography of him, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. For Petraeus, on-the-hoof interviews were “a good distraction from the war”, she said.
Vernon Loeb, of the Washington Post, wrote the book with Broadwell. “The two must have seen a lot of themselves in each other,” he says. “They shared the West Point bond, an addiction to physical fitness and running and an uberoptimistic, never-say-die outlook on life.”
“Petraeus once joked I was his avatar,” Broadwell told the Charlotte Observer.
Loeb says he never suspected an affair, though he marvelled at Broadwell’s unfettered access to Petraeus. He recounts that, when Petraeus left Afghanistan in August 2011, Broadwell flew out with the general on his jet, then accompanied him on a tour of European capitals before Petraeus returned to Washington.
The general’s friends claim they did not become lovers until November 2011. Broadwell sat in the front row of the Senate hearing that confirmed Petraeus as director of the CIA, the previous summer, looking every inch the femme fatale, in a sleek black dress and high-heeled sandals.
Their affair reportedly ended four months ago. But as late as July 28th, when at a conference in Aspen, Colorado, Broadwell boasted to new acquaintances that Republican donors had suggested she stand for a Senate seat in North Carolina. Petraeus discouraged her, she said.
In Aspen, Broadwell planned a birthday gift for Petraeus, arranging for him to go cycling with Lance Armstrong on November 7th, Petraeus’s 60th birthday. It was not to be. President Obama was informed of the scandal – a computer used by Broadwell contained classified information that should have been held more securely, security officials say – on November 7th. Petraeus resigned on Broadwell’s 40th birthday, November 9th.
When Broadwell’s biography of Petraeus was published, last January, she promoted it on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, wearing a black silk halter top. “The real controversy here is, ‘Is he awesome or incredibly awesome?’” Stewart quipped.
It’s not clear what prompted the jealousy that proved the lovers’ undoing. In May, Broadwell sent six threatening emails to Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old Lebanese-born socialite who lives with her husband (who is, like Broadwell’s spouse, a doctor called Scott) and three daughters in Tampa. “Back off; he’s mine!” was the message.