Petraeus faces Senate grilling over 'affair cover-up' at the CIA

Departure of director who had extra-marital relationship is questioned by politicians as agency battles fall-out over Libya debacle

Scandal hung over the Central Intelligence Agency last night, as details continued to emerge about the surprise departure of its director, the high-profile former US Army General, David Petraeus.

The resignation, after what he described on Friday as an "unacceptable" extra-marital affair, cast a shadow over the immediate future of the CIA. It faces ongoing questions over the handling of the murder of Christopher Stevens, US Ambassador to Libya.

General Petraeus was scheduled to testify about the killing of Stevens before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. But his departure means lawmakers must instead cross-examine his former deputy, Michael Morell, who is now the CIA's acting director.

That has upset critics of the Obama administration, who believe the Ambassador died because of security failures. Many have already accused officials of attempting to cover-up details of the tragedy to prevent damage to the President's foreign policy credentials in the run-up to last week's presidential election.

Even Democrats on the Intelligence Committee are upset at the circumstances of Petraeus's resignation. Dianne Feinstein, its chair, told Fox News she was upset that her members were not forewarned.

"It was like a lightning bolt," she said. In a move aimed at reassuring conspiracy theorists who want to see the General cross-examined, Feinstein did not rule out issuing a subpoena forcing him to testify at a later date.

The CIA certainly has serious questions to answer about the attack on Stevens, which took place in Benghazi on 11 September.

Initial intelligence reports prompted Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, to claim, wrongly, that it was the culmination of a spontaneous demonstration by Libyans angry at a Youtube video insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Instead, it now appears to have been a long-planned terrorist assault. Critics also point out that many other Governments, including the British, had withdrawn diplomats from the city in the run-up to the tragedy, due to worries about security. Before Thursday's hearing Mr Morell and the FBI's deputy director, Sean Joyce, will meet Ms Feinstein's committee on to explain when details of the general's affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, were first shared with the White House.

Although the FBI had spent weeks investigating General Petraeus, it seems that the President's staff were kept in the dark about concerns over his private life until Wednesday. That has led to allegations that a lid was deliberately kept on the scandal until after the election.

Fresh nuggets of information about Petraeus's colourful private life are emerging. It seems the FBI first began investigating Ms Broadwell after receiving a complaint from one Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old social liaison to the military's Joint Special Operations Command, who lives in Florida.

Ms Kelley had apparently received several threatening emails from Broadwell, warning against pursuing a relationship with Petraeus. When agents looked closely at the email account involved, they discovered thousands of messages, many of them highly personal, that General Petraeus had sent Broadwell from a private address.

Broadwell also appeared to be in possession of classified information. In some circumstances, that might have prompted the FBI to immediately contact the White House, along with senior lawmakers.

However it seems that the information did not come from Petraeus and was not sufficiently important to justify a leak inquiry. Ms Broadwell has disappeared since being identified in the wake the resignation on Friday, and has not responded to emails or calls seeking comment. She was due to celebrate her 40th birthday in Washington at the weekend, but her husband Scott – with whom she has two young children – emailed guests cancelling the party. General Petraeus, 60, has also remained silent, and apparently spent the weekend attempting to reconcile with his wife of 37 years, Holly.

A friend told the Associated Press that rumours that he had had a second affair, with Ms Kelley, were untrue.

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