The sex scandal that has already cost David Petraeus his job as Director of the CIA widened yesterday with confirmation that the Pentagon is investigating "inappropriate communications" between General John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, and a woman involved in the case.
The FBI said it had notified the Pentagon on Sunday that General Allen was the source of between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of documents sent, mostly by email, to 37-year-old Jill Kelley, who already has an important supporting role in the slowly unfolding Petraeus drama.
It was Ms Kelley, a volunteer "social organiser" for top brass at the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, who started the chain of events that led to General Petraeus's resignation on Friday when she told the FBI during the summer of threatening emails she had been receiving from an unidentified source. It turned out they were coming from Paula Broadwell, a biographer of General Petraeus with whom he had been having an affair.
The exact nature of the material sent by General Allen to Ms Kelley from 2010 until recently was not known last night, and sources close to him insisted that his relationship with her was platonic. A Defence Department official said there was concern over "potentially inappropriate" information in the missives – but another official told the Associated Press that the "flirtatious" language merely amounted to terms such as "sweetheart" and "dear" and had been blown out of proportion, containing no classified information.
While General Allen still had his post last night, Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary, asked President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination of General Allen as the next commander of US European Command. However, Mr Obama appeared to offer political backing to the latest man caught in the scandal, with a White House spokesman saying the resident "thinks very highly of General Allen and his service to his country, as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan".
Returning from the election recess to Capitol Hill yesterday, members of Congress barely knew what to make of a scandal which may turn out to have serious national se- curity implications. "It's really a Greek tragedy," Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said. "This has the elements of a Hollywood movie."
After months of a presidential election that saw nary a jot of nefarious doings, the gods of scandal unleashed a tawdry tale involving two of the country's most revered military figures. Indeed some saw presidential potential in General Petraeus.
At its simplest, it centres on Ms Broadwell, who first came to know General Petraeus as the author of his biography. As she gained more access to him, so a sexual affair blossomed. The FBI stumbled on their extramarital entanglement when it discovered that Ms Broadwell had been the source of the emails to Ms Kelley, apparently of a "back-off-my-guy" nature. The FBI became involved when agents realised they contained sensitive information about the CIA director's whereabouts, according to reports last night.
General Petraeus has acknowledged the affair, which he said began after he became CIA director in 2010 and was no longer a serving general. An adulterous affair is a crime under US military law, which also explains the stakes for General Allen should evidence of a sexual affair between him and Ms Kelley surface.
The FBI is not done yet with the Broadwell connection. On Monday, agents went to her North Carolina home and left with boxes of documents and her computer, suggesting the agency wants to be certain that no classified material passed between the former CIA director and the married Ms Broadwell.
The Pentagon clearly will be looking to ensure the same is true of the extensive Allen-Kelley chronicles. Meanwhile, new details emerged almost hourly. We have learnt, for instance, that the FBI agent who first responded to the request for help from Ms Kelley was swiftly taken off the case because he had been emailing her shirtless pictures of himself. The New York Post reported that both General Petraeus and General Allen had intervened in an especially nasty child custody case on behalf of Ms Kelley's twin sister.
While Ms Broadwell seized the headlines at the start of the scandal, Ms Kelley's relationship with Messrs Petraeus and Allen is now getting more urgent attention.
Theirs was a triangle that seemingly began when General Petraeus led Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, near the home of Ms Kelley, who is married, prior to taking the Afghanistan command. General Allen was his deputy at MacDill.
The scandal has widening political ramifications. Leaders on Capitol Hill are asking why it took the FBI until the weekend to make public what they had known about General Petraeus and Ms Broadwell since the summer.
The White House learnt of it on election day. It upends Mr Obama's reshuffle of his cabinet and his top military commanders. And it comes just as General Allen was detailing a final blueprint for drawing down force numbers in Afghanistan.
As the scandal engulfs Washington, the inevitable effect will also be to undermine America's credibility as the world's military leader in Afghanistan and Nato. Lurking also are questions about the CIA and the 11 September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including the US ambassador to Libya.
Many on Capitol Hill are demanding that General Petraeus testify at forthcoming hearings on the tragedy, where he will be grilled on why he told Congress members after the attacks that it had erupted spontaneously from a riot outside the consulate, when the evidence has since suggested he already knew it had been conducted by militants.
Jill Kelley: Party host
Together with her surgeon husband Scott, Jill Kelley, pictured, was a self-appointed social ambassador for servicemen stationed at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home to the US Central Command. Described as a patriotic woman who threw her energies first into political fundraising before turning her support to the armed forces, she became friends with General Petraeus and General Allen. She hosted lavish parties for military personnel – which apparently contributed to huge credit card debts that led to the couple being sued by their banks. Guests enjoyed champagne and cigars while listening to music performed by string quartets, according to reports in the US media.
Friends have reportedly insisted that her relationship with General Petraeus was purely platonic. So far, all she and her husband have said publicly about their involvement in the scandal came in a modest statement issued on Sunday. "We and our family have been friends with General Petraeus and his family for over five years," it read. "We respect his and his family's privacy and want the same for us and our three children."
The CIA Director
One of the US military's most decorated officers, David Petraeus resigned as Director of the CIA last week after admitting to an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell
John Allen replaced Petraeus as head of US forces in Afghanistan and was due to be named Commander of US European Command. He is under pressure for sending 'flirtatious' emails to Jill Kelley
FBI agents were tipped off about the affair between Petraeus and Ms Broadwell after Jill Kelley received 'abusive' emails from the biographer. She is a liaison officer and socialite from Tampa
There has been no word from Paula Broadwell, a married academic, since new of her affair with Petraeus broke. Colleagues were amazed at the amount of access she had to the former CIA boss