Who is the real Jill Kelley?

She first hit the news as the apparently innocent victim of abusive emails from the lover of David Petraeus. But the more we've found out about the other, other woman, the greater the mystery

On day one, she wore a bright yellow dress with diamond earrings and a stratospherically expensive handbag. On day two, a pink designer outfit complete with killer heels. All week long, her hair, nails and make-up have been so consistently immaculate, and her catwalk strut so polished, that grizzled paparazzi at the bottom of her driveway are calling her the "Tampa Kardashian".

Pretty much every loose end to the freewheeling scandal that has rocked the White House, claimed the career of CIA director David Petraeus, and may yet take down General John Allen, the US Commander in Afghanistan, now leads to the vast red brick mansion, a short drive from Florida's MacDill Air Force Base, that the 37-year-old Jill Kelley calls home.

The expansive lawn is where Mr Petraeus and his wife, Holly, draped "party beads" around their necks before posing for a now-notorious photograph with Ms Kelley and her husband, Scott. The office is where Ms Kelley read emails that spawned the FBI investigation which exposed Petraeus's extra-marital fling. The living room, below a vast oil painting of herself, is where Ms Kelley stood to dial 911 when reporters began knocking on her door on Sunday. "I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property," she told the operator.

Since that bizarre phone call, Ms Kelley has become the key player in a saga which is sending ripples through the military establishment. Her social relationship with several senior army and intelligence figures is now under the spotlight. And what we learn about her public and private lives may have far-reaching implications for America's national security.

To all outward appearances, Ms Kelley is the wife of a successful Tampa surgeon. She moved to the city roughly a decade ago and has since become one of its most energetic socialites. A fixture on the local party scene, and occasional reality TV star, she became an unofficial "social liaison" for top brass at MacDill, where the military oversees its operations in Afghanistan.

When she isn't bringing up her three children, Ms Kelley, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, devotes her life to raising money for charity and brightening up the cocktail circuit. She is also South Korea's "honorary consul" to Tampa, a ceremonial role which, contrary to the claim she made to the emergency services, does not give her any diplomatic status.

The editor of society magazine Tampa Bay says that lavish parties thrown at Ms Kelley's home, on Bayshore Boulevard, the city's smartest street, has made her a fixture in his pages. One army officer told the Washington Post that she was famed locally as a "rich socialite who likes to hang around with four-star generals".

Yet despite the outward appearance of wealth, Ms Kelley and her husband appear to be millions of dollars in debt. Moreover, her relationship with several senior men in uniform is now at the centre of an FBI investigation.

Trouble began in May when Ms Kelley and several of her contacts began receiving emails from someone writing under the pseudonym "Kelleypatrol". One sent to John Allen warned that she was "trouble". The messages sent to her were more threatening, and reportedly contained such phrases as: "I know what you did" and "Keep off my man!"

Ms Kelley flagged them with Frederick Humphries, an FBI agent she had met in 2011. He passed them on to the Bureau's cybercrime unit. Concerned that someone had inside information about the movements of both Mr Petraeus and General Allen, they launched a full investigation.

It was this inquiry which uncovered the fact that the threatening emails came from Paula Broadwell, the biographer of Mr Petraeus, and then revealed that she was his lover. It also turned up some 20-30,000 pages of what the FBI called "potentially inappropriate" email messages that Ms Kelley had exchanged with General Allen.

Some sources have called those messages "simply flirtatious". Others believe they are more serious. Fox News cited an unnamed official alleging some of General Allen's emails to Ms Kelley were comparable to "phone sex". Elsewhere on her hard drive was a shirtless photograph of Mr Humphries, the FBI agent.

Reporters have also begun digging into Ms Kelley's chaotic finances. She and her husband appear to be struggling to pay the mortgage on their house, bought for $1.5m in 2004 when they moved to Tampa from Pennsylvania. The lavish parties they threw seem to have been financed by credit.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the couple have been sued for failing to make payments on a $250,000 bank loan, and defaulting on credit card bills of $75,000. Chase Bank has gone after them for $25,000. A property company they established to purchase a $2.1m office building went bankrupt. A medical charity they founded collapsed, after spending more than $70,000 on entertaining and travel.

Meanwhile Ms Kelley's twin sister, Natalie, who lives with the couple – and is an ex-girlfriend of former Florida Governor Charlie Crist – has millions of dollars of her own debts. She is at the centre of a messy divorce that, according to recent court papers, forced her to sell her $15,000 fur coat and $25,000 Rolex watch to live.

Yet Ms Kelley appears to be relishing the spotlight. Dressed to the nines, she has kept the curtains of her home open, allowing assembled snappers to steal almost daily photographs and enjoyed several outings in her Mercedes, with its personalised number plate reading "honorary consul".

She has also announced the appointment of a Washington lawyer, Abbe Lowell, and a "crisis management" PR person, Judy Smith. Mr Lowell previously represented disgraced Presidential candidate John Edwards and jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ms Smith's most famous former client is Monica Lewinsky. Given the questions that continue to be asked about the mysterious Ms Kelley, they seem likely to have their work cut out.

Q&A: The Petraeus affair

Q. What set it in motion?

In May an email was sent by someone calling themselves "Kelleypatrol" to General John Allen in Afghanistan telling him that a Tampa woman he was due to meet a few days later in Washington was "trouble". Subsequently, other disquieting emails from the same source were sent to Ms Kelley, who soon alerted a FBI agent with whom she was acquainted. The FBI began an investigation because the sender seemed to know so much about the travel plans of General Allen and the CIA director David Petraeus. The sender turned out to be Paula Broadwell, a biographer of General Petraeus. As they accessed her emails, the FBI soon discovered she and General Petraeus were lovers.

Q. What has all this got to do with the 11 September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi?

General Petraeus told CNN yesterday that he resigned a week ago because of the extra-marital affair only. Today he will testify behind closed doors to both Senate and House intelligence committees and the focus will not be on his humiliation but on Benghazi and, specifically, what he knew about the real nature of the attacks – now known to have been perpetrated by militants and not to have grown out of anti-US protests as was at first asserted – and when he knew it. One wrinkle: Ms Broadwell said in a speech in Colorado recently that the militants attacked to free two men being held by the CIA in a consulate annex. But the CIA denies this.

Q. Why has the career of so revered a figure as General Petraeus been ruined?

If it turns out that he stepped down only because of the affair, that is a good question. But some on Capitol Hill still want to know if he passed classified information to Ms Broadwell. Not once, General Petraeus said yesterday. Sources say that material seized from her home on Monday, including her computer, did contain classified information. But she had Pentagon security clearance – now rescinded – so it did not necessarily come from General Petraeus.

Q. Why has all this come to light only now?

The FBI only informed the White House of the General Petraeus problem on election day. At a press conference on Wednesday, Barack Obama said he was "withholding judgement" on whether he should have been told sooner. We now know that the FBI agent first contacted by Ms Kelley, Frederick Humphries, told a Republican member of Congress at the end of October about the investigation because he feared his superiors had not taken the case seriously enough.

Q. What now for General Allen?

The FBI was interested in General Allen and his links to Ms Kelley from the start because he received the first of the Ms Broadwell emails. As many as 30,000 pages of material passed back and forth between the General and Ms Kelley over two years. The FBI did not see cause For an investigation into General Allen and referred his part in the case to the Pentagon, which indeed is now investigating. The White House has postponed his confirmation as the new European Command chief.

David Usborne

Taliban have the last laugh

At least someone got a laugh from the tribulations of the CIA chief David Petraeus – his foes in the Taliban.

Days after Mr Petraeus stood down from his position amid the fall-out of an extramarital affair, a stony-faced Taliban official burst into laughter at the mention of what happened to the man who served as head of US and international forces in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. "What a bastard! But all Americans are the same, it's nothing new," the unidentified official told Agence France-Presse.

The moral code of the Pashtuns, the main ethnic group from which the Taliban draw their members, also demands severe punishment for adulterers. "From a Pashtun point of view, Petraeus should be shot by relatives from his mistress's family," the Taliban official continued. "From a sharia point of view, he should be stoned to death."

The Taliban official said he was not surprised by news of the general's fall from grace. "It's quite normal for Americans and Western people to behave like this – they live in free sex societies where nobody cares about this sort of thing, so what do you expect?" he said.

Andrew Buncombe

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