WASHINGTON : The top US general in Afghanistan was dragged on Tuesday into the sex scandal that brought down CIA director David Petraeus, as a steady stream of new allegations left Washington agog.
The discovery of a trove of correspondence between General John Allen and the woman who led the FBI to Petraeus's former mistress prompted President Barack Obama to put Allen's nomination as Nato's supreme commander on hold.The correspondence included inappropriate emails between Allen and Jill Kelley, 37, a Florida socialite who notified the FBI when she began receiving threatening emails from Paula Broadwell, Petraeus's lover and biographer.In all, the FBI is investigating between 20,000 to 30,000 pages of Allen's correspondence, a Pentagon official told reporters traveling with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.The Washington Post, citing a senior military official close to Allen, reported that the correspondence included 200 to 300 emails between Kelley and the general.A senior military officer in Washington said that Allen had firmly denied any sexual affair, but he said the mails were "flirtatious" and warned that their "sheer volume" could amount to "conduct unbecoming of an officer."The inquiry comes at a sensitive time for Allen and the Pentagon, who are preparing their recommendations to the White House on the political hot button topic of the number of US troops to keep in Afghanistan until 2014.National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Allen would remain in his post in Afghanistan during the probe but that Obama had postponed his nomination as Nato's top military leader pending its conclusion.The senior official said it was "too soon" to know whether the investigation would derail Allen's promotion or disrupt plans to name fellow Marine General Joseph Dunford as his successor in Afghanistan.The latest bombshell came just days after Petraeus, the celebrity general who preceded Allen as allied commander in Afghanistan, resigned as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, citing an extramarital affair.The tangled web of intrigue came to light when FBI agents, acting after Kelley complained of having received anonymous threats, traced a series of emails back to Broadwell's online accounts.On scrutinizing her online records, they found a series of sexually explicit exchanges with Petraeus confirming their affair.The threatening emails she had sent to Kelley -- who told investigators she did not know Broadwell -- suggest that the biographer was jealous of the socialite's rapport with the generals at US Central Command in Florida.In one, according to the Wall Street Journal, Broadwell claimed she had seen Kelley touching "him" provocatively under the table.Petraeus and Broadwell were interviewed separately by investigators in late October and early November and both admitted to the affair.Petraeus reportedly planned to remain in office and tough it out until last week, when the realization that the scandal was about to go public prompted him to offer Obama his shock resignation.Petraeus had been due to testify to Congress this week on the September 11 assault in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens and two former Navy SEALs working for the CIA.The attack, which targeted the US consulate and a secret CIA-run annex, raised questions about whether staff were adequately protected as they operated in the chaotic aftermath of last year's Arab Spring uprising.Now US legislators also want to know why the FBI and the Justice Department did not notify them or the White House sooner about the Petraeus investigation.Petraeus took command of the CIA 14 months ago, retiring from the military after a glittering career that saw him lead the 101st Airborne, the US war in Iraq, its CENTCOM regional command and international forces in Afghanistan.The retired four-star general, who presided over the 2007 troop "surge" in Iraq, is widely credited with turning the tide of the US war there, though similar efforts have been less successful in Afghanistan.Three months after hanging up his uniform, Petraeus started an affair with Broadwell, a former army officer 20 years his junior who traveled with him in Afghanistan to research a now notorious fawning biography.Retired US Army colonel Steve Boylan - a close Petraeus associate - said Petraeus "regrets the poor judgment and the lack of discipline more than we can probably put into words... His words to me were 'I screwed up'."Boylan, who served as Petraeus's spokesman when the pair were in Iraq, said the 60-year-old retired general had warned his wife of 38 years, Holly, about his affair before the news broke and was trying to make amends.On Monday, FBI agents searched Broadwell's North Carolina home, removing bags, boxes and pictures, local media reported. The married mother of two has not been seen at her home since Petraeus resigned over the affair.The Federal Bureau of Investigation itself has also come under scrutiny.On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI agent Kelley contacted about the threatening emails, a personal acquaintance of hers, brought the matter to the attention of Republican lawmakers.The agent apparently believed the bureau was not moving aggressively enough with the investigation, suspecting that his superiors were keen to protect the Democratic president from the fall-out.FBI supervisors had earlier barred the agent from any involvement in the case after he became "obsessed" with the matter, the Journal said.It quoted one official as saying the agent had sent shirtless photos to Kelley well before the email investigation had begun, and said he is currently under investigation by the internal affairs arm of the FBI.The scandal has left Obama with a hole to fill on his national security team at a time when he is also expected to be replacing his secretaries of state, defense and treasury.