(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Yuri Gripas)
In a continuing saga that has shaken the intelligence and military communities, Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is now under investigation for what is being billed as "inappropriate communications" with the woman who initially launched the scandal that led to the resignation of former CIA Director and four-star general David Petraeus.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was notified of the investigation while flying from Hawaii to Australia and issued a statement to reporters saying that Allen, whose name has been submitted for Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, is now being delayed pending an internal investigation.
"While the matter is under investigation and before the facts are determined, General Allen will remain Commander of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force)," Panetta said in a statement released late Monday. "His leadership has been instrumental in achieving the significant progress that ISAF, working alongside our Afghan partners, has made in bringing greater security to the Afghan people and in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. He is entitled to due process in this matter. In the meantime, I have asked the President – and the President has agreed – to put his nomination on hold until the relevant facts are determined."
Allen will remain in his current post until the Pentagon has completed their own investigation.
The chain of events that could have been the backdrop of a John Grisham or Tom Clancy novel has become a real-life drama that was revealed when Jill Kelley, who served as a volunteer "social liaison" for military families at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., informed a friend who happened to be an FBI agent that she had received several anonymous and threatening emails.
A subsequent investigation revealed that Paula Broadwell, who penned a book on Petraeus and had an 11-month affair that began soon after he became CIA director, sent the emails to Kelley warning her to stay away from Petraeus. After the bureau discovered additional emails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the two admitted to a sexual relationship. Both are married.
The FBI, fearing national security may have been breached, cleared Petraeus and Broadwell of violating any such rules and determined that no such information was compromised. During the course of the investigation that began last summer, they informed Attorney General Eric Holder that an investigation was pending but did not tell the White House or members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
However, in an unusual move, they informed James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence at 5 p.m. on Election Day last Tuesday. Clapper then confronted Petraeus, urged him to resign and then told the White House the following day.
Kelley, who has described herself as a close family friend of the Petraeus', apparently corresponded with Allen. The FBI says between 20,000 to 30,000 pages of what are mostly emails were sent between Kelley and Allen from 2010 to 2012.
A senior U.S. official who is close to Allen told The Washington Post that Allen did not engage in an affair with Kelley, nor did he have inappropriate communications with her. He did, however, admit they exchanged several hundred emails, describing them as "routine stuff." The senior adviser also denied the amount of information was anywhere close to the 20,000-plus pages the Pentagon is said to have.
Nonetheless, FBI agents may have grown suspicious when Allen used terms of endearment such as "sweetheart" to refer to Kelley. The senior adviser said their relationship was platonic and not romantic in any way. They also said Kelley and Allen's wife Kathy were "good friends."
Regardless of the outcome on Allen, the scandal has rocked President Obama's national security staff and thrown a major wrench into his plans for filling senior military and intelligence jobs in his second term.
Allen succeeded Petraeus as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan when he resigned to take over as CIA director. But Allen's nomination to assume command of all U.S. forces in Europe, also known as EUCOM, is billed as one of the top jobs in all of the armed forces. If confirmed, he would be elevated to the rank of four-star general.
Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford has been nominated to succeed Allen in Afghanistan and will undergo confirmation hearings in the Senate within the coming weeks. Panetta has asked that his hearing be expedited.