The Petraeus Scandal Just Got a Lot Juicier

Wow, that was fast: the adulterous duo of Gen. David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, just turned into a love triangle–or is it a pentagon? Whatever shape the scandal eventually takes, its fallout already extends to the top ranks of the US military.

Let’s play catch-up:

The primary reason the whole story came to light was an FBI complaint filed by Tampa resident Jill Kelley. We’re not quite sure what Mrs. Kelley did, but we do know that Mrs. Broadwell (who was having an affair with Petraeus at the time, remember) regarded her as some sort of threat, emailing her repeatedly about her work as a “social liason” to Florida’s MacDill Air Force base in what some classified as an aggressive and accusatory tone.

Kelley was so disturbed by the messages that she reported them to the FBI; things quickly started to unravel. Petraeus appears to have broken up with Broadwell once he heard about these interactions, but the damage had already been done.

After the FBI gained access to Broadwell’s email account, they uncovered the relationship between the biographer and her subject. According to the latest revelations, they also stumbled upon a very large series of email exchanges between Kelley and General John Allen, the top commander of US/NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Seems like quite a few people had more than a casual interest in Mrs. Kelley.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the FBI recently began investigating the very agent who initiated the whole thing due to his apparent affections for the (married) woman! What role did Gen. Allen play in this sordid affair? That’s not yet clear, but he’s currently under investigation for “inappropriate communication” with Mrs. Kelley–and a top Department of Defense official described the emails (of which there are apparently hundreds) as “flirtatious” in nature. Seems like everyone was flirting with everyone else at this point, doesn’t it?

One more thing: It seems that Mrs. Broadwell’s husband may have written an anonymous letter to Chuck Klosterman, aka the Ethicist, asking whether or not he should expose the affair. In other words, this was always going to end badly for everyone involved.

We’ve already learned some crucial PR lessons from this story. A headline in today’s edition of The New York Times reads “Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers’ Ethics”, and we have to agree that the case offers a pitch-perfect example of what not to do for prominent officers, politicians, brand representatives–hell, anyone required to suffer the scrutiny of the public at large. We can think of at least three new rules that every soldier should learn in basic training:

  • Don’t have affairs.
  • Don’t have affairs with married women.
  • For God’s sake, don’t record evidence of said affairs in email form. Don’t you know that nothing digital is private anymore?
  • Don’t even bother flirting via email unless both parties are “available”. Come on!

What other lessons can we draw from the Petraeus scandal?