WASHINGTON — High-level officials at the FBI and the Justice Department were notified in the late summer that FBI agents had uncovered what appeared to be an extramarital affair involving Central Intelligence Agency chief David H. Petraeus, government officials said Sunday.
But law enforcement officials did not notify anyone outside the FBI or the Justice Department until last week because the inquiry was incomplete and initial concerns about possible security breaches, which would demand more immediate action, did not appear to be justified, the officials said.
The new accounts of the events that led to Petraeus’s sudden resignation on Friday shed light on the competing pressures facing FBI agents who recognized the high stakes of any investigation involving the CIA director but who were wary of exposing a private affair with no criminal or security implications. For the first time Sunday, the woman whose report of harassing e-mails led to the exposure of the affair was identified as Jill Kelley, 37, of Tampa.
Some members of Congress have protested the delay in being notified of the FBI’s investigation of Petraeus until just after the presidential election. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that her committee would ‘‘absolutely’’ demand an explanation.
A close friend of the Petraeus family said Sunday that the intimate relationship between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, began after he retired from the Army last year and about two months after he began work as CIA director.
The involvement of the FBI began with an inquiry into half a dozen anonymous, harassing e-mail messages.
Petraeus, 60, and Broadwell, 40, met in 2006, when Petraeus spoke at Harvard University, where Broadwell was working toward a master’s degree in public administration.
In a January story about her biography of Petraeus, The Charlotte Observer reported that Broadwell, a Charlotte resident, told him about her interest in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. When she asked the general if she could use him as a subject of a dissertation, he agreed, and the paper later was turned into a book.
The affair ended about four months ago, said the friend.
On Sunday, that family friend confirmed the identity of Kelley, whose complaint to the FBI about ‘‘harassing’’ e-mails, eventually traced to Broadwell, set the initial investigation in motion several months ago. Kelley, along with her husband, became friends with Petraeus and his wife, Holly, when Petraeus was head of the military’s Central Command in Tampa.
A statement from Kelley and her husband, Scott Kelley, on Sunday said they had “been friends with General Petraeus and his family for over five years” but did not acknowledge that it was Kelley who received the e-mails.
The involvement of the FBI, according to government officials, began when Kelley, alarmed by about half a dozen anonymous e-mails accusing her of inappropriate flirtatious behavior with Petraeus, complained to an FBI agent who is also a personal friend. Agents working with federal prosecutors in a local US attorney’s office began trying to figure out whether the e-mails constituted criminal cyber-stalking.
Eventually they identified Broadwell as a prime suspect and obtained access to her regular e-mail account. In its inbox, they discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.
Eventually they determined that Petraeus had indeed sent the messages to Broadwell and concluded that the two had had an affair. Then they turned their scrutiny on him, examining whether he knew about or was involved in sending the harassing e-mails to Kelley.
It was at that point — sometime in the late summer — that lower-level Justice Department officials notified supervisors the case had become more complicated.
It remains uncertain exactly when the information about Petraeus reached Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Robert S. Mueller III, the FBI director.
FBI agents interviewed Broadwell for the first time the week of Oct. 21, and she acknowledged the affair, a government official briefed on the matter said. She also voluntarily gave the agency her computer. In a search of it, the agents discovered several classified documents, which raised the additional question of whether Petraeus had given them to her. She said that he had not. Agents interviewed Petraeus the following week. He also admitted to the affair but said he had not given any classified documents to her. The agents then interviewed Broadwell again Nov. 2, the official said.
Based on that record, law enforcement officials decided there was no evidence that Petraeus had committed any crime and tentatively ruled out charges coming out of the investigation, the official said. Because the facts had now been settled, the agency notified James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, about 5 p.m. on the following Tuesday — Election Day.
Meanwhile, the FBI agent who had helped get a preliminary inquiry started and learned of Petraeus’s affair and initial concerns about security breaches became frustrated. Apparently unaware that those concerns were largely resolved, the agent alerted the office of Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, about the inquiry in late October.
Officials said Sunday that the timing of notifications had nothing to do with the election, noting that there was no obvious political advantage for either President Obama or Mitt Romney in the news that the CIA director had had an affair; Petraeus is highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats.