In an unusual CIA case, the FBI detoured from its usual path

The Associated Press /

Published Nov 19, 2012 at 04:00AM

WASHINGTON — The way the FBI responded to Jill Kelley’s complaint about receiving harassing emails, which ultimately unraveled or scarred the careers of ex-CIA Director David Petraeus and Marine Gen. John Allen, is the exception, not the rule.

The FBI commonly declines to pursue cyberstalking cases without compelling evidence of serious or imminent harm to an individual, victims of online harassment, advocacy groups and computer crime experts told The Associated Press.

But in the sensational episode that uncovered the spy chief’s adulterous affair, the FBI’s cyberdivision devoted months of tedious investigative work to uncover who had sent insulting and anonymous messages about Kelley, the Florida socialite who was friendly with Petraeus and Allen — and friends with a veteran FBI counterterrorism agent in Tampa.

The bureau probably would have ignored Kelley’s complaint had it not been for information in the emails that indicated the sender was aware of the travel schedules of Petraeus and Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Instead, the FBI considered this from the earliest stages to be an exceptional case, and one so sensitive that FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder were kept notified of its progress.

How the FBI’s investigation unfolded — especially its decision not to alert the White House, the director of national intelligence or Congress about its discovery of Petraeus’s sexual affair until Election Day — is under scrutiny, especially because there is no indication so far that any criminal charges will be filed.

Mueller and his deputy, Sean Joyce, have met privately with lawmakers to defend how the inquiry was handled. Holder said on Thursday that law enforcement officials did not inform the president and Congress about the probe because it did not uncover any threat to national security.

President Barack Obama said he was withholding judgment until he learns more. “You know, we don’t have all the information yet,” Obama said at a White House news conference. “But I want to say that I have a lot of confidence generally in the FBI.”