Should E-Mails That Led to Petraeus Have Warranted an FBI Investigation?


Is a string of angry e-mails really enough to persuade the FBI to open a cyberstalking investigation? The New York Times says the answer is yes if the e-mails in question reflect an inside knowledge of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. That was true of e-mails sent anonymously to Jill Kelley, a friend of ex-CIA director, David Petraeus, which prompted the FBI office in Tampa to begin an investigation last June. The inquiry traced the e-mails to Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell, exposed their affair, and led to his resignation. Last night, the FBI searched Broadwell’s home in Charlotte with her consent.

David Laufman, a former federal prosecutor in national security cases, said, “there's a lot of chatter and noise about cybercrimes” that rarely leads to an investigation. He called it plausible that if Kelley “indicated that the stalking was related to her friendship with the CIA director, that would have elevated it as a priority for the bureau.” Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor who studies computer crime, said it was “surprising that they would devote the resources” to checking who was behind a half-dozen harassing e-mails. “The FBI gets a lot of tips, and investigating any one case requires an agent or a few agents to spend a lot of time. They can't do this for every case, and the issue is, why this one case?”

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