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Kelley’s financial strife adds clues to FBI email investigation

by Mike Hoffman on November 13, 2012

A prominent Tampa, Fla., social planner who has found herself at the center of a sex scandal ensnaring two of America’s most prominent generals has faced considerable financial problems that likely grabbed the attention of FBI investigators, experts said.

Jill Kelley, a volunteer social liaison at MacDill Air Force Base, home to U.S. Central Command, is the one who first reported the anonymous, threatening emails she received to the FBI. It’s been widely reported those emails came from Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist and biographer of retired Gen. David Petraeus, who felt Kelley was getting too close to the Army four-star.

The resulting investigation led to the resignation of Petraeus from his post as director of the CIA after admitting to carrying on an affair with Broadwell. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday the investigation into Kelley’s email correspondence now also includes Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan.

A senior defense official said the FBI has uncovered over 30,000 pages of emails between Allen and Kelley over a two year span that started when Allen served as U.S. Central Command’s deputy commander. A Pentagon official described the emails as “inappropriate and flirtatious.” Allen has declined comment forwarding any requests to the Pentagon.

So far U.S. prosecutors have not charged either generals or the two women with any crimes. Minus any charges, some have questioned why the FBI completed such a thorough investigation into these four individual’s email accounts and why they publicly disclosed their affairs.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations subcommittee, might have opened a window into the FBI’s reasoning when he pointed out this morning on CNN the FBI would have needed to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant from a FISA Court to access private citizen’s emails.

A FISA warrant is only granted by the court if the FBI can prove the individual’s under surveillance pose a national security risk. An investigation connecting the CIA Director as well the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is a start toward presenting such a threat.

A closer look at Jill Kelley’s background and the financial problems her and her husband have faced in recent years would have set off more red flags for FBI investigators and FISA Court judges. Debt is seen as one of the most serious threats to a military leader or agency official who holds a security clearance. Security analysts said a person’s financial history is one of the most important parts of an individual’s application for a security clearance — more so than even a drug test.

Kelley’s husband Scott is a prominent doctor in the Tampa community. However, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Central Bank filed a $2.2 million lawsuit against the Kelleys in 2011 for not making payments on a loan for a three-story office building in downtown Tampa.

The Central Bank lawsuit was one of nine against the Kelleys in the past decade dealing with credit card debt and missed payments on real estate.  Court records show on going cases that “include an indebtedness case from Chase Bank; a foreclosure case from Regions Bank; and a credit card case from FIA Card Services,” the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Jill Kelley, 37, is not from Tampa Bay. She grew up in Pennsylvania with her four siblings. She is first generation American. Her parents moved to the U.S. from Lebanon in the 1970s.

She started to volunteer at MacDill after Kelley “organized galas and fashion shows benefiting the American Red Cross and the Tampa Museum of Art,” according to the Tampa paper. However, she couldn’t find her niche in those social circles and moved on to MacDill where she soon started organizing the most prominent military benefits for wounded warriors at the base.

The Kelley family soon befriended Petraeus and his wife as well as other leading members of the military brass who frequently visited CentCom headquarters. Those connections combined with her family’s financial problems would have motivated the FBI to look deeper into Kelley’s past.

“I can’t think of a better target for a foreign intelligence source than a woman who is connected to America’s top military leaders and who is also struggling financially,” said a Pentagon security official who asked not to be named.

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