General David Petraeus, a man who, throughout his career, has appeared invincible to the best-laid plans of his enemies, was apparently felled by email.
The much vaunted career military professional, who served both Republican and Democrat presidents in several capacities, resigned on Friday as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after the FBI discovered he had been involved in an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
The FBI began investigating because of harassing emails sent to a second woman -- which the Associated Press identifies as Jill Kelley. Over the course of its investigation, the department began questioning whether a computer used by Petraeus had been compromised, and discovered evidence of the affair along with other security concerns. One of these concerns was the four star general's use of Gmail, a cloud-based free email service, under a pseudonym.
So, what began as a "potential cybercrime, or a breach of classified information," as the Wall Street Journal writes, became the electronic fingerprint that destroyed Petraeus's career when the FBI ran into "sexually explicit emails between two lovers, from an account Mr. Petraeus used a pseudonym to establish."
The FBI and local federal prosecutors worked together to see whether any cyber-stalking laws were broken, reports BoingBoing. They used forensic methods, such as the other email accounts the user had accessed from that computer, to identify the writer of the malevolent emails. Working with Gmail metadata, investigators eventually identified Broadwell as a prime suspect, accessed her email account, and discovered evidence of her relationship with the general.
It's the same kind of analysis that security teams do to search out breaches within corporate ranks -- or on crime TV shows, drilling down IP addresses until all but one is eliminated.
The FBI's case didn't solely revolve around computer forensics. They had to observe legal niceties, too. Under the Stored Communications Act, a "government entity" can force an electronic communication service provider to disclose "contents of a wire or electronic communication" that's been stored for 180 days or less, with a warrant, reports ABC News. To get a warrant, an agency must show probable cause that a particular crime is being, or has been, committed.
Should the email, or other communication, have been stored for more than 180 days, then the agency has to produce an administrative subpoena or court order which does not require probable cause.
Additionally, the Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically addresses -- and forbids -- adultery. Those who break this code face a maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to one year. Petraeus has said the affair did not begin until he began heading up the CIA.
Whether you're in public or private industry, the downfall of Petraeus certainly serves as a cautionary tale -- and a reminder that love may be fleeting, but email seldom is.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution