WASHINGTON -- The salacious David Petraeus sex scandal grew ever wider Tuesday as yet another four-star general became caught up in an FBI investigation ironically set in motion by the Tampa socialite at the heart of the latest eye-popping revelations.
Any aspirations the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, marine Gen. John Allen, may have had to lead NATO appeared to go up in smoke amid allegations he exchanged as many as 30,000 "potentially inappropriate" emails with Jill Kelley, a volunteer social liaison officer to an air force base in Tampa.
U.S. President Barack Obama put the brakes on Allen's NATO nomination early Tuesday.
"At the request of the secretary of defence, the president has put on hold his nomination of Gen. Allen... pending the investigation of Gen. Allen's conduct," Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
Adultery can be a crime under military law, depending on the circumstances. It's particularly frowned upon for intelligence officials since it can leave them vulnerable to blackmail attempts.
Kelley and her family are now the subject of seamy media attention months after she first complained to a friendly FBI agent in Florida about menacing, anonymous email showing up in her inbox.
That agent, incidentally, was removed from the case when he reportedly sent shirtless photos of himself to Kelley and tipped off a Republican congressman about the FBI probe because he feared it was being stalled to benefit Obama politically.
The source of the nasty emails to Kelley turned out to be 40-year-old Paula Broadwell, Petraeus's extramarital girlfriend at the time. The FBI then learned of an ongoing affair between Petraeus, the retired four-star general, and Broadwell, his fawning biographer and a North Carolina mother of two.
Petraeus, 60, resigned from the CIA on Friday, one day after informing Obama about the affair.
But investigators also reportedly learned of another puzzling association throughout the course of their probe -- Allen's and Kelly's. In two years, from 2010 to 2012, the pair apparently exchanged as many as 30,000 emails.
"That's a heck of a lot of time behind the computer sending notes to a party planner," retired general James "Spider" Marks said on CNN.
"From a senior officer who has, obviously, a bunch of things on his plate. He's burning a lot of daylight spending time with a party planner over email. So that's just bizarre, in my mind."
Now Kelley, not just Broadwell -- the woman who jealously viewed her as a rival for Petraeus's affections -- is on the hot seat, accused of impropriety and even of possessing classified information.
The 37-year-old Kelley, the daughter of Philadelphia-based Lebanese immigrants, is married to a Tampa surgeon and has three young children. She insists she and her husband are simply close friends of David and Holly Petraeus; she's hired a high-priced D.C. lawyer to represent her.
A blog written by Petraeus's adult daughter suggests the couples and their children have spent Christmas and Thanksgiving together in recent years. An online scrapbook about one of Kelley's young daughters features a photo of the girl sitting on Petraeus's lap. Broadwell, however, apparently saw something more in their relationship. According to some reports, her emails to Kelley asked if her husband was aware of her behaviour, and alleged she'd witnessed her suspected romantic rival stroking Petraeus's leg beneath a table at a social event.
The latest developments create serious headaches for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Allen was soon set to give Defence Secretary Leon Panetta a recommendation on U.S. troop withdrawals in 2013; he's now in Washington, dealing with the allegations against him.
The FBI investigation, set into motion by Kelley, reportedly turned attention onto her email as well -- something she might not have banked on when calling a friend in the agency to complain about the anonymous messages. That friend is now under internal investigation at the FBI.
-- The Canadian Press