The Arab Reading of the Petraeus/Allen Affair: Jill Kelley is Gilberte Khawam, a Lebanese

The headlines about the Petraeus affair in the Arab world this morning almost universally read something like “Lebanese woman brings down CIA.” The woman who seems to have destroyed three careers and kicked off the FBI investigation of Gen. David Petraeus, ex-director of the CIA, goes by Jill Kelley. But her maiden name is Gilberte Khawam.

The Khawam family is Maronite Catholics from Jounieh in Lebanon, and came to the US in the mid-1970s. The father, Hanna (“John”) Khawam, had been a musician in Beirut. His wife is Marcelle, also a Lebanese Christian.

Once the elder Khawam came to the US, he at one point ran a restaurant, the “Sahara,” in the Philadelphia area, and also an auto store. Gilberte or “Jill” was born in 1975, and it isn’t clear whether she was born in the US or in Lebanon. She later married a surgeon named Kelley and 12 years ago they moved to Tampa. They have 3 daughters.

The 1970s were a turbulent time in Lebanon, with the rise of the PLO in Palestinian refugee camps, student strikes, and then from April of 1975 the beginnings of a civil war that lasted a decade and a half. (I myself lived in Lebanon on and off in the 1970s).

Gilberte “Jill’s” twin sister is Natalie Khawam, who was involved in a custody battle with her ex-husband for her son, and whose petition to the court was endorsed by Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, Petraeus’s deputy in Afghanistan who became ISAF commander there.

Natalie Khawam, an attorney, has specialized in defending whistle-blowers. (More generals should be friendly with the attorneys for whistle-blowers, in my view). She is said to have been divorced in part because she cannot manage her finances, and went $3 mn. into debt and bankrupt. The judge in her custody case accused her of being dishonest, manipulative and detached from reality.

Apparently her sister, Gilberte “Jill” Khawam Kelley was close enough to Petraeus such that the latter’s ex-girlfriend, Paula Broadwell, was jealous of her.

The Petraeuses had been guests in the Kelley home in Tampa, and there is a photo, published by Alarabiya: of the Kelleys with Petraeus’s wife, Holly:

Broadwell sent Kelley threatening emails, some of them allegedly spoofed or counterfeited so that they looked like they came from Petraeus.

Kelley complained to a “friend” of hers who was an FBI agent, and he managed to convince the agency to investigate the source of the menacing emails. The FBI “friend” is now said to have been in the habit of sending Kelley photos of himself shirtless. He seems to have been (improperly) told of the Petraeus connection, and became frustrated at the pace of the agency investigation, believing that the FBI was protecting President Obama, and (most improperly) reached out to Eric Cantor, the House Majority leader. Cantor in turn, is alleged to have put pressure on the FBI director in October, perhaps hoping that a scandal would harm President Obama’s reelection campaign. The shirtless FBI agent who kicked the thing off is now himself under investigation!

The FBI not only discovered Broadwell’s affair with Petraeus when they looked into her email, they appear to have also looked into Kelley’s email and discovered a voluminous amorous correspondence between the commanding general in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, and Jill Khawam Kelley! Allen was in line to become supreme allied commander of NATO, but his confirmation has now been put on hold.

So does it matter that Jill Kelley is an Arab-American? I doubt it. She seems just to be a rich, flirtatious Tampa socialite with good Republican Party connections and a network of high military and FBI “admirers,” and who over-reacted to some petty emails. So far there is no reason to think she is a Mata Hari of any sort. But it does say something about how prominent Arab-Americans now are in US society that no one much remarked on her ethnicity when the story broke. And, who knows, her inherited culture may have had something to do with her reaction to Broadwell’s emails. Lebanon is a place where you kind of have to take threats seriously. And, reaching out to a friend in the government in a way a lot of Americans might consider inappropriate is routine in Beirut (hence seeking “wasta” or a personal connection via the shirtless FBI guy). But lots of Americans of other backgrounds might have reacted similarly.

I’m with Rachel Maddow that the FBI investigators have behaved with appalling lack of regard for the personal privacy of all these individuals, none of whom appears actually to have done anything illegal (though depending on how menacing they were, Broadwell’s threats may have crossed a line). It is not clear to me that the agency should have briefed anyone on the outside on its findings, given the personal and entirely legal character of the information discovered. The only exception here is that Broadwell may have committed a crime by using the internet to threaten Kelley, and Broadwell may have had unauthorized access to classified information via her connection to Petraeus.

44 Responses

  1. Living a soap opera life style is not a crime for anyone, including generals. Not having regard for the sanctity of human life should be a crime, and for not having this, generals are admired.

  2. No one in the Middle East will believe this is anything other than an intricate conspiracy.

    20,000 emails! If my son were deployed there, in harm’s way, I would certainly wonder what kind of leadership he had.

    • And rightly so. Here in the land of Apathy and gullibility, “everything just happens by random chance”. Sure. You have a small-town nonentity who has never written a thing in her life scoring a book deal that Bob Woodward maynt have been able to garner. Someone whose top rating at W Point was in fitness- not any intellectual pursuits. Yet she’s granted intimate access to tag him round the world. Very weird.

      Then consider who leaked this thing to the press, not who leaked it to the FBI. Notorious Israel-firster Eric Cantor. Who is the FBI guy that leaked it to Cantor? Employed by AIPAC? Very legit question. Another legit question is what was the stance of both Allen and Patraeus re: Iran /Syria attacks? Were they zionist-compliant? If not, I think you have your first major hit in cracking this case. Because the only real news as per extramarital affairs among the power-clad would be those who DONT have them.

    • For conspiracy theorists, it would not be that Kelley is “Arab-American” but that her family is Maronite. The Maronites are historically allied with Israel. Conspiratorially minded folks might link this to Petraeus’ very mild but controversial statements to the Senate saying that perceived US favoritism with respect to Israel is a source of danger.

      But it’s likely just good old sex.

      • But note that the biggest Maronite political party today is Aoun’s FPM, which has been in coalition with Hezbollah.

  3. note to future generals(you r not hugh hefner!):

    1.beware hot twins that look like exotic dancers.
    especially those that pose for photos with the come-hither neck lean.
    2. also do not employ nubile pilates type groupie biographers.
    the plain jane office girls are that for a reason.
    3.personal emails are no longer personal& can be read any which-way..

  4. Thanks Juan! I thought doing anything the Atty General and the White House want and destroying people with opposing views was what the FBI was all about. And isn’t this the prime example of how easy it is for Google to produce your emails? It will be interesting to see if anyone has a civil rights lawsuit from this because if these generals have no civil rights certainly the rest of us have none either.

    You don’t think this was a political assassination orchestrated by Hillary ?

    • They function under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and yahoo, among others is able to sell all emails and their contents. Its in the fine print when you open account.

  5. It is illegal for members of the American military to have extramarital affairs. So yes, crimes were committed.

    • We don’t know that Allen had an affair. Petraeus is ex-military and so is Broadwell.

      • I think Major Broadwell is still in the US Army Reserve. If so, she isn’t “ex-mlitary,” just no longer on Active Duty.

        And we only have the word of Petraeus and Broadwell that the sexual relationship didn’t start until after he left the military. Neither is unimpeachable on this.

        Earlier reports from Petraeus sycophants emphasized that he only infrequently had one-on-one meetings with Broadwell in his Commanding General’s office in Kabul, and on numerous day trips to field locations. Alone. No one else there.
        Usually they were not alone for extended periods of time. But sometimes they were. These reports seemed crafted to allow that the sexual relationship may have been initiated in Afghanistan, if not before.

        Whatever happened to the reports of prostate cancer and the incident when he passed out during Congressional testimony ? How do these tie in with Mrs. Broadwell ?

        So, it is not clear to me that he was not in an adulterous relationship while still subject to the UCMJ. I’ve read what he has said on the subject, but would like to get the rest of the story.

  6. It’s probably more common than people realize for security agencies to get involved in these melodramas, especially office ones and for lower ranking people, not the 1% such as the circles these people now in the spotlight are, well — good luck to you to clear your name. It doesnt take much for a spiteful supervisor or a jealous colleague to make false claims that can jeopardize a clearance. Woe to the lower ranking professional because it is not easy to clear one’s record

  7. two Gleen Greenwald articles on the affair

    link to

    link to

    Another topic. Oliver Stone, the film maker, has a multi part TV series on American History. In one of the comments to an article by Glenn someone asked if Oliver Stone is aware of Glenn’s work. Glenn Responded that Stone reads Glenn’s articles every day and one of the topics later in the movie is based on Glenn’s work.

    Here is the title of a review in the LA Times. Google search on the name Oliver Stone.

    Review: American history, as Oliver Stone sees it
    The filmmaker offers an alternative mythology that relies far more on broad-stroke storytelling than rigorous analysis. Still, there’s some value in this Showtime miniseries.

  8. I am a little concerned with those on the left who say that since the affair was not illegal that those at the top should not be removed. He broke the rules and should have been fired.

    The obvious reason is the vulnerability to blackmail. If you are not going to enforce this for the top guy how can you enforce it for the rest of the organization? How would the CIA or military operate if many members were being blackmailed? This is the mark of rot in an organization and should be cut out.

    Petraeus should have been fired for this.

    • Petraeus fired for this, but Bush, Cheney and that crew walk free after the most serious crimes humans can commit via illegal war? Ok to serial murder, torture and pillage entire regions but dont s@@@ somone elses spouse? What twisted morality.

  9. This whole soap opera could have a silver-lining in terms of tempering development of the total awareness, national security state. It was/is being designed to monitor and manage all the Little People, but what happens when Big People are impacted?

    The problem is that any one of us can go rogue at any moment, buy some over-the-counter stuff (not to mention a computer), and make a lot of trouble, entirely out personal choice, so we need to me monitored (sic). But here you have several people Larger People whose personal drama was sucked into the maw of The System.

    Once Elites find themselves at the tender mercies of the system they have creating they’ll either have to dial it down or find a way to put themselves outside it, as we now see with the “Special People” lines emerging for airport check-in.

  10. Maybe the reason nobody mentioned her ethnicity was her (Americanized) last name. Something tells me if it had been “Khawam” the reaction would have been a bit different. And if her family was Muslim. FOX news would have run with that one!

    I don’t read too much into her going to the FBI guy who sent the shirtless photos. I live in NYC and I can tell you more than one person has gone to a buddy in the NYPD to get an investigation rolling. Just go through the archive of the local tabloids, you’ll see plenty of that.

  11. Bar none, the best account so far. Were it not an historic election, none of this would have come to the surface.

  12. I believe the photo above also includes the sister (far right, in black), who ran a very, very suspicious “cancer charity”.

    So far, it seems the ‘ethnicity’ of the sisters has absolutely no bearing on the story/stories.

    The “…and Broadwell may have had unauthorized access to classified information via her connection to Petraeus…” angle is one that must be pursued, more than the ‘illicit relationships’. This, at the very top of the security establishment.

    There is more to this story, lots more… and more individuals and agencies will be sucked in. The GOP also may come to regret some of its own involvement.

  13. These are people who routinely defraud their creditors and as such are not regarded kindly in Calvinist countries such as ours.

  14. Petraeus is a good a subject as any for media sensationalism, as it adjusts to a post-election news shortage.

  15. but we dont know the whole story yet! What is grounds for analysis is that the FBI doesnt cherish the opportunities to have their lack of regard for privacy known to the public, so when they are forced to, due to a major investigation such as this one, it surely must have been extensively discussed internally and thus I think more arguments shall come forth soon enough.

  16. Petraeus is supposed to be an officer and a gentleman. A gentleman doesn’t write compromising things in a letter, in print, or on his e-mail.

    As for the “ladies” they are supposed to pay their debts, not defraud credit card companies, the IRs, and those who donate to phoney “charities” they set up.

    • But a gentleman orders drone strikes by the hundreds on unarmed civilians, and destitute countries? Drops DU on them and waterboards them with thumbs up and a smile? Real gentleman dont enter the military killing profession to begin with. Youre mistaking Hollywood for reality.

  17. From what I have read the emails were not threatening “get off my man” type, but more general and not even mentioning Petraeus.

  18. i agree with White at 12:48 pm :
    “There is more to this story, lots moreā€¦”

    which is why the people in this “soon to be tv movie” have lawyered up with high-powered attorneys.

  19. “So far there is no reason to think she is a Mata Hari of any sort”


    from WaPo, yesterday “A military officer who is a former member of Petraeus’s staff said Kelley was a ‘self-appointed’ go-between for Central Command officers with Lebanese and other Middle Eastern government officials”

    from WaPo tuesday:
    “Jill Kelley, an unpaid contact to the top secret U.S. military organization, Joint Special Operations Command”

    from Pablo Escobar in AT, yesterday:
    “Kelley also happened to be a critical player; a “social liaison” to the Pentagon’s supreme, shadowy, counterterrorism/killing machine, the Fort Bragg-based Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). It’s crucial to know that it was the JSOC that allegedly led the CIA and the Pentagon into what had happened during the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi in which ambassador Chris Stevens was killed”

    from Reuters, today:
    “Khawam was married to Grayson Wolfe, a former Bush administration official who directed Middle East initiatives and Iraqi reconstruction efforts at the Export-Import Bank. Wolfe could not be immediately located for comment. His LinkedIn profile identifies him as a founding partner of Akkadian Private Ventures…”

    from FP, today
    “A New York Post report today said that Kelley’s sister Natalie Kwaham had invoked Allen and Petraeus’s names in her custody battle. She also invoked in legal papers the names of Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Spokesmen for Kerry and Whitehouse both said the senators had met Kwaham through Kwaham’s boyfriend Gerald Harrington, a Democratic Party fundraiser”

    then there’s those 30,000 pages of emails….
    question: were Petraeus and Allen opponents of a strike on Iran?

  20. The Agency should never have had that Vast Access to personal correspondence without a Court Order! Period. Greenwald is hitting the right note on this issue. Enough already.

  21. Clearly you do not think Kelley is Mata Hari but what about Broadwell? Why is it that she had anything to say about Benghazi in Denver let alone that the CIA were holding Libyan prisoners there. Email’s in Broadwell’s files about National security issues that she should not have had. Something is up here more than sex. has been doing a great job covering this story. But what is up with no front page story here or at Emptywheel’s about what is going on right now in th Gaza

  22. Natalie Khawam’s ex-husband was Grayson Wolfe, a Bush appointee in charge of Iraq reconstruction.

    • From 2001 to 2002 Wolfe worked for the law firm of Fleischman and Walsh, LLP, where he represented clients engaged in Homeland Security, Telecommunications & Intellectual Property matters.

  23. You neglected to discuss Natalie’s ex Grayson Wolfe…his business in Middle East…This cast of characters is beginning to have a weird de’ja vu Iran Conta feel to it. Paula was a lover, perhaps manipulated. The sisters grifters OR perhaps more look beyond their fake boobs…

  24. Come one Juan…Jill Kelley is an American who just happens to be of Lebanese heritage. Why are giving so much importance to it? It just makes it look like she was acting as a Middle Eastern conspirator. Reports have noted that the anonymous emails gave too much information on the whereabouts of General Patreaus – information that should have been classified and not passed on. I haven’t read anything that suggests the emails were doctored to make it look like they were coming from the General himself. Think about what you wrote dude. When your in a position that is responsible for massive amounts of intelligence you don’t want to be putting yourself – or your country’s – in a position that can potentially compromise the safety or integrity or yourself, your organization’s or the people of the country you are there to legally protect. Don’t try to tell us Patreaus didn’t compromise his country and his personal emails aren’t evidence to possible corruption. Everything becomes evidence when there is a potential criminal indictment – military or civilian.

  25. From the vulgarity and tackiness exhibited, we can reasonably presume that all involved are Republicans?

  26. Someone above commented on the neck lean, but what about the lingerie she is wearing?!

  27. It’s funny how some want a “lid” put on this investigation due to all the salacious details…. I just hope the FBI and the press keep digging. My hope is that after every lead has been followed and developed, the case remains just a sex scandal made for Hollywood…and nothing more (e.g., like an elaborate espionage case).

  28. As a combat veteran of Viet Nam and a 16 yr Army brat, I know what life inside the fortress feels like. Petraeus gave his family, and himself, to the Mission. He and Broadwell were attracted to one another as “jocks’ and ladder climbing narcissists. The professional volunteer Army no longer is composed of “citizen soldiers” loyal to the US Constitition. Instead they are loyal to themselves and the institution. I read his Counter-Insurgency manual. The same tactics we used in Viet Nam are failing today because we are on someone elses ground. They have everything to fight and die for. We die for each other. The Mission becomes survival. We need to look on the mirror and see what we have become.

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