Petraeus’s resignation: Who is Paula Broadwell?

November 10, 2012

In the wake of CIA Director David Petraeus's resignation Friday, the national spotlight is on Paula Broadwell, the author of the Petraeus biography "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus."

(AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, T. Ortega Gaines)

An FBI inquiry into whether Broadwell or "someone close to her" was using Petraeus's Gmail account allegedly led to the discovery of an extramarital affair between the two, the Wall Street Journal reported this morning.

Here's what we know about Broadwell so far:

  • She's a driven high-achiever: Broadwell was valedictorian of her high school class, a fitness champion at West Point with a graduate degree from Harvard and a model for a machine-gun manufacturer, according to a New York Times profile. She is now a research associate at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership and a PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. She met Petraeus in 2006 when he spoke at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where she was a graduate student. When she told him about her research interests in counterterrorism and military intelligence, he handed her his card and offered his help. "He really cares about mentoring," she told the Charlotte Observer
  • She's a self-described "soccer mom"Broadwell, 40, lives in the upscale Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., with her radiologist husband and two young boys, according to the Daily Beast. Their five-bedroom, four-bathroom home is listed on the tax rolls as being worth $908,000.
  • She had extensive access to Petraeus while writing "All In": Plugging her book on the "Daily Show" in January, Broadwell referred to Petraeus as her “mentor” and said she called him “Peaches." Broadwell visited Afghanistan six times to report the story, spending a total of three months there. While embedded with Petraeus in Afghanistan, Broadwell said, she often accompanied him on long, six-minute-mile runs

"This project started as my dissertation about three years ago," she told CNN's Brooke Baldwin. "And when he was selected by the president to replace General McChrystal in the summer of 2010, I decided the time was right to turn it into a book. At some point I think he realized I was taking this research very seriously, I was sharing hardship with the troops and risk and so forth and decided to open up a little bit more access.

  • She's been criticized as depicting Petraeus, as well as U.S. prospects in Afghanistan, in an overly positive light: Baldwin also grilled Broadwell about Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings's scathing take on her book, in which he called Broadwell a "semi-official spokeswoman" for Petraeus. Broadwell defended herself by saying the book's focus is Petraeus's leadership style.

"This is a biography written by a semi-official spokesperson. Its chief interest is as a rough draft of the latest myth Petraeus is selling to the American public. We won Iraq and we're on the verge of a great victory in Afghanistan and Petraeus is the main reason why. Are you buying it?" Baldwin asked.

Broadwell responded: "I do not portray the war in Afghanistan as easily winnable, not at all. This is a book about strategic leadership. It's also a war chronicle. It's Petraeus's intellectual history, but what I wanted to show and the interest it's generating is in executive leadership, leadership on the line leading through crisis. I think Petraeus gives us a great model for that."

  • She's big on leadership and optimism: Her Twitter account is a stream of leadership aphorisms and inspirational sayings, such as, "Networking tip for today: Pay it forward!" and " 'The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.' Norman Vincent Peale." It's a theme similar to the one she explored in "All In," according to her publisher's profile: "Drawing upon her experience within the military and study of transformational leadership, Paula explains Petraeus’s thoughts on strategic leadership and provides inspirational anecdotes and insights for anyone—from CEOs to young lieutenants to women in conflict zones—facing leadership challenges in their respective fields."
  • Her neighbors describe the Broadwells as an idyllic family: The New York Daily News caught up with a few of Broadwell's neighbors, who suggested they had seen nothing amiss:
    “She is a very smart and accomplished woman. I'm proud to have her as a neighbor,” Ed Williams, 70, told the paper. “If you weigh her life in the balance, she's a good person. Life will go on. Sometimes people make mistakes that pain their lives.”
    Another said: “They have adorable children. They are an idyllic family. They are the perfect picture of happiness.”
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Max Fisher · November 10, 2012