In 2008, while pursuing a doctorate, Broadwell decided to write a case study of Petraeus’s leadership style. After several e-mail exchanges, Petraeus, an avid runner, invited her to discuss her project during a run along the Potomac River.
Passing the test
The two discovered a common bond: Broadwell, a high school track star who won awards for fitness at West Point, earned the general’s admiration by keeping up with his grueling, six-minute-mile pace.
“I think I passed the test,” she would later say, “but I didn’t bother to transcribe the interview.”
Soon after, Broadwell decided to turn her dissertation into a book. With the blessing of Petraeus, she made the first of about a half-dozen extended trips to Afghanistan to spend time with him and interview members of his senior staff and field commanders.
Her trips were not without controversy. Aides were stunned by the close access that Broadwell was granted — and that she occasionally flaunted. At the same time, some were unimpressed by her reporting style and thin journalistic résumé.
“Her credentials didn’t add up,” said a former Petraeus staff member who was interviewed a number of times by Broadwell. “I was underwhelmed. It was surprising to me that she was his official biographer.”
Peter Mansoor, a former executive officer on Petraeus’s staff, said he thought the general’s uncharacteristic confidence in an untested writer was “strange.”
“My gosh, if you are going to have someone interview everyone who has ever touched you in your life, choose someone who has written a biography or at least a history book,” he said in an interview Saturday.
There were other controversies as well. Former aides say Broadwell’s attire — usually tight shirts and pants — prompted complaints in Afghanistan, where Western-style attire can offend local sensibilities. Her form-fitting clothes made a lasting impression on longtime Afghan hands, and Petraeus once admonished her, through a staffer, to “dress down,” a former aide recalled.
“She was seemingly immune to the notion of modesty in this part of the world,” said a general who served in Afghanistan while Petraeus was commander there.
Officers close to Petraeus grew concerned about her posts on Facebook, which they believed sometimes divulged sensitive operational details. The posts, intended for friends back home, were often playfully written and aimed at showing off her adventures in the war zone.
Some senior officers thought Broadwell, who held a security clearance and had served as an Army intelligence officer, should have known better.