Finally, a twist to the Petraeus story that ties into my professional interests.
When I first heard about how Petraeus’s affair with his biographer got outed, it sounded surprisingly stupid for such an apparently intelligent man. I don’t mean the “how could he be so stupid as to have an affair” part; I’ve long been used to the fact that powerful men can have affairs that bring them down without being especially dumb. I mean the part where it sounded as if Broadwell had actually broken into Petraeus’ email to send threatening messages to another woman. What possessed the head of the CIA to give his mistress, and such a jealous mistress, access to his email? Or to be so careless about his email security that she could break in?
It turns out that she didn’t crack his email, and that Petraeus was more cautious than I had thought.
They learned that Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Petraeus had set up private Gmail accounts to use for their communications, which included explicit details of a sexual nature, according to U.S. officials. But because Mr. Petraeus used a pseudonym, agents doing the monitoring didn’t immediately uncover that he was the one communicating with Ms. Broadwell.
Although both Broadwell’s reportedly threatening emails to the other woman and Petraeus’ and Broadwell’s communication with each other were pseudonymous, the FBI determined who was who. First, the used Gmail’s location data to determine that the threatening emails had been sent from hotels where Broadwell was staying, and got a warrant to monitor her (not Petraeus’) email. Then eventually (this part isn’t described) they figured out that the pseudonym who had exchanged all those steamy emails with Broadwell was Petraeus.
So, your Internet pseudonyms are probably not secure if they ever come to the attention of the FBI.