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The official said the emails included pet names such as “sweetheart” and “dear” but did not offer evidence of an affair or classified information put at risk.

In May, Mrs. Kelley, who had become friendly with Mr. Petraeus when he headed U.S. Central Command at McDill Air Force Base near Tampa, approached an FBI agent she knew about anonymous emails she received that appeared to warn her to curtail her contact with the CIA director.

The ensuing investigation, according to U.S. officials, identified Mr. Petraeus‘ biographer, Paula Broadwell, as the sender of the emails and revealed her to be having an affair with him, because they had been sharing an email account.

The two would exchange messages by leaving them in the “drafts” folder of their email, so both were logging onto the account, the AP reported.

The investigation also revealed Mrs. Kelley’s email communications with Gen. Allen.

“This thing has simple beginnings,” said former FBI Assistant Director Christopher Swecker.

He said that harassing or threatening emails referencing the director of the CIA would merit special attention.

“If it was you or me [who had received anonymous and vaguely threatening emails,] it wouldn’t get a second glance,” said Mr. Swecker. “But with a major public figure, the head of a vital agency, involved, you would at least take a look.”

He said word of the investigation “should have shot up to the assistant director level like a laser beam” once it was clear the sender of the emails was linked to Mr. Petraeus. 

A career on hold

According to the AP, Mr. Holder did not learn of the investigation until late summer, months after it had begun, and did not inform anyone else in the administration until Election Day.

Spokesmen for the FBI, the White House and the Justice Department did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment.

The FBI reportedly was producing a timeline of its investigation for lawmakers.

Mrs. Kelley had hosted parties at her Tampa mansion for Central Command officers, including Mr. Petraeus when he served there.

Gen. Allen, who is in Washington, has spoken with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but not Mr. Panetta, the defense official said.

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