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In aftermath of Petraeus scandal, outed FBI agent's family still feels sting of betrayal

This undated photograph shows FBI Special Agent Frederick W. Humphries posing with target dummies following a SWAT practice. The photo was widely distributed, but when Tampa socialite Jill Kelley was given a copy, speculation followed.  [AP Photo from the Seattle Times]
This undated photograph shows FBI Special Agent Frederick W. Humphries posing with target dummies following a SWAT practice. The photo was widely distributed, but when Tampa socialite Jill Kelley was given a copy, speculation followed. [AP Photo from the Seattle Times]
Published Nov. 11, 2016

TAMPA — Sara Humphries had just dismissed her students at Valrico Academy when her phone rang.

It was her husband, FBI agent Fred Humphries.

"Don't come home," he told her. "There is media everywhere."

The agent who had spent years investigating jihadis, living in anonymity, now had to contend with a photo of himself on national television, shirtless.

It was Nov. 13, 2012, in the eye of the hurricane that was the Gen. David Petraeus scandal.

Four days earlier, Petraeus had resigned as director of the CIA amid revelations of an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Two days earlier, the Bayshore Boulevard home of Jill Kelley had become the scene of an international media stakeout. The Tampa socialite had inadvertently exposed the affair by reaching out to a friend, agent Humphries.

That now-iconic photo, in which Humphries poses bare-chested with two target dummies, had been a joke shared far and wide, including with Kelley. It hung on the closet of his wife's classroom. But on television, the insinuation was that something sordid had taken place with Kelley.

As news crews invaded his pastoral Dover neighborhood, the FBI agent hid behind sheet-covered windows. His wife took their 7- and 11-year-old sons to a friend's house, promising pizza. Later trips home required meeting her mother in a barn, switching cars and then traveling with her children hidden under blankets.

"Are we on the lam?" her youngest son asked.

But things would only get worse.

The Islamic State would learn where they lived, Sara Humphries said. Online death threats eventually led to a security detail for the family, but not soon enough, in her view.

Four years after the scandal, Sara Humphries is speaking out for the first time about the investigation, the aftermath and how it all still haunts her family. Fred Humphries cannot comment because he is still with the FBI. His wife talked to the Tampa Bay Times with his knowledge and his attorney's approval.

She is critical of FBI leaders in Tampa and Washington over the way they have treated her husband, and she wants to know who gave the media her husband's name and whether the FBI is investigating that leak.

"It made me so angry," she told the Tampa Bay Times. "Someone in the bureau leaked that, either not knowing or not caring about his past. Past cases that Fred had made him a target. And I knew immediately that I was a target. And my children were targets. Because someone didn't care."

FBI officials, citing the federal privacy act, declined to comment on the bulk of Sara Humphries' concerns. But in general terms, they addressed the death threat.

The FBI takes all threats to the safety of employees seriously and has "specific protocols and procedures in place to mitigate these threats," said Andrea Aprea, a spokeswoman for the Tampa field office. "We also have a very robust employee assistance program which is made available to all FBI employees in a confidential manner."

But the Petraeus scandal was only the last in a series of episodes in which Fred Humphries felt betrayed by the bureau, and denied help when he needed it most.

• • •

Fred Humphries was 17, visiting London, when the Irish Republican Army set off bombs in two parks that killed 11 soldiers. That's when he knew, he would later tell his wife, that he wanted to spend his life working to prevent that kind of carnage.

And he did.

The two met at the University of Tampa in the early 1990s, before his stint in the Army, where he finished as a military intelligence officer.

He joined the FBI in 1997. His work on some of the bureau's biggest jihadi cases is credited with saving lives. His investigations helped convict James Ujaama and Abu Hama al-Masri, who tried to set up jihadi training camps, and Ahmed Mohamed, one of two University of South Florida students arrested near a South Carolina military installation with explosives in their car. Most notably, he helped authorities defuse the infamous shoe bomb smuggled onto a commercial jet.

But along with the wins, his career timeline includes some grievances.

In 1999, he cultivated an asset named Ahmed Ressam, who had planned on blowing up the Los Angeles airport on New Year's Eve, but instead became a valuable witness for the government.

Ressam identified "a considerable number of people" from terror training camps in Afghanistan, said Charles Mandigo, Humphries' supervisor at the time. But then, Ressam's case was transferred to a New York office and Humphries no longer got to supervise him. Ressam stopped cooperating.

That frustrated Humphries, a feeling further aggravated when FBI officials expressed concern about his potential testimony, because it might give the judge reason to reduce Ressam's sentence.

"Fred was upset because the FBI tried to influence his testimony and change it before he could testify," said Sara Humphries.

The agent never shied away from speaking his mind, as he did in 2003, when he told his supervisors he observed Department of Defense contractors engaged in inhumane interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay that were ineffective. That ruffled feathers.

Then, there was the toll the job took.

Like the time he had to sift through soil in Orlando, looking for the bones of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony -- "little, bitty finger bones," said his wife. "It was hard. We had young children at home."

And the time he had to shoot and kill an erratic Vietnam veteran who was wielding a knife at a MacDill Air Force Base security gate. "Fred was in shock," his wife said. "He is trained to stop a threat. It was a clear threat. He didn't want to do it, but that was his job."

Both times, there were requests for critical incident counseling, his wife said. The first request, for his team, was only begrudgingly granted after being initially rebuffed. The second request, after the shooting, was not granted until years later, when a new special agent in charge took over the Tampa field office.

And after each of these episodes, frustration only built.

Bureau politics getting in the way of good work. Resistance to criticism. Refusal to help an agent in need.

It was all just a taste, Sara Humphries said, of what was to come.

• • •

In the fall of 2010, a call came into the FBI in Tampa from a local woman who had befriended military leaders.

The woman, Jill Kelley, was concerned about a possible threat against the son of Army Gen. David Petraeus, who was stationed in Afghanistan. She had been at a party, she said, when an Afghan native began asking a lot of questions.

Fred Humphries and another agent responded, and the investigation that followed found no cause for concern.

But Kelley had high-ranking friends at MacDill, and Humphries worked with some of them. The agent thought it would be smart to befriend her.

The new friendship saw the Humphries family occasionally spend time with Jill and Scott Kelley, who hosted parties for military leaders at their Bayshore home.

Jill Kelley asked Fred Humphries if she could take part in the FBI Citizens Academy, where civilians learn about the bureau by hearing from agents and taking part in training. Being approved for the academy meant a background check, which Kelley passed.

But when Fred Humphries brought her around to the Tampa field office, FBI colleagues made lewd comments about her, he told his wife. One of them insinuated that Fred wanted to have sex with Kelley. "I'm like, 'awesome,'" the wife recalls saying sarcastically.

At the time, she had no way of knowing those crude comments were a harbinger of things to come.

In May of 2012, Kelley reached out to Humphries about a troubling e-mail received by Marine Gen. John Allen, one of her military friends. It "disparaged Kelley and made reference to an upcoming dinner they were having with several senior foreign intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials," according to court documents later filed.

Allen, who had taken over for Petraeus in Afghanistan, "was troubled by the email, in particular that somebody knew about the dinner, which had not been publicly announced, thereby presenting a potential security concern," the documents state.

So Kelley asked her friend the FBI agent to look into it.

Initially, "he kind of blew her off," Sara Humphries said of her husband.

It was a busy time. The Republican National Convention was coming to town and he was helping to ensure the mass gathering of VIPs would be secure.

Finally, in June 2012, after several emails, Humphries took the case to the office's cyber crimes investigator. Though Humphries tried to stay out of it, Sara Humphries said Kelley reached out to her husband frequently.

At some point, investigators asked him to contact Vice Adm. Robert Harward, at the time the deputy commander at CentCom and another close Kelley friend. They wanted to see what Harward knew about the emails. The two men worked out together at MacDill.

That was the end of Humphries direct involvement in the case, Sara Humphries said.

• • •

In July 2012, things took a dark turn for the couple.

Fred Humphries got a call from his boss, said Sara Humphries, to discuss "an unpleasant phone call from Sean Joyce," then deputy director of the FBI.

"You're not even going to believe it," she recalls her husband telling her.

He had been accused of having sex with Jill Kelley.

It made for an interesting spousal conversation.

Well, if they asked you, I'll ask you: Are you?


"It was humiliating and embarrassing that someone else would think that, number one, my husband is doing that and, number two, that he is doing it to me," the wife said.

But the humiliation would only increase.

The FBI asked Fred Humphries to detail his relationship with Kelley and for the couple to give the bureau access to their personal emails.

In a report about Kelley, Fred included a paragraph that stated he was not involved in a sexual relationship with her, his wife said. "But they made him delete that paragraph," she said, adding that she has no idea why.

"He was upset and very offended," she said. "He was troubled by the allegations and accusations and that these upper level managers believed this."

Sean Joyce did not return detailed phone and email messages seeking comment. Kelley has denied having an affair with Humphries.

As the investigation continued, Humphries grew concerned that it was taking so long, his wife said — into a general election campaign and through the deadly Sept. 11 attack of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Humphries contacted Mandigo, his old supervisor in Seattle.

"He was at his wit's end," Mandigo said.

Humphries told him the investigation was being delayed, Mandigo said. "The suggestion being that hey, nobody wants to stir anything up before the election."

Mandigo, worried that CIA director Petraeus had an affair, tried to hide it and could be subject to blackmail, reached out to a Congressman he knew. That Congressman connected Humphries with House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, a Republican, who listened to the agent's concerns.

On Nov. 1, Cantor called FBI Deputy Director Joyce, wanting to know why the bureau was trying to cover up such an important matter. That same day, Humphries' supervisors took him to task for discussing the investigation outside the FBI without permission.

Cantor, who has not responded to requests for comment, told Fred Humphries that he should get a lawyer.

For the next four years, the agent would be under the cloud of investigation.

• • •

Allen eventually opted to retire rather than seek a promotion to head up U.S. and NATO forces in Europe. He was cleared of wrongdoing after investigators found a cache of emails between he and Kelley. Petraeus eventually pleaded guilty to one charge of mishandling classified information.

The Kelleys filed a lawsuit alleging federal officials violated their privacy. They dropped the suit, and then Jill Kelley came out with a book.

Meanwhile, the Humphries family continued to worry about safety and job security. After Humphries' identity was revealed, he asked for a new assignment, worried that anyone meeting with him confidentially would be in danger. Moving might have helped, but he was under investigation and couldn't take a new job.

This past August, the FBI finally meted out its punishment: Humphries was suspended for two weeks without pay for sharing information about the case, conduct his supervisors said was misguided, unwarranted and outside the scope of any whistleblower protections.

"Humphries violated federal criminal laws and betrayed the trust that FBI employees had in him," according to the discipline letter. "His actions were despicable, deplorable and at a minimum he should be removed from the rolls of the FBI.

"In addition, the timing of Humphries' unauthorized disclosure was purposely timed just before the Presidential election in November of 2012."

Humphries, however, never went to the press about those concerns. He turned down numerous interview offers after he was outed. His wife maintains her husband, who received glowing performance reviews during this period, was concerned with national security, not politics.

Jill Kelley praised Humphries in a message to the Times.

"FBI leaders silenced Humphries and retaliated against him," she wrote. "Americans are sick of the FBI's abuse of power to influence the political landscape during a presidential election."

Retired FBI agent Kevin Eaton, who was Humphries' supervisor at the time of the scandal, said the investigation into Petraeus was not delayed due to politics. "Some approvals during the course of the investigation took more time than normal," he said, because both FBI headquarters and the Department of Justice needed to sign off.

"But the overall pace of the investigation from beginning to end was probably faster than normal," he said, adding that it might have taken longer had prosecutors not opted to drop the cyber-stalking charges against Broadwell.

Humphries is trying to keep his job until February, when he can retire.

The new management at the FBI Tampa Field Office has been understanding and helpful, said Sara Humphries, but the ordeal has left a scar.

"A little piece of me died," she said. "I feel very negative toward the organization and I feel not protected. All of a sudden, you are on your own, and no one cares."

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman