DOVER, Fla. — He’s been dubbed the “shirtless FBI agent” — a rogue investigator so smitten with a pretty socialite that he sent her a bare-chested photo of himself and pursued her complaint about harassing emails all the way to Congress.
The facts emerging about Frederick Humphries — until now perhaps the least-known figure in the David H. Petraeus adultery scandal — offer a different portrait.
The chain reaction initiated by Humphries continued Thursday, as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ordered a review of ethics training for Pentagon brass and the CIA began an “exploratory” investigation into the conduct of Petraeus, the agency’s former director.
Humphries, a veteran counter-terrorism investigator who helped foil the 1999 plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, triggered the investigation that led to Petraeus’ resignation by reporting threatening emails received by Tampa, Fla., socialite Jill Kelley to colleagues in the FBI’s cyber-crime unit.
Investigators traced the emails, which included details of Petraeus’ activities, to his mistress, Paula Broadwell.
After the investigation began over the summer, Humphries shared information about the case with congressional Republicans, a possible violation of FBI protocol. But his representatives denied Thursday that Humphries disclosed any sensitive information, and they disputed reports that he sought out lawmakers for political reasons or because he thought the agency was stalling the investigation to protect President Obama’s reelection bid.
“This was not a whistle-blower context at all,” said Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Assn., the professional organization whose lawyer is representing Humphries.
Instead, Adler said, Humphries was worried about protecting his own highly regarded career when what began as a simple case of anonymous cyber threats spiraled into a scandal that brought down one of America’s most respected generals and that now threatens the career of another, Gen. John R. Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
In his first interview since his identity became public, Humphries acknowledged to the Seattle Times that he sought out Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican from Washington state, through his former boss, retired Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge Charlie Mandigo. His motives weren’t political, Humphries said, declining to elaborate.
As for that photo, Humphries did send a shirtless image to Kelley, with whom he and his wife occasionally socialized in Tampa. But it wasn’t a flirtatious gesture by a man in love, his representatives say. It was a joke photo sent to Kelley and others, including a reporter, in 2010 — two years before the investigation began — showing Humphries bare-chested and bald alongside two target dummies that had a striking resemblance to him.
“Which One’s Fred?” read the caption, the Seattle Times reported Thursday.
The FBI is investigating Humphries’ conduct but no charges have been filed.
Congressional Republicans have seized on reports that the investigation was moving slowly and challenged the FBI to explain why Obama wasn’t informed of the case until after his reelection.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. defended the integrity of the investigation Thursday. He said Obama and Congress weren’t told earlier because agents determined there was no threat to national security.
“As we went through the investigation, looked at the facts and tried to examine them as they developed, we felt very secure in the knowledge that a national security threat did not exist that warranted the sharing of that information with the White House or with the Hill,” Holder said.
Petraeus, who is scheduled to testify Friday to a House committee about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead, told CNN that he never gave classified information to Broadwell.
Humphries didn’t answer the door Thursday at his single-story gray home along a rural road in Dover, east of Tampa, where the blinds were closed and an American flag fluttered in the front yard.
Former colleagues describe him as a zealous and talented investigator who sometimes clashed with superiors and others in the agency. The New York Times reported that he fatally shot an Army veteran in 2010 after the man confronted him with a knife at MacDill Air Force Base outside Tampa. An FBI investigation cleared Humphries of wrongdoing.
A former Army captain from Washington state, Humphries had perhaps the signature moment of his career in 1999, just two years after he joined the FBI, when he was based in Seattle. He detected an Algerian accent in a man who had claimed to be from Montreal as the man was questioned for driving in from Canada with chemicals and timing devices in his trunk. That man turned out to be Al Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam, who was planning to bomb LAX at the turn of the millennium.