Center for Strategic Communication

U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, presides over a reenlistment and awards ceremony while visiting Soldiers of Task Force Mountain Warrior. Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Albert L. Kelley, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Every year careless hackers, cyberstalkers and others are undone by the digital trails they leave behind for law enforcement to collect and trace back to them.

But who would have thought the nation’s top spy chief would be undone so easily by digital footprints left behind in Gmail?

In the irony of ironies, the distinguished career of CIA Director and former Afghanistan war commander David Petraeus appears to have come unhinged after authorities traced the location of the sender of threatening e-mails that were written from an anonymous Gmail account and sent to a woman in Florida.

Authorities say the location data connected to the e-mails and the Gmail account from which they were sent, helped them identify the sender as Petraeus’ biographer, Paula Broadwell. This helped them search other Gmail accounts owned by Broadwell, which led them to the affair with Petraeus, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The case shows just how easy it is to discover the personal connections that can unmask anonymous parties. But the Petraeus affair is as much an outlier as an exemplar. The FBI rarely, if ever, gets involved when one person is harassing another online.

“I’m not aware of any case when the FBI has gotten involved in a case of online harassment,” Justin Patchin, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said. ”The FBI definitely wouldn’t get involved in your Joe Schmoe love triangle.”