By Marcus Stern and Duff Wilson
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Nov 15 (Reuters) - The FBI agent who began the investigation that led David Petraeus to resign as CIA director said that a shirtless photo he sent to a woman at the center of the probe was a "joke" sent to many friends, and was not meant to be sexual.
Frederick Humphries told the Seattle Times in an interview published Thursday that the photo in the unfolding adultery scandal that brought down Petraeus was sent to Tampa, Florida, socialite Jill Kelley in 2010.
Humphries, who has been identified in media reports on the scandal mainly as the "shirtless" FBI agent, was a "top-notch" operative, according to a prosecutor who worked with him on the "millennium bomber" case years ago.
Andrew Hamilton, now a senior deputy prosecutor for King County, Washington, said Humphries was assigned to the case partly because he spoke excellent French. Ahmed Ressam, who was convicted of plotting to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999, claimed to be from Quebec and spoke French.
"That's the first time I met him, as a case agent," Hamilton told Reuters. "We spent a lot of time together over the next couple years getting ready for trial, and I couldn't have asked for more as a case agent. He was very, very thorough, and very honest. We always thought we were very lucky to have him."
Five months ago, Kelley ignited the FBI investigation that led to Petraeus when she asked Humphries whether the bureau could look into harassing emails she had been receiving.
The investigation eventually revealed that the emails to Kelley were sent by Paula Broadwell, an Army reserve officer in military intelligence and co-author of a biography of Petraeus.
The FBI investigation revealed Broadwell's affair with Petraeus, who cited the relationship when he resigned as CIA chief last week. The probe also ensnared General John Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, whom agents found had exchanged "flirtatious" emails with Kelley, law enforcement officials said.