By Mark Hosenball and Will Dunham

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 4, 2015 1:47am IST


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former CIA Director David Petraeus has agreed to plead guilty to mishandling classified information, with the retired four-star general admitting to giving eight "black books" full of such data to a military mistress who was writing his biography.

Petraeus, 62, will plead guilty to a misdemeanour charge of unauthorised removal and retention of classified material under the deal, according to documents filed on Tuesday in federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The plea agreement announced by the Justice Department marks the latest chapter in an astonishing fall from grace for Petraeus, an intellectual with a Princeton University doctorate and a counter-insurgency expert widely considered one of America's most important military leaders of recent decades.

He served stints as the top U.S. commander in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and then as CIA director and was lauded by senior U.S. lawmakers. But his career came crashing down thanks to an extramarital affair with his biographer, Army Reserve officer Paula Broadwell.

Petraeus faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison. But under the deal prosecutors and his lawyers are recommending a $40,000 fine and two years of probation.

Petraeus had previously said he did not provide classified information to Broadwell, who was writing his biography, titled "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, along with another author at the time of the affair.

But court papers filed with the plea deal stated Petraeus in 2011 unlawfully gave Broadwell the "black books" of classified information including identities of covert officers, code word information, war strategy, intelligence capabilities, diplomatic talks and information from high-level White House National Security Council meetings.

Petraeus then lied to the FBI about it, the court papers said.

A law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Petraeus is unlikely to be sentenced to prison time and possibly could retain his U.S. security clearance.

Petraeus holds a senior post at private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) (KKR.N), which said he will stay in his role of chairman of the KKR Global Institute, its captive economic and geopolitical think tank.

Petraeus quit his post as CIA director under President Barack Obama in November 2012 after the affair was discovered.

The plea deal enables Petraeus to avoid a potentially embarrassing criminal trial in which details of his affair promised to figure prominently.

Court documents detailing the plea agreement said that while serving as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus maintained the eight 5-by-8 inch (13-by-20 cm) notebooks with black covers.

Petraeus kept the "black books" after retiring from the military in 2011, the documents stated. In August 2011, Petraeus agreed to provide the "black books" to Broadwell, referred in the documents not by name but as "his biographer," and delivered them to a private residence in Washington where she was staying as source material for the book.

The documents said Petraeus left the books with Broadwell for about four days before taking them back to his home in Arlington, Virginia.

After resigning from the CIA that November, Petraeus signed a security form assuring that he did not possess any classified information even though the "black books" were still at his home, the documents stated. With a search warrant, the FBI in April 2013 went to his home and seized the "black books" from an unlocked drawer in his first-floor study, the documents said.

The court documents also said Petraeus lied to FBI investigators in October 2012, shortly before he quit the CIA, by saying he had never given classified information to his mistress.

The court documents said no classified information actually appeared in the published biography.

Lawyers for both Petraeus and Broadwell declined comment.

(Additional reporting by Nate Raymond and Gregory Roumeliotis; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Christian Plumb)