NatSecWonk, unmasked; DOJ looking at Pentagon hopeful Jofi Joseph; “navel gazing” at the White House over Syria; Afghanistan talks may work out; Why SpongeBob isn’t welcome in Cincinnati; and a bit more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
By Gordon Lubold
A White House aide was fired after being unmasked as @NatSecWonk – and potentially as another Twitter alias, @DCHobbyist. The anonymous Tweeter who went by the handle @NatSecWonk was a National Security Council staffer who had previously worked on Capitol Hill, the State Department and the Pentagon. Jofi Joseph was abruptly dismissed last week after administration officials confronted him with evidence that he was the man behind @NatSecWonk, a well-known unknown in Washington national security circles, who relished sniping at government officials, politicians, reporters and anyone else in his field of digital fire. Now he is confronting scrutiny from the Department of Justice for possibly revealing sensitive or even classified information, Situation Report is told.
As we reported yesterday, NatSecWonk kept the national security community in Washington guessing as to who he was – an individual with information about the workings of the government that only someone on the inside would seem to have. But his nasty jabs at public officials inside the administration for which he worked — some of which were personal, others which were characterized as homophobic or racist — had caught the attention of senior officials for the last two years that the Twitter handle was active. Concerns grew that the anonymous Tweeter was not only a nuisance but was potentially revealing sensitive information. Late last week, the Twitter handle disappeared, prompting questions by Situation Report and others as to what happened. It became clear that the anonymous Twitter-er was not only gone, but was facing severe disciplinary action.
Joseph told Politico’s Glenn Thrush: "It has been a privilege to serve in this Administration and I deeply regret violating the trust and confidence placed in me…What started out as an intended parody account of DC culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments. I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted."
Meanwhile, Joseph was poised to get a top job at the Pentagon. Joseph, who had helped to conduct high-level White House discussions on Iran, was also in the final stages of vetting for a senior-level position at the Pentagon working as an adviser to Frank Kendall, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Joseph was expected to be announced for that position in the next week or two. That job, of course, is no longer a possibility. Instead, Joseph faces scrutiny from the Department of Justice, Situation Report is told, for his Tweets as NatSecWonk and for another Twitter alias, @DCHobbyist, that we’re told also belongs to Joseph. DCHobbyist, whose interests include bike commuting, the Nationals and a "tsunami of gorgeous and sensual escorts," may have crossed an ethical, moral or legal line.
One individual briefed on the matter told Situation Report that based on the two Twitter handles, Joseph’s case was referred to Justice to determine if any of the information leaked by NatSecWonk or the "behavior" of DCHobbyist amounted to criminal acts that would put in jeopardy Joseph’s security clearance. There is also a concern that there could be more possible wrongdoing. Joseph is married to Carolyn Leddy, who works for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Committee officials, Situation Report was told, are trying to determine if anything Joseph posted had represented classified information and provided to him by Leddy. Joseph could also find himself in even more hot water based on findings from the investigation of his postings as DCHobbyist if it is determined, for example, that he purchased the services of prostitutes. Read our whole story here.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report where we note that 30 years ago today in Beirut, 241 Marines were killed in the barracks bombing – the deadliest terrorist attack before 9/11, and blamed on Hezbollah. Marine Commandant Gen. Amos appears at a memorial near Camp Lejeune, N.C. today to remember.
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The NYT story today reveals the turmoil inside the White House over Syria. NYT’s Mark Mazzetti, Robert Worth and Michael Gordon: "A deeply ambivalent president…presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known. Those advisers reflected Mr. Obama’s own conflicting impulses on how to respond to the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring: whether to side with those battling authoritarian governments or to avoid the risk of becoming enmeshed in another messy war in the Middle East. And, as the debate dragged on, the toll of civilian deaths steadily rose, Syria’s government was emboldened to use chemical weapons on a larger scale, and America’s relations with some of its closest allies were strained.
"Some of Mr. Obama’s defenders argue that, while the past two years of American policy on Syria have been messy, the events of the past six weeks have been a successful case of coercive diplomacy. Only under the threat of force, they said, has Mr. Assad pledged to give up his chemical weapons program. They argue that this might be the best outcome from a stew of bad alternatives… But others are far more critical, saying that the administration’s paralysis left it unprepared for foreseeable events like the Aug. 21 gas attack. Decisive action by Washington, they argue, could have bolstered moderate forces battling Mr. Assad’s troops for more than two years, and helped stem the rising toll of civilian dead, blunt the influence of radical Islamist groups among the rebels and perhaps even deter the Syria government from using chemical weapons."
The quote that may say it all, from a former senior White House official: "We spent so much damn time navel gazing, and that’s the tragedy of it." Read the rest of this Page Oner here.
The planned peace talks for Syria are at risk. The WSJ’s Cassell Bryan-Low, Nicholas Winning and Sam Dagher: "The Saudi-supported leader of the main Syrian opposition coalition set out demands for participation in peace talks proposed for Geneva in November, potentially scuttling the chance to convene the conference. The remarks by Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, in London came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried publicly to play down rising tensions with Saudi Arabia over Syria and Washington’s outreach to Iran. Mr. Jarba said it would be more difficult for him and members of his group to attend talks in Geneva unless the Syrian regime releases imprisoned women and children and lifts its crippling siege of rebel enclaves around the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs." More here.
The Israeli Intelligence Minister tells FP it would be a mistake for the White House to relax sanctions on Iran. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview that it would be a mistake for the Obama administration to relax its sanctions on Iran or free up tens of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian funds, highlighting Jerusalem’s growing concern that the Obama administration may be willing to make too many concessions to Iran during the current nuclear talks between the two longtime adversaries. Steinitz, a close political ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told The Cable that the punishing Western sanctions that have been imposed on Iran are the only reason that government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is willing to engage in direct talks with the Obama administration. With the Iranian economy in free fall, Steinitz said the sanctions should be kept in place, or even strengthened, until Iran agreed to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program. ‘Iran is now coming to the negotiating table solely because of the pressure,’ Steinitz said in the interview. ‘They are really on the verge of the collapse and that’s the reason they’re coming to the negotiating table with some willingness to negotiate.’" Read the rest here.
NATO optimistic about the security agreement with Afghanistan. The WaPo’s Ernesto Londono, travelling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Brussels: "NATO troops in Afghanistan are bracing for a bloody winter ahead of the country’s presidential election, a senior U.S. military official said Tuesday, warning of an anticipated spike in high-profile attacks and political assassinations during a season that typically brings a lull in fighting. Despite the ominous outlook for a period that will coincide with the U.S. military drawdown, NATO officials said Tuesday that they are "confident" that Afghan politicians and elders will sign off on a proposed deal to keep an American military force in the country after 2014." More here.
This winter, the Taliban will fight, an American officer says. NYT’s Thom Shanker, also travelling with Hagel: "A senior American military officer warned Tuesday that insurgent groups are expected to carry out an unusually aggressive campaign of violence in Afghanistan this winter, angling to create maximal disruption ahead of next year’s presidential elections and as Western forces continue to withdraw." More here.
American inspectors are also on the trail of an Afghan businessmen who they believe has channeled millions of dollars in aid to the Haqqani network, Reuters reports. The businessman still has donor-funded reconstruction contracts around the country, the organization reported. Reuters’ Jessica Donati and Mirwais Harooni: "The investigation, detailed in a trove of documents obtained by Reuters, comes at a crucial time for Afghanistan and its foreign allies, who have poured billions of dollars into leaving behind a stable, viable state when most NATO-led combat troops pull out next year. Development aid to Afghanistan – approaching $100 billion (62 billion pounds) after 12 years of war – and the contractors who receive it are being scrutinized by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), with one case in particular involving businessman Haji Khalil Zadran linked to the Haqqanis.
SIGAR John Sopko: "It makes absolutely no sense that individuals and entities designated as supporting the insurgency could receive U.S. contracts… If they get a contract not only do they get U.S. taxpayer money, but they could gain access to U.S. personnel and facilities, putting our troops at risk." Read the rest here.
ICYMI: That Nevada teacher who jumped in between a gun-wielding kid and another 12-year-old student was a Marine. Earlier in the week there was the tragic story of a young Nevada school student opening fire on the campus of his school near Reno after obtaining the gun from home. The shooting wounded two boys and left dead the shooter. But it also killed was the 8th grade teacher, Michael Landsberry, a former Marine, who had reportedly jumped in between the shooter and other students, literally taking the bullet for them. Said Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson of Landsberry: "In my estimation, he is a hero … We do know he was trying to intervene." More here.
When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing at an historic cemetery in Cincinnati, you have this. Stripes: "An Iraq war veteran’s towering SpongeBob SquarePants headstone has been removed from her final resting place because officials at the historic Cincinnati cemetery deemed it inappropriate for their traditional grounds… ‘We’ve decided that they aren’t appropriate for our historic cemetery and they can’t be displayed here,’ [Cemetery President Gary Freytag] said, adding that the employee who approved the headstones made an inexplicable error in judgment, given the cemetery’s traditional, stately appearance." More here.
Want to know why one Malaysian University made Kim Jong un a doctor? FP’s Issac Stone Fish: "A KCNA report crowing that a Malaysian institution of higher learning, known as Help University, had awarded North Korean leader Kim Jong Un an honorary doctorate in economics — in recognition of his ‘untiring efforts for the education of the country and the well-being of its people.’ Help, it turns out, is a real university. Founded in 1986 to "provide affordable quality educational opportunities for Malaysians,’ the private, Kuala Lumpur-based college brands itself as the ‘university of achievers.’ (Help’s website brims with happy reports, noting, for instance, that the "lower foyer of HELP University was the scene of jubilation today" because of a ‘dramatic increase in Straight A’s’ and that its Team Legacy ‘emerged Champion in the prestigious Cheerleading Association and Register of Malaysia (CHARM) Cheerleading Championship.’)" More here.