The revealing, occasionally hateful, formerly anonymous tweets of a White House insider
President Obama can't be happy about this. Photo: CC BY: The White House/Pete Souza
The author of the @natsecwonk Twitter account, a gossipy, often invective-laced anonymous Washington beat sheet, could have been a thousand people. The bio line: "A keen observer of of the foreign policy and national security scene. I'm abrasive and bring the snark. Unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks."
Maybe it was a journalist who covered the State Department, or a low-level contractor, or a disgruntled junior researcher at a think tank. It could even have been me (and one of its targets thought it was, for awhile).
Turns out it was someone who really was in a position to dish.
The Daily Beast disclosed yesterday that @natsecwonk was the online ego of Jofi Joseph, 40, a senior director of non-proliferation policy on the National Security Staff.
And that means his 2,218 tweets amount to a real-time roman a clef about the Obama administration from the perspective of an insider with access to highly classified, highly sensitive information, as well as the online alter ego of a policy wonk.
The account was disabled last week, but you can read and search through all of the tweets here.
Joseph, a former Senate staffer who worked in the non-proliferation shop at the State Department when Hillary Clinton was the secretary, portrays virtually all of his superiors as kiss-ass incompetents surrounded by sycophants.
He tweeted that his one-time boss, then-National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, "only selects young attractive women" for office positions.
His tweets about public officials and politicians verged on the hateful:
About Ann and Tagg Romney: "Has rich kid Tagg Romney ever even been in a fight? What a piece of shit. He needs to tell his mom to lose about 15 pounds...."
On Chelsea Clinton: "Who are the two blondes flanking Chelsea? And is it just me, or has she put on some weight?"
On Liz Cheney: "What happens when rank nepotism meets sheer stupidity. Also, she takes after her father — she's like 30 pounds overweight."
On Beau Biden: "Here's me and Dad, calling up an escort service for a little 'company' this fine summer afternoon! RT @BeauBiden: pic.twitter.com/fcAZXKD9TS"
On Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter: "In a town full of egos, Ash Carter may have one of the largest. Unlikely that he views a mere ex-politician as an intellectual equal."
@natsecwonk regularly made fun of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), mocking the South Carolinian's sexuality and affect.
He settled other scores anonymously.
A September 7 tweet noted that the "Rice aide" who was angling for Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken's job should note that he was "not leaving" the administration any time soon.
He tweeted that Donilon urged Obama not to promote Michele Flournoy, once the undersecretary of defense for policy, because he thought she was "too close to the generals," noting that Donilon himself was "not a fan of the generals!"
He had particular ire for Clinton's staff and anyone associated with her, as well as for Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser who is most closely associated with President Obama's foreign policy vision.
"When will the administration learn that trotting out [Rhodes] to make a substantive case on foreign policy is eye-rolling?" he tweeted on September 4, after the administration publicly changed course on whether to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. He then tweeted that Rhodes was a "P.R. flack" given to "pablum."
His perch afforded him access to sensitive internal debates, and his tweets occasionally offered clues to his identity. On September 2, he asserted that President Obama did not ask Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel or Secretary of State John Kerry before he made the decision to ask Congress to authorize his use of force in Syria. He also noted that the president's chief legislative liaison was "not in the room for any of those meetings, underscoring how marginal he is." A few days earlier, he tweeted that while "[w]e all enjoy hating on Don Rumsfeld, [h]e makes [a] valid point that Obama has not yet laid out genuine case for military strike." Joseph was happy, days later, when Obama overruled his advisers and asked Congress to put skin in the game. He occasionally writes of dealing with "annoying" staff members on Capitol Hill.
Jofi, as @natsecwonk, admired President Obama but called many of his foreign policy appointments "crappy." Denis McDonough, now Obama's chief of staff, is regularly portrayed as the single center of gravity in the administration, someone Obama trusts and listens to more than any of his advisers. His tweets do not suggest that he strongly disagreed with Obama's policy decisions, although he routinely castigated White House press secretary Jay Carney and Rhodes for how they were sold to the public.
Occasionally, he would give journalists "homework assignments," like his August call for a story about Salman Ahmed, an aide slotted to become senior director for strategic communications under National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Ahmed, he tweeted, is Rice's "mysterious consiglieri."
Republicans may find some threads to unravel. Joseph did not subscribe to any of the main conspiracy theories about the Benghazi consulate tragedy, but he often tweeted that Secretary Clinton's investigation amounted to a "whitewash." After a concussion forced Clinton to postpone her Benghazi testimony in December 2012, he begged Republicans to not "disappoint me. This Hillary 'concussion' is awfully convenient, eh, with Benghazi testimony next week, no?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why China's Communist Party is headed for collapse
- Why Texas Republicans may want to cool the anti-Obama land-grab talk
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Why the poor's investment of choice is so alarming
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to make perfect fried rice in 6 easy steps
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- Obama doesn't have a manhood problem — but conservatives certainly do
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why we need a maximum wage
Subscribe to the Week