National Security

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

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.

Read NatSecWonk's Tweets here. Joseph's bio here. Our original story, "The Mysterious Disappearance of @NatSecWonk and Why We'll Remember Him or Her," 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.

Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

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.

 

 

 

National Security

Obama’s drone problem (still); 92k vets hired; Saudi spy chief steps away from the U.S.; Flournoy: sustaining Afg; Forbes wants Taiwan in RIMPAC; Remembering @NatSecWonk; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

[A big e-mail SNAFU occurred this morning and our apologies for being more than three hours late this morning, er, afternoon.]

The indiscriminate use of drone warfare in Yemen, described. Writing on FP, Letta Tayler: "On a sultry evening in August 2012, five men gathered under a cluster of date palms near the local mosque in Khashamir, a village of stone and mud houses in southeastern Yemen. Two of the men were locals and well known in their community. The other three were strangers. Moments later, U.S. drones tore across the sky and launched four Hellfire missiles at the men. The first three missiles killed four of the men instantly, blasting their body parts across the grounds of the mosque. The final strike took out the fifth man as he tried to crawl to safety.

"Yemen's Defense Ministry described the three strangers as members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group that the United States calls al Qaeda's most active branch. The men were killed, ministry officials said, while ‘meeting their fellows.' But these two ‘fellows' had no known links to AQAP. Rather, they were precisely the kind of Yemenis that the United States has sought as allies in its fight against al Qaeda. One, Salim Jaber, was a 42-year-old cleric and father of seven who preached against violence committed in the name of Islam. The other was the cleric's 26-year-old cousin Walid Jaber, one of the village's few police officers. Just three days before his death, Salim Jaber had delivered a particularly adamant sermon against AQAP at the Khashamir mosque. The three strangers then showed up in the village in search of the cleric, relatives of the Jabers said. Fearful that the men might be seeking revenge for his sermon, Salim met with them only after his cousin offered to accompany him for protection." Read the rest here.

Is Obama adhering to his own guidance on drones? The WSJ's Siobhan Gorman: "Reports by two human-rights groups call into question whether the Obama administration is adhering to standards for U.S. drone strikes set by President Barack Obama in May. The reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, set for release on Tuesday, seek to document the civilian casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and the fallout on survivors, relying on firsthand accounts of witnesses. The reports also highlight the complex counterterrorism challenges the U.S. faces as it executes its unpiloted aircraft program and weighs the value of killing terrorists against the risks and costs of killing civilians." Read the rest here.

Civilian drone strikes still a big problem. The NYT's Declan Walsh and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud in this Page Oner: "In the telling of some American officials, the C.I.A. drone campaign in Pakistan has been a triumph with few downsides: In more than 300 missile attacks there since 2008, dozens of Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and the pace of the strikes, which officials frequently describe as ‘surgical' and ‘contained,' has dropped sharply over the past year.

"But viewed from Miram Shah, the frontier Pakistani town that has become a virtual test laboratory for drone warfare, the campaign has not been the antiseptic salve portrayed in Washington. In interviews over the past year, residents paint a portrait of extended terror and strain within a tribal society caught between vicious militants and the American drones hunting them. Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah: "The drones are like the angels of death...Only they know when and where they will strike." More here.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

As of this morning, more than 93,000 veterans have been hired under the "100,000 Jobs Mission." An initiative by JPMorgan Chase and 10 other companies to foster the hiring of as many as 100,000 veterans by 2020 has topped 92,869 vets through the end of this quarter and grown to 121 companies, Situation Report is told. JPMC is announcing the number this morning. The idea behind hiring veterans is not only about hiring veterans, company officials say, but narrowing the gap between civilians and military cultures generally and "breaking down barriers to employment," as JPMC says. The 100,000 Jobs Mission has also created something called the Veteran Talent Exchange, an employer-led Web tool that is described by JPMC as something that "facilitates the sharing and referral of veteran career profiles" among the Jobs Mission members. Military and veteran job seekers (and their spouses) can joint the VTX at VTX.jobs or here.

The Saudi spy chief distances himself from the U.S. The WSJ's Ellen Knickmeyer: "Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief told European diplomats this weekend that he plans to scale back cooperating with the U.S. to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest of Washington's policy in the region, participants in the meeting said. Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud's move increases tensions in a growing dispute between the U.S. and one of its closest Arab allies over Syria, Iran and Egypt policies. It follows Saudi Arabia's surprise decision on Friday to renounce a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The Saudi government, after preparing and campaigning for the seat for a year, cited what it said was the council's ineffectiveness in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian and Syrian conflicts. ‘This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,' Prince Bandar was quoted by diplomats as specifying of Saudi Arabia's decision to walk away from the Security Council membership." Read the rest here.

Even spy-crazy France is surprised by the NSA's reach. FP's Shane Harris and John Hudson: "It's hardly a secret, or much of a shock, that the United States spies on some of its closest allies. But recent revelations about the National Security Agency hoovering up the telephone calls of French citizens have even surprised officials in that country, one of the world's great bastions of espionage. According to a report in Le Monde, the NSA has monitored more than 70 million French phone calls in a 30-day period. French officials had initially expressed little shock at a previous report that the United States was spying on its officials -- that is, after all, what intelligence agencies do. But they were taken aback by the scale and scope of the latest revelations about monitoring its citizens, a French official told The Cable." More here.

Randy Forbes wants Hagel to include Taiwan in the RIMPAC exercises. Rep. Randy Forbes, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the HASC's Seapower and Projection Forces Subcomm, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday asking that "an invitation be extended to the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate" in the RIMPAC 2014 exercise. "While the People's Republic of China has been asked to participate, Taiwan remains uninvited despite the opportunity to enhance its humanitarian assistance/disaster relief capabilities," Forbes office said in a statement. Forbes: "Taiwan has been a faithful, democratic ally of the United States for decades and remains, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aptly noted, an ‘important economic and security partner' in the Asia-Pacific." The letter, here.

It's a critical month for Afghanistan and former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy argues for sustained U.S. engagement. Flournoy, writing on FP: "...Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That's why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative - the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.

"The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan's central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country's more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops. Why surrender this success in the area of security -- the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?

"The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country's future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections -- undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs -- that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country's voters." Read the rest of her bit here.

Know someone who's missing The Bird? Send ‘em our way - we'll put them on the distro for Situation Report - we know a guy. [Note to all of you who ask - the Early Bird is the Pentagon's daily compendium of news stories distributed to DOD personnel only; it remains on hiatus for now.]

What happened to @NatSecWonk? @NatSecWonk, the indomitably - and, in some circles, infamously -- snarky Twitter voice on all things national security, has disappeared from the Twitterverse. The eponymously named @NatSecWonk handle -- the mask for an anonymous individual who challenged the Twitterati with his or her views about policy, operations and politics -- was abandoned within the last several days. Searches came up empty starting late last week: "Sorry, we couldn't retrieve user," came the response from TweetDeck. There was no reason given for the demise of NatSecWonk, who sniped at government officials, reporters -- and even complained about typos in think tank event notices. Some might say his or her demise was premature. Others were happy to see him or her go.

One official, who insisted on anonymity if the person could be described as "NatSecFlak" said NatSecWonk would not be missed. This official described NatSecWonk as one might talk about an abusive parent who had finally met a sorry end.

"NatSecWonk was an acerbic Twitter pundit that relished taking anonymous shots at senior leaders who are doing their very best for this country," NatSecFlak told FP in an e-mail. "The rants seemed pathological and personal.  I hope whoever was behind the feed will get better soon.  Their hate, rebranded as ‘snark,' will not be missed."

NatSecWonk described him/herself as someone who "unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks. A keen observer of the foreign policy and national security scene. I'm abrasive and bring the snark." 

Like a sniper in his hide, NatSecWonk delivered blows from his or her darkened perch. Anyone in the media, government or think tank world was fair game. But within the Beltway, NatSecWonk  was considered a valuable source of information. Earlier this summer, for example, the Atlantic's Steve Clemons wrote that he called the White House about Obama's approach to the G20 summit based on a NatSecWonk tweet. And if NatSecWonk liked what he or she saw, it was considered high praise. But it was the snark for which NatSecWonk was known. Read the rest here or look for a link @glubold.

The Navy is hog wild for a stealth battleship strike force.  War is Boring's David Axe, writing on FP: "The Navy's newest warships are hard to detect on radar, heavily armed with super-accurate guns and missiles ... and gigantic. Six hundred feet long and displacing 15,000 tons of water, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class ships are designated as destroyers but are actually as big as some World War I battleships.The lead ship in the class is slated to launch any day now -- a milestone briefly delayed by the recent government shutdown. The Navy is building three of the Zumwalts over the next five years and deploying them to the Pacific to counter China's fast-improving military. That's assuming the $7-billion-apiece Zumwalts don't simply capsize the first time a powerful wave strikes them from behind. The high-tech battleships feature a novel, downward-sloping "tumblehome" hull that's optimized for stealth not stability -- and lacks the wave-resisting qualities of traditional ships with upward-flaring hulls...Even if they don't sink in heavy seas, the Zumwalts are controversial vessels. Besides being by far the biggest and most expensive surface combatants in memory, the Zumwalts are actually inferior to older, smaller ships in certain key stats, in particular radar performance and missile capacity.

"But what they lack in weapons and sensors, the new battleships make up for with other enhancements, including space for their own robotic air forces plus massive electrical output that, in the near future, could support powerful laser weapons." Read the rest here.

Jon Greenert argues for an advantage under the sea. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, writing on DefenseOne: "Unrest around the world and budget constraints at home have many Americans concerned about the ability of our military to influence events abroad. It is clearly getting harder to remain preeminent in all "domains" -- air, land, maritime, undersea and in the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace -- as technology and geography combine to challenge our ability to counter threats in key regions around the world. One domain in which our superiority is assumed, however, is under the sea. Yet even this long-standing advantage is not guaranteed. Military and commercial activity under the ocean is rapidly increasing, which could detect or conflict with our forces' operations or create new threats to our interests. Other nations are fielding increasingly capable and longer-range submarines while companies and scientists are sending unmanned vehicles and sensors throughout the ocean to find everything from fish stocks to oil deposits." Read the rest here.

Rush Limbaugh calls troops "welfare queens" and "moochers." The Duffel Blog: "From the upscale Palm Beach corporate headquarters of his Excellence in Broadcasting Network, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh unloaded on America's men and women in uniform, insinuating their motives as less than pure." Limbaugh: "You see, Master Sergeant," began Limbaugh, rubbing his hands together, "you have exposed yourself. I thank you for the call - and I thank you for your service, I really do - but you've exposed yourself. Of course you like the idea of the government putting a Band-Aid on every little boo-boo you get, wiping your nose for you, giving you free prescription Advil when you could buy it at the drug store like the taxpayer, so on and so forth. You like that idea because you've lived with that your whole life. You said you joined the Army at 18. My guess is that before that, before you enlisted, you were on welfare. When you joined, you were essentially on welfare, because whether or not you ever go to war, you get free medicine, free food, free place to sleep, even free clothes to wear to work every day. The taxpayer even gives you years-long paid vacations to exotic foreign lands. I'm not saying you're not appreciative, but when you're used to people giving you free ice cream for forty years, if you suddenly have to pay for your own ice cream, you'll understandably be upset." More here.