@NetSecWonk’d: Lessons from the Joseph Affair
Former National Security Council (NSC) non-proliferation staffer and potential Pentagon AT&L advisor Jofi Joseph isn’t the first person to be undone by social media, and he won’t be the last. The inconvenient truth is that social media security isn’t even close to the main takeaway from this episode.
Our advice re: social media still stands, but we should begin by acknowledging that Twitter just did the US government a big favor…
For those unfamiliar with Joseph, aka. @NatSecWonk, and possibly aka. @DCHobbyist, here are the main details. The former aide to Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. [D-PA], Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, and NSC director for nonproliferation was about to become a top advisor to Pentagon undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics Frank Kendall. Instead, he was just fired.
Why? He was confronted with evidence that he was the person behind the @NatSecWonk Twitter account, which had displayed a special fondness for inappropriate and unprofessional commentary and behavior. Marc Ambinder offers a collection for your perusal, via Scribd. Reading them does not fill a person with confidence that the Iran file, which is currently the cause of major rifts between the USA and its Arab allies, was in good hands. Indeed, it would be hard to justify employing such an individual in any position of trust, within any organization.
In Jofi’s qualified defense, he did at least offer that rarest of DC specimens – an actual apology:
“…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.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the utter lack of judgment displayed. Nor does it answer even more troubling questions. Foreign Policy Magazine and Politico also allege that Jofi, who is married to Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Carolyn Leddy, was simultaneously behind the @DCHobbyist Twitter account. That would be even more compromising, given @DCHobbyist’s record of tweeting about escort services, and its suggestive tweets to specific people.
To put it in starker terms, it would mean that Jofi had a key Obama Administration role in formulating policy about the world’s most dangerous states, while handing out public declarations that a competent intelligence service could easily use to suborn that advice.
Which brings us to this episode’s main takeaway. From Foreign Policy magazine:
“Joseph was described by various individuals who had had contact with him as smart but unremarkable. One former administration official who knew Joseph indicated that he was surprised by the revelations. Describing what he made of them, the official said simply, “Still waters run deep.”
Or shallow, as the case may be. How many others run similarly shallow, but haven’t done Americans the favor of advertising it? Because the current hiring system for people like Jofi Joseph seems designed to produce exactly this outcome.
Joseph stepped out of a college degree, and began working in the halls of government without further life or field experience. The ascent from college dorm resident to the person in charge of Iran’s nuclear proliferation file took just over a decade. All without ever stepping out of staff roles whose composition and criteria were virtually an extension of his college experience, rather than a departure from it.
This is not a formula for bringing a person beyond a juvenile college mentality, and Joseph’s tweets demonstrate that fact in abundance.
The American military has been justly criticized for its tendency to pull officers away from continued growth in field proficiency, in order to fill staff slots. On the other hand, at least it does insist on some field proficiency and experience beforehand. What the Jofi Joseph episode teaches, more than anything else, is that the US Congress and associated bodies responsible for national security need to start insisting on the same criteria.
- Foreign Policy Magazine (Oct 23/13) – @NatSecWonk Was Poised for a Leading Pentagon Job. Emphasis on “was,” especially in light of the additional questions raised.
- Politico 44 (Oct 22/13) – NSC aide admits Twitter attack on White House.
- Scribd – Tweets of @NatSecWonk.
- Princeton University, via Google Cache – Truman Scholars – Alumni Bios: JOFI J. JOSEPH, MPA ’99
- DID (July 8/09) – Information Shifts: From Facebook, With Love. A wife’s Facebook account reveals too much about the new head of MI6.
- DID (Feb 23/09) – Information Shifts: 4 Defense Snapshots – February 2009. SpecOps on Candid Cellphone, Hostile Google Earth surveillance, Successful US Navy candidness, and Pajamas vs. the VA.
- DID (March 10/08) – Sharpen Yourself: LinkedIn & Social Networking Sites. Jofi Joseph should have read this.