White House official fired for caustic tweets. What was he thinking?

Jofi Joseph, a National Security Council official, was fired this week for maintaining an anonymous Twitter account featuring scathing tweets about White House policy and personnel. Another public servant is felled by allures of social media.

Kacper Pempel/Reuters/File
People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop on which the Twitter logo is projected, in this file photo illustration taken in Warsaw on September 27, 2013.

The White House has fired National Security Council official Jofi Joseph for running an anonymous Twitter account that harshly criticized Obama administration policies and members, sometimes in scathingly personal terms.

Mr. Joseph was nonproliferation director at the NSC, and was involved in preparing for nuclear negotiations with Iran. He was also poised to move to a top Pentagon job before his abrupt dismissal, according to plugged-in Foreign Policy magazine blogger Gordon Lubold.

In a statement, Joseph said the Twitter account started as a “parody” and admitted that it developed into something “inappropriate” over time. He apologized to those he’d offended.

“It has been a privilege to serve in this Administration and I deeply regret violating the trust and confidence placed in me,” said Joseph, in an e-mail to Politico.

The now-shuttered @NatSecWonk account, which began in February 2011, was a favorite diversion for Washington’s defense and security cognoscenti, but readers often wondered who was behind the acidic tweets. It was clear the author had inside knowledge of White House discussions – and some pent-up anger and resentment about his colleagues.

He called senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett a “vacuous cipher,” for instance. After strategic communications director Ben Rhodes published a USA Today op-ed, NatSecWonk ran through a list of other White House aides, saying all were “far better choices” to write the piece than Mr. Rhodes.

The Clintons in general and Hillary Rodham Clinton in particular were among his favorite targets.

“Look, [Republican Rep. Darrell] Issa is an [expletive], but he’s on to something here with the @HillaryClinton whitewash of accountability for Benghazi,” NatSecWonk tweeted at one point.

The FBI also suspects that Joseph is the person behind a second, racier Twitter account, @DCHobbyist, reports Mr. Lubold of Foreign Policy. This feed includes numerous references to encounters with prostitutes and paid female escorts.

Joseph is married to a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Openly interacting with escorts can be a security risk; for a married and well-placed official, it can easily lead to blackmail and worse,” writes Lubold.

What was Joseph thinking? That’s what his many Washington-based followers are asking themselves today. Clearly he either lost sight of reality or was drawn into the apparent anonymity of social media, as was Anthony Weiner, the ex-New York mayoral candidate and US lawmaker who was “Carlos Danger” when soliciting sex talk from female followers.

(In one tweet, NatSecWonk insulted Mr. Weiner’s appearance, saying his wife must have been wearing “goggles” when she met him.)

Perhaps Joseph was overcome by the familiar frustrations of midlevel policy officials. They work long hours on papers and positions only to see their work often undone in minutes by bosses attuned to the moment’s political pressures.

Already some Republicans are citing Joseph’s firing as evidence of administration incompetence. The White House has time to investigate someone for nasty tweets and then fire him, but has yet to fire anyone over the loss last year of American lives in Benghazi, Libya, or the glitch-ridden rollout of the Affordable Care Act exchanges, goes this theme.

The right-leaning site Twitchy on Wednesday was giggling over a tweet from Slate political correspondent John Dickerson: “White House has fired crass & disloyal anonymous Tweeter @netsecwonk. Now looking for anonymous person who launched healthcare.gov.”

As for Joseph himself, he has lost more than his impending promotion to the Pentagon. He has apparently also been stripped of his security clearance, a valuable asset in the national security community. That would make it much harder for him to find another job in his current line of work. Not that it would have been easy in any case, given the reason for his dismissal.

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