The NatSecWonk I Know

In person, Jofi Joseph, the author of caustic and controversial Tweets, was a mild-mannered wonk who skipped on the snark. A look at the White House staffer who was fired over his anonymous Twitter handle

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He really was a wonk.

I know Jofi Joseph, the former White House national security staffer fired last week for his snarky and sometimes bilious tweets under the handle @NatSecWonk, and in person he was nothing like his obnoxious Twitter persona.

On Twitter, Joseph railed against the humorless stiffs of the foreign policy establishment. About a Council on Foreign Relations event he once tweeted: “Is the Guiness World Record for largest density of tools in one room about to be broken?”

That was a bit like the wrench calling the hammer a tool: Joseph was a deeply-rooted denizen of that CFR world, a foreign policy professional who specialized in the technical realm of nuclear nonproliferation. He even married another expert in the field. And in person—although I found him pleasant and likeable—he was much like those “tools”: mild-mannered, highly intelligent, and seemingly snarkless. Over lunch or coffee he was less interested in trashing colleagues than in diving deep on Iranian centrifuge capacity or deterrence theory in a post-Soviet world. Consider this email he sent me in response to something I’d written a few years ago:

Picking up on your last post, Ken Waltz, a noted [international relations] academic, made the exact same argument in a seminal 1981 paper – the spread of nuclear weapons can deter conventional armed conflict.  It has invited considerable controversy – surely, more nukes is a bad thing, not a good thing — but the historical record offers considerable evidence in support of his argument. The situation in South Asia and the Cold War are just the two most notable examples.

Not wonky enough for you? Here he is on whether interdiction can stop proliferation. And here he is criticizing George W. Bush’s Iran policy: “There is an alternative course, one that worked well in the 1990s, and that is the lost art of coercive diplomacy: combining incentives and punishments to coerce recalcitrant regimes into making the right decisions.”

It’s hard to reconcile that dry academic voice with the one behind infantile, sometimes outright hateful tweets about Liz Cheney’s weight, how a former senior Bush aide is a “dumb blonde airhead,” and the alleged venality of various Washingtonians—including some of his close colleagues—even if he did occasionally offer useful observations. (“Repubs stuck w/ Bush on an Iraq land invasion out of loyalty long after it began to hurt bad. Democrats won’t stick w/ Obama on air strikes,” he tweeted in early September.)

“The whole thing surprises me,” says a White House aide who often worked with Joseph. “He was always nice and helpful to me when I had questions about really complicated non pro[liferation] issues. The whole thing is sad.”

In one of my last communications with Joseph, he mentioned that he was soon leaving the White House for the Pentagon’s office of Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics. “Just waiting for the last churn of bureaucracy,” he wrote in an email. It all sounded very dull.

That same day, unknown to me, he was tweeting as NatSecWonk with the author of a parody account spoofing Elizabeth O’Bagy, another foreign policy analyst who’d recently been fired in a scandal:

“You’re attractive enough -screw coffee, how about a drink?”

You just never know.

12 comments
thestupidguys
thestupidguys

@MelissaJeanHinton   I agree! it's time he set himself up in the new digital world. he's too smart and funny and yeah a little too rude for the old wonks and their young spawn running this place.   Call me Jofi...

MelissaJeanHinton
MelissaJeanHinton

This is ridiculous. What is wrong with criticizing others actions when you find them to be subpar to the titles they hold??? To hell with freedom of speech, eh? Sigh.  If Joseph did his job THAT is what matters. And if he was doing as job, that's more than I can say for a lot of the people he directed his Tweets towards. He is obviously just as frustrated with the system as, I feel, most of the United States is.  

Quixote34
Quixote34

Let's not forget that, in New York, this kind of pseudonymous online activity is considered a "crime of deceit and provocation" that the Internet authorities can prosecute to the full extent of the law. See the documentation of one current case involving sock puppets and criminally deadpan "satire" at:

http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/ 

and see how the NY Attorney General opened a fake yogurt shop in Brooklyn to get some of those scoundrels posting fake comments on Yelp: 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24218139 

(Let's hope they go after every single fake "best chiropractor" and "best probiotic" on Amazon too. This is a potential source of billions of dollars in fines.)

It would not, of course, be surprising to see rampant criminal deceit and provocation even at the highest level of government, but we should at least be clear that if you use "sock puppets" or engage in "astroturfing" or send out deadpan "confessions" in someone else's name, at least in New York (a model in this respect for the entire country and especially for Washington), you are presumed to be a criminal. This latest incident should be thoroughly investigated at once by the appropriate Internet law enforcement authorities and the perpetrator, assuming he "crossed the line," should be brought to justice.

zahraflower1228
zahraflower1228

I don't think he should have been fired. So what if he made some twitter observations that some people didn't like. Free speech. Did he do his job? Did he do it well? These are the pertinent questions - not 'Did he anonymously make some snarky or insulting comments and hurt someone's feelings?' Wah wah.  The person who fired him should be fired - at least from what this article has revealed about the situation. 

BumpItMcCarthy
BumpItMcCarthy

@MelissaJeanHinton  Nobody in private business would be kept on after questioning his superiors' judgement, mocking their appearances,  making ugly remarks about their personal lives,  making repeated false accusations against colleagues (Stuxnet), and displaying a painfully obvious case of professional envy. He was the system, and did nothing to change it, nothing at all.


You misunderstand, perhaps deliberately, "Freedom of speech," as well as the concept of rights violations. If he were ARRESTED for his obnoxious, childish Twitterblather, that would violate his rights (although the colleague he falsely accused of leaking about Stuxnet might have a libel case). But his bosses have a perfect right to fire him. He's shown himself to be dishonest, incapable of guarding his tongue, and a thoroughgoing cowardly twit. They were entirely within THEIR rights to give him the boot.

So you can stop sobbing into your Gadsden hankie about the Constitution now.

drudown
drudown

@zahraflower1228 

You fail to acknowledge that he is making statements within the course and scope of employment. 

By analogy, can a boss having sex with his/her administrative worker challenge his/her firing by claiming "what, I can't date anybody?"


MelissaJeanHinton
MelissaJeanHinton

@BumpItMcCarthy @MelissaJeanHinton 
Why would he be envious of them when he was known as a great worker and he was up for a major promotion? He's only saying what the rest of us were thinking. What's wrong with that?? 

As for my "Gadsden hankie" I have no idea as to what you're referring to, but if you're referring to my school studies, then stop stalking my facebook, loser. FYI I'm at Louisiana now.   

EstherZinn
EstherZinn

@BumpItMcCarthy @MelissaJeanHinton My problem with this is not with the fact that he was fired, but how the media is painting him out to be some kind of cyberterrorist or threat to national security. No internal security protocol was leaked, I read his archives and they were basically just snippy comments about how dumb people at work are or how they look. When does criticizing someone's fashion sense become "An Attack on the White House" (as one headline called it). This is not on the same level as Snowden, this was one guy complaining anonymously on the internet about his job. Were they right to fire him? Yes. Were they right to use illegal methods to figure out who was writing an anonymous Twitter account sharing opinions that were no immediate threat to anyone? No. Spying is against the Constitution. Our government doesn't have the right to do that.

drudown
drudown

@EstherZinn @drudown 

Sorry, it is a relevant analogy. 

I don't care one iota if you agree here or whether the plain meaning of Article I, Section 8 requires the GOP Congress to raise taxes to avoid a "shut down" either. 

Res ipsa loquitur.