Three weeks ago, the group hatched a plan to trick the suspected NSC staffer into revealing himself. They would intentionally plant inaccurate, but harmless, information with him to see if it would pop up as a 140-character tweet, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the effort.
It is not clear whether the sting led directly to the unmasking last week of Jofi Joseph, 40, who was identified as the creative force behind @natsecwonk and was fired from his position on the administration’s Iran negotiations team. But the lengths to which White House officials went to find Joseph reveal how much of an embarrassment his Twitter feed had become inside the West Wing and across the street at the stately Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where Joseph worked alongside his NSC colleagues while secretly skewering them online.
“It was like they were hunting for bin Laden in a cave and he was right in the belly of the beast all along ,” said a former NSC official who worked with Joseph, marveling that he was able to keep his identity secret for over two years.
“We talked about it from time to time in the hallways, ‘Did you see what @natsecwonk posted?’ ” said this former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations. “He probably heard people walking around saying things about the account.”
Joseph said in a statement Wednesday that “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,” the statement continued. “I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed Wednesday that Joseph no longer worked for the administration, but he declined to discuss specifics. Administration officials said privately that Joseph — a political appointee who served at the pleasure of the president and could be fired more easily than a civil servant — was sanctioned not just because of offensive tweets but also because he exhibited poor judgment in an office that handles sensitive national security secrets.
Although @natsecwonk did not have a large audience by Twitter standards — fewer than 1,600 followers before the account was taken offline last week — the feed was watched closely by an influential circle of foreign policy experts in Washington think tanks, on Capitol Hill, and at the NSC, the State Department and the Pentagon.
The willingness of @natsecwonk to mock and insult the administration from a clearly Democratic point of view made it a refreshingly unpredictable read in partisan Washington — at least for those who were spared Joseph’s scathing abuse. Any preening or inflation of credentials was cause for ridicule.