The anonymous, acerbic tweeter who went by the handle @NatSecWonk was a White House staffer on the verge of being named to a leading Pentagon position before he was fired last week for his nasty, sneering online identity. Now, onetime National Security Council (NSC) staffer Jofi Joseph is under investigation by the Justice Department for his alleged social media activities -- both as @NatSecWonk and also possibly as @DCHobbyist, a Twitter account devoted largely to the exploits of North American escorts.
Joseph possessed the kind of résumé that had put him on a Washington fast track. But he was abruptly dismissed last week after administration officials confronted him with evidence that he was the man behind @NatSecWonk. That Twitter handle, well-known to people in Washington's national security circles, relished sniping at government officials, politicians, reporters, and anyone else in his field of digital fire. But FP has also learned that Joseph is suspected of being the man behind a different Twitter handle, @DCHobbyist, which spouts spicy talk about sex and prostitutes peppered among tweets on the Washington Nationals and bike commuting. On Oct. 7, @DCHobbyist tweeted about Toronto's "tsunami of gorgeous and sensual escorts." Three days later, he tweeted at @MsBellaAngeline, the Twitter account associated with Isabella Angeline, who advertises herself online as a "luxury companion and escort."
He wrote, "I hope you know that I reminisce fondly about our date. Do let me know if you ever find your way back to DC."
Naturally, the tweets themselves are not illegal. But when administration officials realized Joseph was also behind them, they raised questions about Joseph, who is married to a respected Senate staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Carolyn Leddy. Openly interacting with escorts can be a security risk; for a married and well-placed official, it can easily lead to blackmail and worse. The fact that @DCHobbyist appeared to be so brazenly engaged in such activities raised red flags about Joseph's state of mind. One individual briefed on the matter told FP that based on the two Twitter handles, Joseph's case was referred to the Department of Justice to determine whether 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. Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee officials are trying to determine if anything Joseph posted had represented classified information provided to him by Leddy.
Twenty years to the day after the failed "Black Hawk Down" Ranger mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, the commander of a Navy SEAL team attempting to extract a terrorist kingpin from a coastal village pulled his unit out as the mission started to founder and it became clear the militant leader couldn't be taken alive.
The snatch-and-grab mission on Oct. 4 began as planned. SEAL Team Six, the same unit that targeted Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, approached the Somali coast in the darkness. Their target, according to U.S. military officials: the leader of al Qaeda's East Africa branch, a Somali-born Kenyan named Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, also known as Ikrima . Elements of the unit got past the beach, military officials tell Foreign Policy. But at some point during the perilous mission, the SEAL team came under heavy fire.
Blake Midnight/US Navy via Getty Images
ASPEN, CO. - The American effort to arm Syria's opposition may be stalled in Congress. But the Hill just gave the State Department the green light to pay police in rebel-controlled territory a monthly stipend of $150. It's a start - and it's part of a wider U.S. effort to build law enforcement organizations in conflict-ridden nations.
"We'd rather have a trained policeman who is trusted by the community than have to bring in a new crowd or bring in an international group that doesn't know the place," Rick Barton, assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations, said during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum today.
"There are literally thousands of defected police inside of Syria, they are credible in their communities because they've defected," said Barton. "They have been playing the role of police without any pay because there's no revenue stream in the opposition controlled areas."
Right now, it's the best the U.S. can manage. Weapons shipments, promised in June, have been slowed. Obama administration lawyers have repeatedly raised red flags over the arms transfers. Congressmen are concerned the weapons could fall into the wrong hands. The CIA has been quietly training small groups of anti-Assad fighters to use anti-tank weapons and heavy guns, according to the Los Angeles Times. But a larger up-arming and training push is on hold. "We don't understand why our friends delay and delay and delay and hesitate to support us," Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of a Western-backed rebel group, told McClatchy.
In the meantime, the State Department has been providing some Syrian opposition groups secure communications technologies as well as some rule-of-law training, added Barton. There have also been planned shipments of vehicles, medical supplies, and night vision goggles. But even that non-lethal aid has been bottled up in the bowels of the American bureaucracy; fully half of it was still on U.S. shelves as of last month.
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
The White House has just confirmed that President Obama signed a classified order in October "establishing principles and processes" for the U.S. government's cyber operations around the globe.
While the order establishes these rules of the road, it doesn't give the military, intelligence or law enforcement communities any new powers or change anything about the government' current operations, according to a Nov. 14 email from a senior administration official.
Instead, it provides an approach to cyber operations that are consistent with "values we promote domestically and internationally," said the official. Based on Killer Apps' previous conversations with government officials, this likely means that the order emphasizes privacy rights of citizens.
The order also emphasizes what sounds like a very measured approach to cyber deterrence.
"It continues to be our policy that we shall undertake the least action necessary to mitigate threats and that we will prioritize network defense and law enforcement as the preferred courses of action," the official said.
Here's the full text of the official's message:
The President recently signed a new classified Presidential directive relating to cyber operations, updating a similar directive that dated back to 2004. This step is part of the Administration's focus on cybersecurity as a top priority. The cyber threat has evolved since 2004, and we have new experiences to take into account.
The directive itself is classified, so we cannot discuss all of the elements contained in it. We can describe what it is intended to do, and what it does not do.
Presidential directives do not provide new authorities to agencies or departments. The U.S. military, intelligence community and law enforcement agencies obtain no new authorities in the issuance of this directive. Nor does this directive cover or change the actions we undertake with the consent of private network owners. Rather, the directive establishes principles and processes for the use of cyber operations so that cyber tools are integrated with the fully array of national security tools we have at our disposal. It provides a whole-of-government approach consistent with the values that we promote domestically and internationally as we have previously articulated in the International Strategy for Cyberspace.
This directive will establish principles and processes that can enable more effective planning, development, and use of our capabilities. It enables us to be flexible, while also exercising restraint in dealing with the threats we face. It continues to be our policy that we shall undertake the least action necessary to mitigate threats and that we will prioritize network defense and law enforcement as the preferred courses of action. The procedures outlined in this directive are consistent with the U.S. Constitution, including the President's role as commander in chief, and other applicable law and policies.
The White House is continuing to work with lawmakers and other "key players" to craft an executive order aimed at securing the country's privately-owned critical infrastructure from cyber attacks despite the Senate Majority Leaders' plan to hold a vote on cybersecurity legislation next month.
"We have held sessions with both House and Senate staffers to talk about actions that executive departments and agencies can take, including a possible executive order," a National Security Council spokeswoman told Killer Apps on Oct. 17. "We're essentially, still in deliberating and consulting phase wanting to make sure that anything we put together for the president's considerations takes into account of these key stakeholders" on Capitol Hill and in the private sector.
These comments come several days after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that he plans to bring last summer's cybersecurity bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.) to the Senate floor for a vote next month. The bill, known as the Cyber Security Act of 2012, stalled in early August amidst objections by Republicans opposed to the minimal cyber security standards it would establish for critical infrastructure providers. Republicans claimed the security standards would be burdensome to businesses and would not be able to keep up with the ever-changing nature of cyber threats.
"Secretary Panetta has made clear that inaction is not an option," said Reid on Oct. 13. "I will bring cybersecurity legislation back to the Senate floor when Congress returns in November. My colleagues who profess to understand the urgency of the threat will have one more chance to back their words with action, and work with us to pass this bill."
While Reid acknowledged concerns of his legislative colleagues who have criticized the White House for crafting an executive order, (read more on that here) he encouraged a two-pronged approach (perhaps race is a better way to describe it) between the White House and Congress meant to quickly establish cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure providers.
"Some of my colleagues have suggested that the President should delay further action to protect America from this threat until Congress can pass legislation," said Reid. While "cybersecurity is an issue that should be handled by Congress, but with Republicans engaging in Tea Party-motivated obstruction, I believe that President Obama is right to examine all means at his disposal for confronting this urgent national security threat."
In addition to establishing minimal security standards for banks, utilities, transportation and communications firms, Lieberman and Collins' bill allows rapid information sharing between businesses and the government, protects businesses from lawsuits for inappropriately sharing private citizens information and it restricts the type of information that could be collected about U.S. citizens and how it could be used.
Just yesterday, Maryland Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski said that a newfound sense of urgency amongst lawmakers about cyber security has increased the chances that the Lieberman-Collins bill will pass in November.
Here's what the White House said about its executive order on Oct. 5:
We are exploring ways for Executive Branch Departments and Agencies to more effectively secure the nation's critical infrastructure by working collaboratively with the private sector. We are considering an Executive Order (EO) as one way to improve such collaborative efforts. However, an EO is not a substitute for new legislation. While an EO doesn't create new powers or authorities, it does set policy under existing law.
We believe that cybersecurity best practices should be developed in partnership between government and industry. For decades, industry and government have worked together to protect the physical security of critical assets that reside in private hands, from airports and seaports to national broadcast systems and nuclear power plants. There is no reason we cannot work together in the same way to protect critical infrastructure cyber systems upon which so much of our economic well-being, national security, and daily lives depend.
Our intent is to focus on and address the nation's critical infrastructure, whose incapacitation from a cyber incident would have grave national security and economic consequences. Since most companies aren't critical infrastructure, we are only looking at a small subset of the companies in the U.S. We believe that companies driving cybersecurity innovations in their current practices and planned initiatives can help shape best practices across critical infrastructure. Companies needing to upgrade their security would have the flexibility to decide how best to do so using a wide range of innovative products and services available in the marketplace. We remain committed to incorporating strong privacy and civil liberties protections into any initiative to secure our critical infrastructure.
The process of developing an Executive Order will take time, as we believe that it must take into account the views of our partners in the private sector and the Congress. We have started reaching out to both the private sector and Congress and we look forward to gaining their input. Given the gravity of the threats we face in cyberspace, we want to get this right in addition to getting it done swiftly.
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.