The Complex

The Mysterious Disappearance of @NatSecWonk and Why We'll Remember Him or Her

Update 10/23/13: @NatSecWonk has been revealed to be a White House staffer on the verge of a leading job at the Pentagon. He has now been fired for his tweets, and is under investigation for possible security breaches. 

@NatSecWonk, the indomitably -- and, in some circles, infamously -- snarky Twitter voice on all things national security, has disappeared from the Twitterverse.

The eponymously named @NatSecWonk handle -- the mask for an anonymous individual who challenged the Twitterati with his or her views about policy, operations, and politics -- was abandoned within the last several days. Searches came up empty starting late last week: "Sorry, we couldn't retrieve user," came the response from TweetDeck. There was no reason given for the demise of NatSecWonk, who sniped at government officials and reporters -- and even complained about typos in think-tank event notices. Some might say the demise was premature. Others were happy to see him or her go.

One official, who insisted on anonymity if he could be described as "NatSecFlak" said NatSecWonk would not be missed. This official described NatSecWonk as one might talk about an abusive parent who had finally met a sorry end.

"NatSecWonk was an acerbic Twitter pundit that relished taking anonymous shots at senior leaders who are doing their very best for this country," NatSecFlak told Foreign Policy in an email. "The rants seemed pathological and personal. I hope whoever was behind the feed will get better soon. Their hate, rebranded as 'snark,' will not be missed."

NatSecWonk described him/herself as someone who "unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks. A keen observer of the foreign policy and national security scene. I'm abrasive and bring the snark." Like a sniper in his hide, NatSecWonk delivered blows from his or her darkened perch. Anyone in the media, government, or think-tank world was fair game. But within the Beltway, NatSecWonk was considered a valuable source of information. This summer, for example, the Atlantic's Steve Clemons wrote that he called the White House about President Barack Obama's approach to the G-20 summit based on a NatSecWonk tweet. And if NatSecWonk liked what he or she saw, it was considered high praise.

But it was the snark for which NatSecWonk was known. Proud of the fact that s/he wrote only what others were thinking but wouldn't say, he or she enjoyed every opportunity to point out a mistake in a story, a mark missed, or a display of what to him or her was sheer idiocy. "That Obama only called Kerry/Hagel AFTER he made decision with his WH aides on going to Hill underscores how all foreign policy is WH-based," NatSecWonk tweeted after Obama opted to ask Congress for authorization for military force in Syria.

Other tweets were more personal -- and brutal. "Geez, can't Doug Frantz stay in a job longer than two years at a time?" NatSecWonk tweeted after Frantz, a former journalist-turned-Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer-turned-journalist accepted yet a new job at the State Department. After an op-ed by White House strategic communications director Ben Rhodes ran in USA Today, NatSecWonk did a drive-by on Rhodes: "For today's USA Today op-ed, Tony Blinken wasn't available? Bill Burns? Jim Miller? All far better choices than @rhodes44." And another: "I love how @richardhaass talks a big game when he accomplished zilch as Colin Powell's feckless and overwhelmed Policy Planning chief." And then, summing up staffing issues within Obama's second term: "Growing problem for the Administration -- too many 1st term holdovers not getting the hint that it's time to move on and get the fuck out."

Other times s/he could be downright nasty. After former high-level officials at the State Department and Pentagon created Beacon Global Strategies, a consulting group, and hired Michael Allen, the former staff director for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, NatSecWonk posted: "Yo bitches, I called this back in April. Give credit where credit is due, but I missed blonde bimbo J. Michael Allen."

And NatSecWonk seemed to disdain the self-promotional culture that is today's journalism, berating Glenn Thrush at Politico at one point for posting his stories on social media. Another time he or she smacked the New Republic's Noam Scheiber: "Enough with the RTs of praise!" to which Scheiber, apparently shamed, replied: "I deserve that."

But no irony, no spelling mistake, no incorrect military or diplomacy reference went unnoticed.

The social media writer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wrote sheepishly after being called out for what appeared to be a typo: "@NatSecWonk And to think we were deliberating btwn "peek at" vs. "peek of". We noticed just after sending. Thx for keeping us on our toes," the social media guru at CSIS RTed. And another Tweet, after an event at Brookings: "Anyone else notice the irony of @BrookingsInst holding a roundtable this weekend on Global Poverty in Aspen, CO? Good grief."

But NatSecWonk seemed more than just an observer of foreign affairs and national security policy in Washington. After the Pentagon's No. 2, Ash Carter, the deputy secretary of defense, announced he was leaving, speculation quickly leapt to whether Michèle Flournoy, the Pentagon's former policy chief, would replace Carter come Dec. 4, when he leaves. But NatSecWonk didn't like that rumor and hinted at the insidery-ness that was his or her signature. "Everyone, just stop with the stupid speculation on Flournoy or even worse, a Senator, for Carter's job. So ill-informed."

After the furloughs from the government shutdown began Oct. 1 and someone noted the high number of federal workers drinking on 14th Street in Washington, @NatSecWonk RTed: "Are there droves of overweight men in short sleeved shirts?"

But he or she could clearly touch a nerve. FP's own David Rothkopf replied to a snarky tweet thusly: "Oy vey. It's late at night (for me) and I'm tweeting in the back seat of a car. Cut me some slack."

At one point, the Daily Beast's Eli Lake, sounding frustrated with @NatSecWonk's anonymous swipes, tweeted simply: "@NatSecWonk these tweets would be funnier if you used your own name."

Indeed armchair tweeters occasionally thought out loud about who was behind the handle, which indicated it was someone with institutional knowledge of the State Department but with a solid grounding in Defense Department affairs. Or was it the other way around?

"Only thing I'd note is that it always seemed pretty clear it wasn't someone at DOD -- they didn't use Pentagon acronyms or jargon," one defense official told FP.

But now @NatSecWonk is gone. And s/he make take the secret of the Wonk's identity to the digital grave -- unless of course he or she sees something in a story about him or her that makes him or her rise from that digital grave. Perhaps it's just a Halloween prank.

Tim Denison

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