The sting that helped furious White House plumbers unmask the National Security Council official driving them crazy with snarky Tweets is a time-honored device often employed at high levels of government to identify leakers.
"It's an easy way to nail somebody who talks too much," laughed a former senior political adviser to a Republican president expert in such ploys. "You drop a harmless little nugget into a meeting where everyone is in on the scam except the suspected leaker. Then when the information pops up somewhere - bingo."
National Security Council staffer Jofi Joseph was fired last week after being exposed as the creative talent behind @natsecwonk, an anonymous Twitter account that routinely trashed such Obama heavy-hitters as counselor Valerie Jarrett ("vacuous cipher"), NSC chief Susan Rice and UN ambassador Samantha Power - not to mention former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other ObamaWorld stalwarts.
Published reports say that top Obama advisers, enraged and embarrassed by the commentary, decided to leak innocuous material to Joseph to see if it turned up on the notorious snark-site. It's not clear the ploy produced the proverbial "smoking gun," but suddenly Joseph was fired. In a statement, he admitted to being the anonymous agent- provocateur and apologized to "everyone I insulted."
There's a famous corollary to this practice that helped undermine White House chief of staff Donald Regan. During Ronald Reagan's second term, some senior White House officials eager to grease the skids under Regan concocted snappy one-liners certain to make it into print from appreciative journalists. But there was a twist: the anonymous quotes often contained a favorite Regan phrase ("and the like"). When Nancy Reagan, never a Regan fan, saw some of the provocative quotes she immediately assumed Regan was the leaker. Nancy's rage was a prime factor in Regan being forced out of his job in 1987.