Dennis Ross’ Red Phone

Ha’aretz reported today that, as part of an ongoing unpaid consulting gig with the Administration, Dennis Ross has a secure phone that allows him to discuss classified issues with the White House.

Apparently, a short while after Ross left his position in the Obama administration, the White House made an unusual request to install a secure phone line in Ross’ office at the Washington Institute. The secure line is known in Israel as a “red phone”, which could be used to discuss confidential information without the risk of wiretapping.


During his visit to Israel last week, Ross met secretly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as with his advisor Yitzhak Molho. American officials estimated that Ross’ talks with Netanyahu are on behalf of President Obama, and part of a channel of communication that bypasses the government.

Here’s what State Department spokeswoman had to say about the arrangement on Friday.

QUESTION:And one more. Are you aware of discussions that former advisor to President Obama, Dennis Ross, is having in Israel with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his advisor Yitzhak Molcho on possible ways out of this – the current stalemate?

MS. NULAND: I’ve heard about this, but I can’t speak to the mission. You know Dennis Ross is now a private citizen, but he also has an association with the White House as an unpaid advisor. So I’m going to send you to the White House in terms of how this might —

QUESTION: There’s been allegations —


QUESTION: — that there’s been – some people are claiming – the claim has been made that Mr. Ross, in coordination with the White House, is bypassing the State Department in these separate – could you comment on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, start with the fact that the White House and the State Department are in lockstep on these policies, and have been from the beginning. And Dennis Ross has been an advisor in this process. He’s now an unpaid advisor. So we don’t see it that way, but I’m going to send you to the White House with regard to his specific mission. [my emphasis]

Now, I’m actually more alarmed by the way Nuland kept repeating that Ross was unpaid than by claims that he’s being used by the White House as a side-channel for negotiations, though both concern me. Having Ross conduct negotiations as a private citizen seems designed to sidestep oversight and/or the involvement of career professionals who might advocate sane positions.

I’m particularly interested in the story given the Adam Werritty scandal in the UK, in which the Defense Secretary Liam Fox resigned after it was shown he had given Werritty undue access, including meetings in Israel, deemed private, attended by the British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and Mossad.

The official story behind that scandal admits some unofficial meetings in Israel.

The fog seems to extend even to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, whose report into the affair, which sealed Dr Fox’s fate, identified just the two meetings between the former minister, Mr Werritty and Mr Gould.

The three men met in Tel Aviv at “a private dinner with senior Israelis” and, before Mr Gould took up the ambassador’s post in Tel Aviv, for “a general discussion of international defence and security matters”. Sir Gus observed that Mr Werritty was invited “as an individual with some experience in these matters”.

But Craig Murray, who has been investigating the issue for months, has sources that say this back-channel negotiation was all about planning a war on Iran.

This is the story I was given.

Matthew Gould was Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Iran, a country which Werritty frequently visited, and where Werritty claimed to have British government support for plots against Ahmadinejad. Gould worked at the British Embassy in Washington; the Fox-Werritty Atlantic Bridge fake charity was active in building links between British and American neo-conservatives and particularly ultra-zionists. Gould’s responsibilities at the Embassy included co-ordination on US policy towards Iran. The first meeting of all three, which the FCO refuses to date, probably stems from this period.

According to my source, there is a long history of contact between Gould and Werritty. The FCO refuse to give any information on Gould-Werritty meetings or communications except those meetings where Fox was present – and those have only been admitted gradually, one by one. We may not have them all even yet.

My source says that co-ordinating with Israel and the US on diplomatic preparation for an attack on Iran was the subject of all these meetings. That absolutely fits with the jobs Gould held at the relevant times. The FCO refuses to say what was discussed. My source says that, most crucially, Iran was discussed at the Tel Aviv dinner, and the others present represented Mossad. The FCO again refuses to say who was present or what was discussed.

On Wednesday 2 November it was revealed in the press that under Fox the MOD had prepared secret and detailed contingency plans for British participation in an attack on Iran.

I don’t know that these multiple back channel negotiations with Israel are related–for all I know Ross may be trying to counteract the British line. But it does seem like a whole bunch of very pro-Israel private citizens have been conducting negotiations for the US and UK of late.

Update: The Administration denies Ross has a red phone, at least at WINEP.

Ambassador Ross has extensive experience in the Middle East and is serving as an unpaid advisor on Middle East issues.  This is not uncommon.  The State Department has relied on senior experts in the past.

There’s no “secure phone” at WINEP.

Note that this denial suggests Ross is working through State, which contradicts what Nuland said the other day. So I’ll file this under non-denial denial.

28 replies
  1. CTuttle says:

    It’s scary that Oily Bomber has a secure line to WINEP HQ…! The PNAC Neocons must be thrilled…! Tis a shame Obummer doesn’t have a secure line to CAP…! 8-(

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Claiming that Ross is “unpaid” is inaccurate without modification. Or more accurately, it is deceptive without modification.

    I presume Mr. Obama’s spokesperson means that his administration is not paying Ross for his services as “consultant” to a president up soon for re-election. Mr. Ross, however, is occupying expensive real estate, is paying top dollar for transportation, clothing, meals, and utilities, such as mobile phones. Someone is paying for those goodies. The public has a right to know who it is. Since this is Washington, it also requires knowing what they expect in exchange.

    The claim that Ross is unpaid also requires a time modifier. He isn’t being paid “now” perhaps? What does he expect to be paid in the future and by whom? How does it relate to contacts and decisions he made when working for the government?

    The Beltway’s infamous revolving door has never spun faster. Purported government employees turn into highly paid privateers and vice versa faster than Dirty Harry could say, “Make my pay/day.” Must the Obama administration leave the door partly opened, partly closed, and have no one to watch who comes in or out, no one to ask, “What’s in that lunchbox?”

  3. shekissesfrogs says:

    Obama probably prefers taking his orders from Denis Ross over the bristly Netanyahu.

    When Tony Lake was in Clinton’s Cabinet he bragged that since he converted to Judaism every member of the National Security team was jewish. Israel still has a monopoly on natural affections.

    Edit: Obama tapped Ross during his campaign to tour the most affluent synagogues in the US, and let them know he would make Israel’s security a priority. The red phone is probably a PR tactic, putting out the message that the WINEP warmongers still have the president’s ear. No good deed goes unpunished.

  4. MadDog says:

    The first moment that I read that Ross was a secret back-channel private citizen interlocutor between Bibi and Barack, that very first moment my thoughts turned to a coming attack on Iran. How could it not?

  5. Arbusto says:

    This Administration, like most others, except Carter and lesser Clinton, are sorely inept amateurs dealing with Isreal. When all efforts are filtered through the prism of AIPAC and the likes of Newts Sugar Daddy Sheldon (No, no, you did not have great sex with Sheldon) Adelson, you’ve already lost.

  6. PeasantParty says:

    ‘Matthew Gould was Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Iran, a country which Werritty frequently visited, and where Werritty claimed to have British government support for plots against Ahmadinejad. Gould worked at the British Embassy in Washington; the Fox-Werritty Atlantic Bridge fake charity was active in building links between British and American neo-conservatives and particularly ultra-zionists. Gould’s responsibilities at the Embassy included co-ordination on US policy towards Iran. The first meeting of all three, which the FCO refuses to date, probably stems from this period.’

    Is there any chance that Mr. Murray could point us to these NeoCons and U-Z’s? I know war criminal Henry Kissinger is still in Washington promoting kill the world, but who else?

  7. MadDog says:

    Via the Foreign Policy blog:

    A real debate about Iran

    The authors are:

    “…Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom is a former Head of Strategic Planning in the IDF’s Planning Branch. He is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv; Prof. Shai Feldman is Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and a former Head of Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies; Amb. Shimon Stein, a former Deputy Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and a former Israeli Ambassador to Berlin is a Senior Research Fellow at INSS.”

    I find much to disagree with in their assumptions and at times, their self-serving answers to their own questions, but I still recommend the read.

  8. PeasantParty says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: Thanks for that great opinion sharing. My first thoughts were that he has been contracted as a non-public consultation person. His payment is probably being ran through another one of those obscure black budgets.

  9. CTuttle says:

    @PeasantParty: It doesn’t even require any Black Budgeting, think of how well endowed the Reichwingers/Zionists already are…! I’ll betcha AIPAC funded the installation of the direct line from the WH to WINEP HQ…! I’m sure they’ll bug pay the bill on the line…! ;-)

  10. orionATL says:

    if the obama presidency would promote ACTA to bypass the congress, if it would refuse, for years, to investigate evident fraud by officials of major banks, surely it would not hesitate to by-pass the state dept to negotiate directly with netanyahu.

    this could be useful; it could be necessary; or it could be another example of a power-drunk presidency.

    a potential problem for this nation, given what we know of the obama administration’s past negotiating behavior, is that it will trade away anything, without compunction, for a small temporary victory.

    so, for example, it might agree to attack iran if netanyahu would just cool-it until after nov,2012 – one could label this a post-november surprise.

  11. orionATL says:

    from the entry for dennis ross in wikipedia:


    Ross was born in San Francisco and grew up in Marin County. His Jewish mother and Catholic stepfather raised him in a non-religious atmosphere.[2] Ross graduated from University of California, Los Angeles in 1970 and did graduate work there, writing his doctoral dissertation on Soviet decision-making.[3] He later became religiously Jewish after the Six Day War.[2] In 2002 he co-founded the Kol Shalom synagogue in Rockville, Maryland.[2]

    During President Jimmy Carter’s administration, Ross worked under Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the Pentagon. There, he co-authored a study recommending greater U.S. intervention in “the Persian Gulf Region because of our need for Persian Gulf oil and because events in the Persian Gulf affect the Arab-Israeli conflict.”[4] During the Reagan administration, Ross served as director of Near East and South Asian affairs in the National Security Council and Deputy Director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (1982–84).[3]

    Ross returned briefly to academia in the 1980s, serving as executive director of the Berkeley-Stanford program on Soviet International Behavior from 1984-1986.[3] In the mid-1980s Ross co-founded with Martin Indyk the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)-sponsored Washington Institute for Near East Policy (“WINEP”).[5] His first WINEP paper called for appointment of a “non-Arabist Special Middle East envoy” who would “not feel guilty about our relationship with Israel.”[6]

    In the administration of President George H. W. Bush, Ross was director of the United States State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, working on U.S. policy toward the former Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany and its integration into NATO, arms control, and the 1991 Gulf War.[3] He also worked with Secretary of State James Baker on convincing Arab and Israeli leaders to attend the 1991 Middle East peace conference in Madrid, Spain.[2]…”

    further down

    “…Ross was a noted supporter of the Iraq war and he signed two Project for a New American Century (PNAC) letters in support of the war in March 2003.[18] However, he opposed some of the Bush Administration’s policies for post-war reconstruction.[11] He also opposed Bush’s policy of avoiding direct talks with Iran.[2]

    According to Wall Street Journal, Ross, along with James Steinberg and Daniel Kurtzer, were among the principal authors of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s address on the Middle East to AIPAC in June 2008.[19] It was viewed as the Democratic nominee’s most expansive on international affairs.[20]…”

    and further down still

    “…Haaretz reported that Ross’s work as a Middle East aide in the Obama administration was burdened by tension with special envoy George Mitchell, to the point that Ross and Mitchell sometimes refused to speak to one another. This report indicated that the tension was caused, at least in part, by Ross’ occasional efforts to conduct negotiations with Israeli government officials without notifying Mitchell. For example, in both September and November 2010, Ross was said to have tried to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction during negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for unspecified private assurances and a major military arms transfer from the United States.[23]

    Palestinian officials reportedly viewed Ross as beholden to the Israeli government, and not as an honest broker or even-handed facilitator of negotiations. For a significant period, Ross refrained from meeting Palestinian Authority officials, while continuing to hold talks with Israeli officials during his visits to the region.[23]

    On November 10, 2011, Ross stepped down from his post in the Obama administration.[24 …”

    sounds to me like ross is an experienced diplomat with nearly a professional lifetime of involvement in israeli-american relations and perhaps most importantly most importantl someone aipac types and bibi might trust.

    the critical question is whether he can put american foreign policy needs and inteests first.

    an even more important question is whether our president (and the british prime minister) will put the interests of his nation above his personal political needs and problems.

  12. P J Evans says:

    You know, they could just give him some kind of sinecure as a cover, with or without money….
    If he’s a private citizen, he has no business speaking for the US government in anything. If he’s speaking for the government, he should be IN government.

    WTF is wrong with the people in DC that they all have lost whatever sense they used to exhibit?

  13. PeasantParty says:

    @orionATL: Thanks so much for that info. The Mitchell issue is shocking, that is if we could be shocked anymore. That little bit of info on his support for the PNAC is enough for me to go ahead and say that he really does not have the interests of the US and its citizens at heart.

    PNAC equals The project for New World Order.

  14. joanneleon says:

    Maybe the State Dept is too busy running their own little military in Iraq so the Unitary Exec had to step in and help out with the war planning diplomacy.

    / snark

  15. pseudonymous in nc says:

    If he’s speaking for the government, he should be IN government.

    I’ll put it this way: it would be naive to believe that there aren’t backchannels. There are always backchannels. (And, FWIW, backchannels to the backchannels. You think State is oblivious to this?) The question then becomes: what do they signify, both in terms of the people chosen, and the work they’re doing.

  16. orionATL says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    this is a good point to make here and to keep in mind.

    there have been back-channels as long as there has been diplomacy. i would guess ross’ most useful task would be as a trusted conveyor of presidential viewpoints, trusted by both sides and by aipac types.

    but ross may be more than just “a trusted friend of vip ____ who has a little chat with said vip and reports back “.

    he may be negotiating for the u.s. with no formal affiliation with any part of the government, and no obligation to keep records or account for money he receives to conduct his negotiations.

    as for the state dept, it seems clear from their spokesman’s comment that they know what is going on, and, likely, approve, the more so since ross is one of their own.

  17. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @PeasantParty: Excellent point. Ross is certainly being paid by someone. The question is whether it is cash now or later and paid by whom. It certainly involves continuing access to the most hard-to-get-at CEO, which is worth tens of millions in lobbying fees.

    The idea that there is no quid pro quo for this type of relationship inside today’s Beltway is a dog that won’t hunt.

    The arrangement also diverts from the more important question, which is what is Ross saying. Since he no longer “works” for the government, in whose interests is he saying it?

  18. orionATL says:

    @P J Evans:

    p j evans wrote:

    “…WTF is wrong with the people in DC that they all have lost whatever sense they used to exhibit?… ”

    you have asked THE key question about our govt’s conduct from 2000-2012.

    the answer lies in part in the creation of the propaganda outlet fox news and, additionally, in the uncritical, pandering, stenographic reporting on federal govt activities by media outlets like cnn, the nytimes, and wapoop.

    it lies in part in the profound ignorance of many american citizens about what is happening in their country’s political system.

    it lies in part in the adamantine resolution of the national republican party to seize and hold power, regardless of the consequences to our nation.

    it lies in part in the moral and intellectual dissolution of the national democratic party.

    it lies in the ideological fervor and in the disregard for analytical reasoning of right-wing republicans.

    and its lies in the cynical, self-serving, money-collecting attitude of the dozens of old democratic whores who have been allowed to serve for way too long in the u.s. senate ane the u.s. house of representitives.

    it lies in part in two poorly-prepared presidents – bush and obama – whose lack of command knowledge, lack of moral perspective, and lack of regard for the long-term well-being of the nation led them to make short-sighted decisions favorable to their psychological needs or personal political fortunes, but highly unfavorable to our nation’s future.

  19. shekissesfrogs says:

    the critical question is whether he can put american foreign policy needs and inteests first.
    Already answered:

    His first WINEP paper called for appointment of a “non-Arabist Special Middle East envoy” who would “not feel guilty about our relationship with Israel.”

    Here’s the replacement, an advocate for israel instead of an expert: Jeffery D. Feltman. He has been a disaster.

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