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 —
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
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.