State Dept. Fails to Protect Identity of “Senior Administration Official”

Your US tax dollars at work: The State Dept. recently set up June 21 background briefing to update journalists on efforts to restart Mideast peace talks.

Although reporters knew who was giving the briefing, the typical rule for these events is that quotes are anonymously attributed — in this case, the speaker could only be identified as a “senior administration official.”

But State Dept. carelessness outed the official as acting Mideast envoy David Hale, who recently replaced George Mitchell. Foreign Policy picks up the story from here:

The “senior administration official” went on to describe his trip around the Middle East with NSC Senior Director Dennis Ross and his meetings with officials and special envoy throughout the region.

“Last week, Dennis Ross from the Washington and I followed up and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his advisors, and then I stayed on in the region and I’ve met with President Abbas, with the lead negotiator Saeb Erekat, Nabil Abu Rudaina, and others on the Palestinian side, and I’ve also met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby this afternoon, the head of the Egyptian intelligence service General Mawafi, and I have other meetings later today at the Arab League,” the official said.

Toner and the “senior administration official” must have realized that in several State Department briefings, spokesmen have talked about how Dennis Ross and Acting Special Envoy David Hale were traveling in the region. In one briefing, Spokesperson Victoria Nuland actually listed the specific meetings that Hale was conducting, which magically match the meetings of the “senior administration official” on the call.

"Senior administration official" David Hale

Had Hale offered sensitive insights or fresh thinking, I wouldn’t mind so much. This is how journalists and government grease each other’s wheels. Judge for yourself if Hale’s pearls of wisdom really justified this inane exercise in anonymity.

“Well, I don’t want to get into the specifics of our diplomatic exchanges, particularly since we’re smack in the middle of a trip and with the effort.”

“The President acknowledged that expectations have gone unmet, but he also made clear that regional developments make a peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims more urgent than ever.”

“Obviously, the reconciliation issue is a significant one. It raises profound questions that the president himself has mentioned in his speech.”

“The circumstances on the ground and the gaps between the parties are challenging. I hope that with persistence and goodwill the parties can move this effort forward in a productive way.”

“Well, I think [President Obama’s] speech is powerful in and of itself and, I mean, this was a game-changing, historic development by our President. At this stage, I think I really can’t address questions related to what we might do in the future with it.”

Sources shovel stupid comments and the press corps has no choice but to work with them. At least with other overhyped media events like the Super Bowl media week and national party conventions, there’s a better chance of knowning who said what. Not that what was said carries much significance either . . .

Compared to Wikileaks,  the State Dept’s slip up is relatively minor. The Boston Globe remains my favorite great moment in anonymous sources.