State Department: Dennis Ross Does Not Have a Bat Phone

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A strange story appeared in Haaretz the other day asserting that Dennis Ross, the former Middle East negotiator, and recently departed Iran expert on President Obama's National Security Council, was provided a secure telephone line to the White House from his new perch at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Like many stories in the Israeli press, this one was hard to understand: If the President, or his national security adviser, wanted to talk to Dennis Ross about sensitive information (as they would, and should), why wouldn't they just invite him over? The Washington Institute's offices are about five blocks from the White House. It's  always safer to talk in the White House than from an insecure office building, even if you are talking into a supersecret shoe phone.

In any case, the breathless story caught the attention of the usual suspects, who saw something of a conspiracy in the placement of such a secure line in the office of Dennis Ross, who is someone disliked by some in the Anti-Israel Lobby. 

The only problem: The Obama Administration says it's not true. Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council told me, "Dennis Ross doesn't have a classified phone." And Victoria Nuland, the spokeswoman for the State Department, where Ross still serves as unpaid adviser, told me in an e-mail, "He has not been issued any kind of bat phone, red phone, funny phone, etc."

Now, of course, they could be playing me (though their motivation would be obscure), so the next time I'm at the Washington Institute is I'm going to go into Ross's office and pick up all his telephones and say, "Connect me to the President," and if Obama comes on to any of the lines I'll know that the Administration isn't telling the truth. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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