Sunday, November 24, 2019

Authorship of "A Warning"

2018's Anonymous, author of the infamous op-ed titled I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration, is back. Their latest publication is A Warning, a full-length book which builds on similar themes at much greater length. I previously attempted to deduce the author of the anonymous op-ed with forensic linguistics - see here and here. In this post, I'll revisit this analysis using the new information provided by A Warning. I'll also delve deeper into motive, means, timeline, and other signals. My interest in the authorship question is not political, but rather motivated by the challenge of trying to crack this topical, high-profile puzzle.

Text Similarity

The codebase I developed for Resistance estimates the authorship probabilities for a set of candidates by comparing attributable writing samples with target text of unknown origin. For each author, a matrix is developed representing Markov word transition probabilities, as well as a vector distribution representing their overall word choice. These are then compared against the same elements for target text. This code is freely available on my GitHubRe-running this code, substituting Warning for Resistance, produces this result.

This result is consistent with the same plot for Resistance. In the Top 10, McMahon and Mnuchin replace Pompeo and Kushner; otherwise the set is unchanged.


I haven't read the book, but as a first approximation I extracted all its proper noun phrases and the number of their occurrences. I didn't find this initial result very informative but am including it for general interest.

Network Similarity

I started by filtering the subjects to only include administration officials, looking for an indication of the author's position within the administration by proxy of who they discuss, and how often.

The top officials mentioned cover a wide swath of the administration, including policy, operations, economics, defense, diplomacy, and more. Presumably, the author wrote about these officials roughly in proportion to the quantity of their real-life interactions.

To quantify this, I created a matrix gauging how likely certain officials are to have worked together. This enables a "network similarity" metric. To manage scope, I proceeded only with the top ten candidates from the text similarity metric. For completeness I added Bremberg, DeStefano, Stepien, and Ayers to the set, who lack published writing but have been recently suggested as possible authors.

Pence emerges as the clear frontrunner from this metric, with the caveat that he is also higher in the hierarchy, so more likely to be connected to any given senior official.

Academic Background

I then filtered by historical figures mentioned in the text, looking to probe the author's academic background.

There is a cluster of notable outliers: Cicero, Cleon, Aristotle, and Diodotus, all political/philosophical figures from Ancient Greece and Rome. These esoteric figures suggest a classical academic background, perhaps including political science, history, and/or law.


The book's purpose seems to be strengthening the case for impeachment and/or discouraging the 2020 re-election effort. Presumably, the author is to some extent self-interested, and would not advance these goals if they conflicted with their personal advancement. This suggests the author is not part of the president's inner circle and/or has already left office.

Warning, like Resistance, has a strong moralistic tone, which suggests it was not authored by an anti-environmentalist (Wheeler, Perry), investment banker (Mnuchin), entertainment executive (McMahon), or political director (Stepien).


Sources disagree as to whether the author is still active within the administration. As far as I know, this isn't directly addressed in the book. However, its many dated accounts, specifically from 2015 through 2019, suggest a surprisingly clear timeline. Most of book's accounts are retellings of publicly available new stories; others more usefully contain private information which, if true, would only be known to an insider. As examples:

Public: "In a July 2018 interview, the president was asked to name America’s biggest global adversary."

Private: "Several departure timelines appeared to be converging in 2018, creating the possibility for a simultaneous walkout to prove our point about the president’s faltering administration."

Charting the fraction of private dated accounts by year suggests that the author is no longer with the administration, as the latest private account they provide is dated 2018. This suggests a departure date of late 2018 to early 2019. Moreover, they also provide a significant number of private accounts from 2016 which are pre-inauguration, suggesting that the author worked on the transition team and possibly the campaign team as well.


The book opens with a dedication "[to] my children, and the forthcoming generation", implying that the author has at least two children. This suggests ruling out Hill and Bolton, who have one child each. The author says that they may eventually disclose their identity:

"Nor am I unprepared to attach my name to criticism...I may do so, in due course."

I concluded that an author so apparently concerned with principled righteousness would not misrepresent the number of their children, for the sake of their posterity and pride.

Signal Synthesis

To synthesize these various signals, I counted the quantity of affirmative signals from each candidate.

Topping the list is Ayers, Chief of Staff to the Vice President. Every signal points to his authorship, except text similarity which couldn't be evaluated due to a lack of publications. Notably, he's the only candidate to fit both timeline criteria. Circumstantially, the case is strong if incomplete.

One tier lower is Pence. He stands to lose the most if the 2020 re-election effort is defeated, yet benefit the most if impeachment succeeds. Warning may be a high-risk/high-reward push to capture the presidency at the risk of losing the vice presidency. This Machiavellian strategy is very difficult to square with Pence's reputation for being straightforward and loyal. Further, he is still in office, which is incompatible with the departure date implied by the private accounts. For these reasons, I consider Pence a false positive, and unlikely.

One tier lower still are Hill, Bolton, and Sullivan. The first two are weak candidates as their timelines don't match the timeline implied by the private accounts. Further, they both have only a single child. Sullivan has three children, which fits, but lower text similarity, ranked near the bottom of frontrunners. I consider these candidates to be unlikely.

Continuing down the list, the remaining candidates have progressively more discrepancies, making them less likely still.


Nick Ayers is the most likely candidate for the "Anonymous" behind both Resistance and Warning.

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