Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Diplomatic Courier Gets Some Recognition

(The above photo has nothing to do with this post; I just like that Old School image of a diplomatic courier. Do you suppose that guy took visiting Secret Service agents to the hottest night spots in 1950s Manila?)

I didn't notice this when it first appeared in the WaPo last week, but here is a nice tribute to a new Diplomatic Courier, a young woman named Shane Morris.

Ensuring delivery and retrieval of sensitive U.S. diplomatic materials:

Shane Morris played a crucial behind-the-scenes role for the State Department during the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, ensuring that U.S. embassies were able to dispatch and receive critical classified documents and equipment to fully carry out their diplomatic missions.

As a new supervisor with the State Department’s Diplomatic Courier Service, Morris faced a crisis situation shortly after assuming her post last year, when normal routes for delivering and retrieving important diplomatic pouches were disrupted because of violence in the Middle East. This created the potential for opening security holes in diplomatic communications and endangering American personnel.

Now 29 years old, Morris quickly launched into action, accomplishing the complex tasks of negotiating with various interests to establish new routes, developing and coordinating courier missions and making sure the arrangements allowed for secure and safe passage of classified pouch shipments.

“In the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring, we confronted the threat of U.S. diplomatic missions being overrun by protesters and classified materials being compromised,” said Jim Angell, a regional diplomatic courier officer. “Through her creative use of transportation routes, Shane extracted all classified materials from these hotspots to ensure they remained secure.”

At the same time, Angell said, Morris “found non-traditional transportation routes to deliver sensitive materials within the region.”

-- snip --

Morris also found “workarounds” that allowed couriers to deliver materials securely to the U.S. embassies in other hotspots.

For example, she was confronted with a backlog of sensitive materials at the U.S. embassy in Yemen due to the difficulty in obtaining flights to the region and obstacles put in place by the Yemeni government. There was ongoing civil unrest throughout the country and large-scale protests and violent clashes in major cities.

When a flight became available through Rome, Morris ... was able to clear the entire backlog of classified material from Yemen in one flight, just as the U.S. embassy there began discussing the possibility of evacuating personnel because of the escalating violence.

-- snip --

It is unusual for employees as young as Morris to begin working with the Diplomatic Courier Service because they tend not to have the required experience, according to her colleagues. But Morris, who speaks three languages in addition to English, had gone to school in Canada, traveled in South America, worked in Thailand and volunteered at the Mother Theresa Orphanage in India, proved to be an exception.

-- snip --

“You really need to be able to think on your feet and make the best of any situation,” Morris said. “Working with what you have at hand is really what keeps it so interesting.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

U.S. Senate Punishes Pakistan With 1.48 % Cut In Aid

To be precise, it was 1.48141498 percent. How do you like that, Pakistan? Payback's a bitch.

Senate panel cuts Pakistan's aid in response to doctor's conviction:

Senate appropriators unanimously voted Thursday to cut Pakistani aid by $33 million, or $1 million for every year a Pakistani doctor will spend in prison for helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden.

While the cut represents a small fraction of U.S. aid to Pakistan, the 30-0 vote in favor of the amendment from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) highlights the tension between the two countries sparked by Wednesday's sentencing in Pakistan of Shakil Afridi on treason charges by a tribal court.

-- snip --

The cut represents about 4 percent of the $800 million set aside for Pakistan next fiscal year, including $250 million in foreign military aid and another $50 million for Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts. The original $800 million was already far below the $2.3 billion the Obama administration is requesting for Pakistan.

The $800 million referred to in the article is evidently the Overseas Contingency Operations portion of the total foreign assistance request for Pakistan. Another $1.5 billion or so in annual nonmilitary aid regularly goes to Pakistan under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.

See this Congressional Research Service report for lots and lots of details.

So, how much assistance are we giving to Pakistan this year? According to ForeignAssistance.gov, the FY-13 request is $2,227,600,000 in total. Minus that big 33 mil, of course.

Divide the Senate's $33 million penalty by the total of 2 billion 227 million the administration is requesting, and you get 1.48 percent. Or, approximately, a senator's lunch money. If the Pakistani big-shots even notice that bite, I'd be surprised.

Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back, Lindsey.

CIA Identifies, Memorializes, Fallen Covert Officers

As ABC News reported yesterday:

The CIA has revealed the identities of 15 of its fallen officers, some of whose secret ties to the spy agency are being made public for the first time in almost three decades.

Engraved on a memorial wall at the CIA's headquarters building in Northern Virginia are 103 stars, each representing a CIA officer who perished in the line of duty since the agency's founding in 1947. For some, the star is all recognition they have - many names have still not been made public out of concern for secret operations.

-- snip --

Some of the individuals whose service as CIA officers was publicly confirmed today have been the object of speculation in the past as having worked for the spy agency.

For example, Matthew K. Gannon died in the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Officially listed as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department, Gannon's links to the CIA appeared in press reports at the time of the crash. However, the agency never officially confirmed that he was a CIA officer until this week.

I have more about the Pan Am 103 bombing, Matthew Gannon, and Diplomatic Security here.

The Congressional Record of March 14, 1989, included the eulogy delivered at Gannon's funeral by Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Robert Lamb. It begins:

"For the 1,400 men and women of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, this is a day of sadness and of irony. The Bureau was born out of our nation's commitment to protect all of the people who would do our nation's work abroad. It is a world in which DS has made a difference. It touches us deeply, therefore, to gather here today to mourn the lives of young men who dedicated their lives to protecting others."

Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

FBI = Foggy 'Bout Intelligence

FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt, the future Deep Throat, demonstrates "the FBI Crouch" (1958)

In the May 13 edition of Politico, Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, formerly the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department and a senior official of the CIA's Clandestine Service, asks the question - can the FBI understand intelligence?

He gives ten reasons why the answer is "no."

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI, the world’s leading law enforcement agency, has labored to transform itself into an intelligence organization — while preserving its policing pre-eminence. This challenge has proved difficult.

There are major cultural and structural differences between law enforcement and intelligence. I saw how different when I was a senior CIA officer on loan to the FBI, as the deputy chief of the International Terrorism Operations Section from 1998 to 1999. I retired from government service — but recent conversations with knowledgeable government officials suggest that this remains true today.

Here are 10 key differences, as noted in my new book, “The Art of Intelligence.”

#1 - "The FBI valued oral communications as much as or more than written ... It harbored a reluctance to write anything that could be deemed discoverable by any future defense counsel ... Its agents were not selected or trained to write."

#2 - "The second major difference between the FBI and CIA was their information systems. The FBI did not have one — at least one that functioned."

#3 - "The third difference was size ... The FBI’s New York field office had more agents than the CIA had operations officers around the world."

#4 - "A fourth difference was the importance of sources. While both the FBI and the CIA placed a premium on a good source, the FBI did not actively pursue them beyond the context of an investigation."

#5 - "A fifth difference was money ... [The FBI's] process to authorize the payment of an informant or just to travel was laborious ... As a CIA officer, however, I routinely carried several thousand dollars in cash ... When I told FBI agents this, they seemed doubtful that such behavior was even legal.

#6 - "Sixth, the FBI harbored a sense that because it worked under the Justice Department, it had more legal authority than the CIA. Some, after a few drinks, expressed moral objections to the CIA’s covert actions."

#7 - "Seventh, the FBI loved the press and worked hard to curry favor with it. For the CIA’s Clandestine Service, the media was taboo ... A CIA operations officer avoided the press like the plague ... For the FBI, it was the opposite."

#8 - "Eighth, the FBI collected evidence for its own use, to prosecute a criminal ... The FBI, therefore, lacked a culture of customer service beyond the Justice Department."

#9 - "Ninth, the FBI’s field offices, especially New York, acted as their own centers of authority, even holding evidence, because of their link to the local prosecutor ... The CIA station instead had to report intelligence to Langley, because the incentive came from there and beyond — particularly the White House.

#10 - Tenth, the FBI worked Congress. Every FBI field office had representatives dedicated to supporting congressional delegates ... But the CIA, particularly the Clandestine Service, had minimal leverage with Congress. Most CIA officers engaged Congress only when required to testify.

Apologies All Around At Secret Service Oversight Hearing

Thou hast committed fornication,
But that was in another country, 
And besides, the wench is dead.      

- The Jew of Malta (Christopher Marlowe) 

Forgive and forget. That seemed to be the theme at today's Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing with Secret Service Director Sullivan.

Committee Chairman Lieberman sounded apologetic (I know, something about Lieberman's voice makes him always sound apologetic, but today he really meant it) for even coming close to suggesting that there is a systemic problem with either agent misbehavior or Service management. Senator Susan Collins was not convinced by Sullivan's contention that Cartagena was an isolated episode, but she certainly wasn't going to go overboard and call for him to step down or anything. Just forgive and forget.

Sullivan gave his self-exoneration, the senators fretted a bit - Lieberman less and some junior members more - everyone praised Secret Service agents in general and Sullivan in particular, and then the Committee adjourned.   

From the WaPo (here):

Mark Sullivan, who has enjoyed strong bipartisan congressional support in the weeks since the scandal, told a Senate panel that “I am deeply disappointed, and I apologize for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction that it has caused.” Putting it more bluntly later, Sullivan said the employees involved “did some really dumb things.”

But under questioning, Sullivan refused to submit that the mid-April incident is part of a broader agency culture that condones heavy drinking, partying and sex during the off-hours of security assignments. He also dismissed as “absurd” reports by The Washington Post that tolerance for inappropriate conduct is part of a culture that some employees call the “Secret Circus.”

-- snip --

Despite the skepticism [of the purportedly isolated nature of the Cartagena incident], Lieberman, Collins and other senators said Sullivan should remain as director.

Not much to see today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Private Ryan Isn't Buried Here

A Washington tour bus operator tells all in an essay in the City Paper. Some highlights:

I once encountered a woman who, accompanied by her veteran father, screamed at me that there was no place for her to park at the World War II Memorial. I wasn’t unsympathetic. But I did wish she understood that just because I was wearing a nametag and a polyester necktie didn’t mean I was an authority figure.

-- snip --

I would try to explain that of course I understood that your dad once parked the Country Squire right on the Ellipse and that no one stopped you from strolling into the Capitol to eat navy bean soup with Everett Dirksen. But, you see, people have lately been blowing up buildings. Some perspective is in order.

-- snip --

My riders from beyond the Beltway regularly expressed amazement at the joggers around the Mall. A woman once asked me, in all seriousness, “What are they running from?”

-- snip --

[R]eally, you don’t need to explain to me why you’re skipping the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: You’re saving your energy for the trip to Hooters. I get it.

-- snip --

[M]any people are under the impression that, like the pyramids, the presidential memorials are elaborate grave markers for our elected pharaohs.

-- snip --

And I can’t tell you how many times I was asked for directions to the Arlington Cemetery grave of Private James Ryan.

-- snip --

My company was particularly concerned with not giving offense. During training, I was instructed not to mention stripper Fanne Foxe’s late-night Tidal Basin dip

That last one surprises me. Who would be offended by - or even remember anymore - how "the most powerful man in Washington" was brought down by an Argentinian stripper's midnight swim? Plus, it was the most entertaining Washington scandal ever. Whenever I play tour guide to visiting relatives I always point out that spot.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cartagena Investigation Spreads To DEA

The news media is reporting tonight that two DEA agents assigned to Cartagena are under investigation for allegedly hiring Colombian prostitutes. Unlike in the Secret Service incident, these agents were resident in Cartagena. Also unlike in the earlier incident, they kept their indiscretions indoors and in private. Most interestingly, DEA was reportedly informed of this matter by the Secret Service. Huh ...

Washington (CNN) -- Three Drug Enforcement Administration agents are under investigation for allegedly hiring prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, a congressional source confirms to CNN.

According to this source, House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-New York, and committee investigators have been "aware of this for some time."

-- snip --

[Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) of the Senate Homeland Security Committee] released a statement today later Monday, saying, "It's disturbing that we may be uncovering a troubling culture that spans more than one law enforcement agency.

"In addition to the Secret Service scandal, we now learn that at least two DEA agents apparently entertained female foreign national masseuses in the Cartagena apartment of one of the agents. The evidence uncovered thus far indicates that this likely was not just a one-time incident," Collins added in her statement.

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the matter has been turned over to the Justice Department inspector general.

"The Drug Enforcement Administration was provided information from the Secret Service unrelated to the Cartagena hotel Secret Service incident, which DEA immediately followed up on, making DEA employees available to be interviewed by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General. DEA takes allegations of misconduct very seriously and will take appropriate personnel action, if warranted, upon the conclusion of the OIG investigation," Payne said.

The DEA was provided this information by the Secret Service? It isn't clear how the Secret Service was in a position to know about the call-in masseuse appointments of DEA agents in Cartagena, but I assume the information came from Secret Service contacts with either the DEA agents themselves or the masseuses. (Masseuses, escorts ... I guess no commercial sex worker in Cartagena calls herself a prostitute.)

The Secret Service Director is scheduled to testify before Congress on Wednesday, and that might possibly have some bearing on the timing of this leak to CNN by a congressional source.

For the Drug Enforcement Administration, this might not have a happy ending.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Obama In History, Part I

President Zelig (center), with his colleagues Coolidge and Hoover

This is just sad. Some White House worker bees have been inserting Obama mentions into the biographical sketches of previous presidents (here) on the Whitehouse.gov website.

Obama's reach is so sweeping, evidently, that he is completing the work of his predecessors going all the way back to the 1920s. Kind of a presidential cleanup hitter, bringing in all the runs that those weaker batters couldn't. Forget Julius Caesar, it's Obama who doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.

On the entry for every President going back to Coolidge, except for Ford, there is now a Did you know? addendum that asserts:
President [whichever] began the [insert some impressive-sounding program here]. Today, President Obama continues to [do that stuff] in his historic [insert some administration goal or objective here].

My favorite Twitter parody so far is this one:

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Big Reveal - Week 4 Of The Secret Service Scandal

Dania Suarez was interviewed by NBC News in Madrid today. She claimed to be negotiating with a publisher for a book about her role in the incident in Cartagena. I'm not sure what she could have to say about it that has not already been said, but she gave out a few teasers during the interview.

The Secret Service agents she encountered at the Pley Club were egotistical hardbodies, crazy dancers, and seemed to be experienced at the business of hiring prostitutes, Suarez said.

The agent she departed the club with clearly understood that her meter was running. She even used sign language to spell out "800 dollars" so that there would be no confusion.

Then, Suarez dropped a bombshell, revealing for the first time anywhere that ...

... she and ex-agent Arthur Huntington had sex. "Normal sex." After which he fell asleep. (What a lightweight!)

Suarez had perhaps the final word on the scandal when she told NBC News that the agents got what they deserved:

"I'm not to blame for being attractive. They are to blame for leaving their duty behind," she said.

"They seem like completely stupid, idiots. I don't know how Obama had them in his security force. What dumb men."

While she was in Madrid, Suarez was also interviewed for the first time by U.S. government investigators, the  Associated Press reported. 

Colombia prostitute at center of Secret Service scandal interviewed at US Embassy in Madrid:

Nearly four weeks after the Secret Service prostitution scandal erupted, U.S. government investigators on Thursday interviewed the Colombia prostitute [sic, because we know she was an escort, not a prostitute] at the center of the affair, which cost eight officers and supervisors their jobs and became an election-year embarrassment for the Obama administration.

Dania Londono Suarez voluntarily met with investigators at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said. He said the Secret Service investigation was nearly complete. More than 200 people, including most of the women involved, have been interviewed in the United States and Colombia.

Londono mysteriously disappeared days after the incident and couldn’t be reached by investigators.

In a radio and television interview from Madrid on May 4, Londono said she works as a prostitute [sic, again] in Colombia, catering to foreigners. She said after leaving Colombia, she spent some time in Dubai before going to Madrid.

She spent some time in Dubai? Suarez's mother made a remark about a "boyfriend" in Dubai during a radio interview in Colombia last week. I assume he must be one of the foreigners that Suarez catered to in Cartagena.  

In related news, Secret Service agents traveling overseas will now receive lessons from the State Department in manners, etiquette, and deportment.

That's the word from Under Secretary Kennedy himself, as Diplopundit noted yesterday:

“Since our regional security officers and our political officers are present in every embassy around the world where the Secret Service might be going as part of their mission, we’re making ourselves available to conduct briefings on individual situations in the country that they’re traveling to.”

I'm not sure that will help, but it can't hurt.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Busy As A Censor At A Book Fair

The Kuwaiti Times reports on a recession-proof career field for young university graduates - censor in the Ministry of Information.

Read no evil – Senior censor defends work, denies playing Big Brother:

Dalal started her career as a censor at the Foreign Books Department and became the head of the department after a few years. “Many people consider the censor to be a fanatic and uneducated person, but this isn’t true. We are the most literate people as we have read much, almost every day. We receive a lot of information from different fields. We read books for children, religious books, political, philosophical, scientific ones and many others,” she pointed out.

“As a censor, I read a book from beginning to the end, word by word. In case the censor makes a mistake, the head of the department will be responsible for this mistake, as they should also read the book. The time to finish censoring a book depends on the kind of the book. For instance, a philosophical book needs about four days to read,” Dalal added.

--snip --

“We have a list of banned books in Kuwait and we deal with publications containing forbidden material that are not on this list, and which we have to censor. The author or the distributor of this censored publication can appeal the decision issued by the censorship department at the ministry, and then another committee will review the publication to give its decision. Usually we are not very strict with foreign books,” she admitted.

-- snip --

The greatest load on the department is during the Book Fair. “We start censoring the books in this fair about three months before it is held. We receive about 7,000 to 8,000 books to read. There are about 15 censors working on this fair. These censors take the books home with them to finish their reading. If we find a book containing restrictions, we write a report that is passed to a committee which decides that certain books will be banned from the fair,” she highlighted.

-- snip --

Working as a censor is interesting. “I like this work. It gives us experience, information and we always learn something new. It takes about a year or a year and a half to become a censor, as the person is first employed as a censor assistant. The employee first starts slow in reading and it takes him a week or days to finish a book. Also, beginners are not given political or religious books in the beginning as these are difficult. Instead we give them children’s books or some scientific books, which are easy,” said Dalal.

The censors have to pass some courses and practicals to be eligible to do this job ... Within a year or so, they will be completely trained ... Usually the employees are graduates from the college of political science, history and similar fields,” she concluded.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Touché, WaPo, Touché

From The Washington Post's Federal Diary:

"Public Service Recognition Week in early May provides a welcome relief from the embarrassments of Federal Employee Scandal Month, which was April."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

SNL Cancels "Killing Osama bin Laden Day"

Saturday Night Live chose to scrap an opening skit that satirized President Obama, but you can read it here . Obama Address Cold Open - May 6, 2012 Remember that heavy drinking and Killing Osama bin Laden Day are never a good combination. So please celebrate Killing Osama bin Laden Day responsibly.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Obama's Waste Land Revisited

I still think that young Mr. Obama's treatise on The Waste Land makes him sound like the butt of a joke in a Woody Allen movie (here).

But Sarah at Sarah Wrote That saw something else:

Obama on “The Waste Land” and T.S. Eliot got me to click over:
I haven’t read ‘The Waste Land’ for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements — Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality.
And then that picture. That look.

"I'm TSB And I Approved This Message"

President Obama is dropping in on Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia, today in what are his first acknowledged political campaign events of 2012. See his schedule for today here.

I'm relieved to see this, because the pretense of 'I'm holding rallies in key campaign states in order to do government business stuff that has no relation to my reelection campaign' has worn clean through.

It's enough to make a liberal WaPo columnist get absolutely cranky about President Obama, campaigner in chief:

In a political culture that long ago surrendered to the permanent campaign, Obama has managed to take things to a whole new level. According to statistics compiled for a book to be published this summer, the president has already set a record for total first-term fundraisers — 191 — and that’s only through March 6. Measured in terms of events that benefit his reelection bid, Obama’s total (inflated in part by relaxed fundraising rules) exceeds the combined total of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

It’s not just the gatherings officially categorized as campaign events. To a greater extent than his predecessors, Obama has used the trappings of his office to promote his reelection prospects even while handling taxpayer-funded business.

-- snip --

The election is still six months away, but it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish Obama’s political events and speeches from the official ones

Six more months of campaigning to come. It makes me tired to even think about that.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Escort Talks, Agents Balk, Magician Walks, In Week 3 Of The Secret Service Scandal

The Colombian woman at the center of the Secret Service scandal, Dania "I'm-an-escort-not-a-prostitute" Suárez, was interviewed by the news media this week and she is clearly very annoyed that her Secret Service agent-customer showed her no respect.

Dania Suárez, a 24-year old dark-haired beauty, appeared on a call-in show carried by Colombia's W Radio and Carocol Television Friday morning, telling callers the agent was "heavily intoxicated" and everything in his luggage and his papers was left open in his room and could have been easily stolen.
Suárez said [agent] Huntington fell asleep when they returned to his room and refused to answer the question of whether they actually had sex.
"If I answer this you will know what happened," she said.
Suárez said the agent "did not feel he got what he was being asked to pay for" and that this led to dispute over how much he owed her at the end of the evening.
She said she does not consider herself a prostitute, but an escort because prostitutes "are lower class and live in brothels."

You see, she's a high-class escort. Not a low-class prostitute. Get that straight, please.

The transcript of the full interview is here in Spanish.

I notice that Señorita Not-A-Prostitute showed a little disrespect of her own, calling her Secret Service clients a bunch of drunken, free-spending, gringo fools. Maybe it sounded better in Spanish.

"First bottle of vodka, second bottle of vodka, third bottle of Vodka ... They were like any other gringo. They bought alcohol like water."

In the morning, when the hotel's front desk called the room to announce that it was time for all escorts and prostitutes to clear out, the fateful dispute over money occurred.

"I say give me the [$800], but he says "go, bitch" ... I will not pay ... [but eventually] he took out his wallet and gave me 50,000 pesos."

At today's exchange rate a 50,000 Colombian peso note is worth 23 Yankee dollars and 33 cents.

I don't know, maybe Agent Huntington was short on cash after buying all that vodka. But he might have avoided so much trouble for himself if he had been just a little more considerate of Señorita Not-A-Prostitute's feelings at that moment.

Gentlemen, it seems like some of us will never learn the lesson Aretha Franklin tried to teach us: R-E-S-P-E-C-T (find out what it means to me).

Well, you might be wondering, what's the status of the seemingly inevitable photo spread in a skin magazine? It seems the magazines are not all that interested.

According to the Miami Herald's report:

Dania Suárez, the Cartagena woman who three weeks ago unleashed the sex scandal that shook the U.S. Secret Service and military, may be trying to sell her exclusive story to magazines such as Playboy or Hustler, according to rumors that have surfaced in this city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

“This is the way this is going to end,” said a Colombian official who asked not to be identified. She’s going to pose nude in Playboy, where a renowned journalist will interview her and write an article telling the whole story of what happened.”

--snip --

Theresa Hennessey, a Playboy spokeswoman, told El Nuevo Herald that none of the magazine’s editors had contacted Suárez and that there are no plans to “publish her photos in the magazine.”

I hope Suárez has something to fall back on if the Playboy thing doesn't come through. Maybe she should get a GED or something. 

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the investigation into Secret Service misconduct ratcheted up a notch when Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector-General took over from the Secret Service. The OIG investigation is in addition to those of four congressional committees as well as internal reviews by the Secret Service, the military and the White House. Details are here.

Among other things, the OIG has been conducting polygraph exams of the agents. It was reported this week that some of the agents refused to submit to the polygraph, and I can't say I blame them. Could you take the polygraph seriously if you knew that its principal inventor also invented Wonder Woman and her magical Lasso of Truth that all are powerless to resist? True story.
It looks like they were smart to refuse. Late today, Congressmen Peter King (R-New York) announced that one of the agents who did submit to the Lasso of Truth "failed" his polygraph, which I assume means that someone doesn't believe him about something. That is contrary to the impression King had gotten earlier this week after briefings by Secret Service officials.

A key House chairman says one of the Secret Service agents accused of wrongdoing in the Colombia prostitution scandal failed a lie detector test.

Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King said Friday that his investigators discovered that, contrary to the Secret Service’s account, one agent failed a polygraph test. King, a New York Republican, also asked why Secret Service agents have not been able to find Dania Londono Suarez, the prostitute at the center of the scandal, even though she apparently granted an interview on Friday.

King’s investigators met with Secret Service officials for three hours on Friday.

Apparently, the agent who failed his polygraph exam wasn't the only one who was being deceptive. That is not good news, since Congressman King has been perhaps the Secret Service's best friend on Capitol Hill since the Cartagena scandal broke, repeatedly defending its Director's handling of the incident. The Service can't afford to alienate him now.

And finally, we have a new loser of the week - a government contractor motivational magician. Yes, seriously.

Yesterday, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) withdrew a published $5,000 contract solicitation for a magician to motivate employees about "The Magic of Change" at a leadership training event. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the political wind blows, and after the General Services Administration's Las Vegas spending spree, NOAA can see there is no Hope for Change.

From the WaPo, NOAA pulls ad for magician in wake of Las Vegas spending scandal:

The ad, for a speaker on “The Magic of Change,” was pulled a day after NOAA officials posted it on a federal contracting website. The agency sought a speaker for a one-day session for 45 managers to create a “unique model of translating magic and principals of the psychology of magic, magic tools, techniques and experiences into a method of teaching leadership,” according to the posting that went up Wednesday on FedBizOpps.gov

NOAA pulled the ad after media reports suggested a magician would be in poor taste.

Poor taste? I would like to think that NOAA cancelled after they questioned why anyone would want to see magic performed by the lowest bidder.

The scandal continues.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Obama Didn't Finish "The Waste Land," But Has He Dabbled In Kierkegaard?

Vanity Fair is running part of David Maraniss' Obama biography (here), and it features letters Obama wrote to girlfriends when he was a 22-year old recent Columbia College graduate.

Maraniss's take: “Obama was the central character in his letters, in a self-conscious way.” And how.
In one letter [the girlfriend] told Obama that she was writing a paper in her modern-poetry class at Occidental about T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land. His reply wove its way through literature, politics, and personal philosophy:

I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements—Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter—life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?

OMG. Is this the sort of thing English professors have to wade through all the time? How do they stop their eyes from rolling long enough to finish grading papers?

I wonder why Obama didn't bother to read all the footnotes when he breezed through The Waste Land, with its obscure allusions, Sanskrit epigraphs, and such? The footnotes are actually part of the poem, after all. But never mind. At least the 22-year old Obama shared the fatalism of the [W]estern tradition "at times," and that's really deep.

I underlined my favorite the most annoying phrases in that letter, but, really, the whole thing is deliciously pretentious. It reads like a New York college bar pick-up scene in a Woody Allen movie, minus the humor and irony.

Here's a boy-girl exchange from Allen's Bananas:

(The Girlfriend) "I have my Yoga class tomorrow."
(Allen) "Yoga? I love Yoga."
(Girlfriend) "Do you really? Yoga is one of my great passions."
(Allen) "I love Eastern philosophy. It's... it's metaphysical, and redundant. Abortively pedantic."
(Girlfriend) "I know what you mean. Have you read the I Ching?"
(Allen) "Not the actual Ching itself, but I have dabbled in Kierkegaard."
(Girlfriend) "Oh, well, of course, he's Danish."

Young Mr. Obama would have been better served by watching some Woody Allen movies with his girlfriend and cutting back on all the abortively pedantic letter-writing.