McCaslin's Beltway Beat: Hot mail

Posted: Dec 19, 2001 12:00 AM
The media giant Gannett Co., which publishes 97 newspapers and operates 22 TV stations, has started baking incoming mail to its Virginia headquarters. The company is using a Precision Heat Chamber, or PHC, which inactivates anthraxlike viruses and bacteria through prolonged exposure to dry heat. "We believe heat is part of the answer to the problem of anthrax in the mail," says Precision Environmental President David Hedman, who says the effectiveness of heat in the decontamination of 13 biological weapons - anthrax and botulism to plague, smallpox and viral hemorrhagic fevers - is documented in the U.S. Army's 2001 Medical Management of Biological Casualties Handbook, or "Blue Book." To render such biological agents harmless, mail has to be sterilized with dry heat for two hours at a sizzling 320 degrees Fahrenheit. NUKING YOUR NEIGHBOR Think twice before threatening to "nuke" your office or "anthrax" your boss. A bill has been passed on Capitol Hill to create criminal and civil penalties "for whoever engages in conduct to convey false or misleading (yet reasonably believable) information concerning an activity that would constitute a violation of existing laws relating to: 1) biological-weapons attacks, 2) chemical-weapons attacks, 3) nuclear attacks, (or) 4) weapons of mass destruction." Criminal penalties would include fines and/or imprisonment for up to five years and reimbursement to any party incurring expenses related to emergency or investigative response to the false reports. Victims could also sue the pranksters for civil damages. PATRIOT DAY We'd written two months ago that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott designated Sept. 11 as a national day of mourning and remembrance. Daschle did not immediately attach an official name to the new day of remembrance, saying "every description has fallen short." At our invitation, Beltway Beat readers in almost 50 states suggested names for Sept. 11, including "Homeland Defense Day," "We the People Day," "Unity Day" and "Patriot Day," the last getting the most votes. We're pleased to report that the House and Senate have passed a resolution establishing Sept. 11 as "Patriot Day." BRING THEM ON Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer, preparing a special report for the United States Institute of Peace on options for prosecuting international terrorists, sees "considerable" advantages of prosecuting in U.S. courts those terrorists linked to September 11. "There are clear advantages to bringing terrorist suspects to justice (in U.S. courts), including the evidence that might help to further uncover the al Qaida terrorist network," says Scheffer, who from 1993 to 2001 was deeply engaged in establishing international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, among other countries. "The United States should demonstrate its determination to prosecute terrorist suspects without being intimidated by threats of Islamic demonstrations and retributions," says the ambassador, who acknowledges that the location of a federal trial and of the prisons where terrorist suspects are held "could become magnets" for disturbances and security threats. "It could also be argued, however, that no matter where al Qaida leaders are prosecuted, the U.S. role in that prosecution will be so dominant that the political firestorm will ignite anyway," he says. In addition, the ambassador says federal prosecution enables the use of sensitive information that probably wouldn't be available for any foreign or international prosecution. "A great deal of evidence in terrorism cases is classified, and the procedures available under U.S. law can make the difference between pursuing a prosecution or dropping it," he points out. Finally, thousands of American families, friends and colleagues of the Sept. 11 victims have legitimate "interests and rights" to expect terrorist trials in U.S. courts, he says. TORA BORA AIRDROP "It occurs to me," writes reader Bob Emmrich of Cincinnati, "that considering ongoing events this may be the first time ever that a person should consider using 'Spellcheck' when making online travel reservations. Imagine a vacationer's surprise if just one letter was wrong on a plane ticket to the island paradise of 'B'ora Bora." DUMMY BALLOTS Who will ever forget California Democrat Loretta Sanchez defeating Republican Rep. Bob Dornan by a mere 979 votes in a 1996 election in a heavily Hispanic district that saw - or so a subsequent congressional investigation determined - illegal aliens casting hundreds of ballots. Now in her third term, Sanchez went onto the House floor last week to acknowledge that election reform isn't going far enough - far enough, that is, to assist those who don't understand English. The election reform bill Sanchez opposes, H.R. 3295, "does not provide the comprehensive reform that this nation's election system needs," says the congresswoman. "Citizens who have language barriers or physical disabilities should not have added difficulties when they go to vote." Sanchez notes that current law "requires some jurisdictions with language minority groups to provide bilingual assistance in each step of the voting process. However, this law has been poorly enforced and it certainly is not strengthened by this bill." OVERLOOKED AGAIN Where's Al Gore's prize? The former vice president, who had us believing that he invented the Internet, might be surprised to learn that Timothy Berners-Lee has won the prestigious Science and Technology Foundation of Japan 2002 Prize for his pioneering work in "conceiving and launching" the World Wide Web. The British scientist's invention, says the foundation, "has had an incalculable impact on the way humans communicate, collaborate, share information and conduct business." For the record, Berners-Lee implemented the first World Wide Web server, using codes he personally developed that went on to become the foundation for all Internet communication. DUBYA MAKES HISTORY Yet another silver lining of the post-Sept. 11 terrorist atrocities is the heightened awareness of America's founding principles and a stronger appreciation of her key historic documents: the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Such is the renewed appreciation that Webster's New World has decided to publish "American Words of Freedom," by constitutional writer Stephen F. Rohde, providing not only a new examination of the nation's founding documents and principles, but also including the entire text of President Bush's unforgettable - and now historic - address to Congress and the nation last Sept. 20. COVERT SUCCESS And how is the war against terrorism going? From an intelligence standpoint, better than expected, if not extremely well. "I've been here doing oversight and we just had a long meeting, and we're doing much better than we ever had reason to believe," Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Porter J. Goss told this column Monday. "Particularly given we were 'under-invested' in the intelligence community for so long." The Florida Republican stressed that Americans are not privy to much of the war because it is being waged covertly, through intelligence channels. "But we are definitely out and about, and very active around the world and in dozens of countries, literally making strong and steady progress against the international terrorist network," Goss said. He added that U.S. intelligence agents have had a surprising amount of success "working with local talent," referring to foreign intelligence agencies that, prior to Sept. 11, might not have shared information with the United States. "We have cooperation from certain quarters that was not expected," said Goss. "People around the world were so horrified that they now take the international terrorist network seriously, realizing that what happened here in the United States could happen to them, too." GOD GOES TO SCHOOL The House of Representatives has passed a resolution expressing the sense of the Congress that public schools may display the words "God Bless America" as an expression of support for the nation during the war against terrorism. 'TWAS THE DUBYA The moon shone down on the new-fallen snow And lit up the valley with an ominous glow, When what to my one good eye should appear, But a dozen Apaches, and tanks in the rear, And their leader, so fearless, his troops he did push, I knew in an instant it must be George Bush. More rapid than eagles his forces they came, And they whistled, and shouted, and called out our names; 'Now Omar! Osama! Muhammad! Abdul! 'We come for you now; we've taken Kabul! 'To the top of the cliffs! To the back of their caves! 'When you chose this war, you dug your own graves!' -- Author unknown