Rather blunt

Posted: Feb 28, 2003 12:00 AM
"If he was a real American, he would have shot him." -- Radio talk-show host Don Imus, suggesting Tuesday that CBS News anchor Dan Rather missed a patriotic opportunity while conducting a rare interview with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. CARRY-ON GRENADES Laughter is the best medicine, so during these times of stress and uncertainty, why not laugh at what ails us? Privacy International, a privacy-watchdog group based in London, is on a quest to find the world's most "stupid" terrorism-related security measures. To be considered absurd, the measure should be one or more of the following: pointless, intrusive, illusory, annoying or self-serving. The contest was started in light of numerous security initiatives that have "absolutely no genuine security benefit," says group director Simon Davies. Beltway Beat readers from across the country are already weighing in with nominations. Getting us started is John Celick: "Two armed, jungle-fatigue-wearing soldiers, milling around with the tourists on the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. These two could be taken out with a Los Angeles gang-style drive-by and what could they possibly do to prevent an attack upon the bridge?" Next up, Betty Bengtson of Glennallen, Alaska, population 554. The "55-plus"-year-old Alaska woman was passing through "certainly not one of our larger" airports and was asked to remove her Birkenstock sandals. "And for approximately seven minutes I stood with my arms extended while the female inspector repeatedly passed the wand over my body. I have long hair, and that day had chosen to wear it up," she says. "After having this woman finger, pull and lift my hair, I finally offered to take all of the pins out. I guess the assumption was that I had rolled my hair around explosives." Airline pilot John Tutini says he knows more than he cares to about airport security, particularly in South America, where recently a man boarded a flight and flew all the way to Europe with a live grenade. "As an international airline captain we see a lot of security measures," Tutini says. "One I had to say something about was in a major city in South America. One would arrive at the security checkpoint and be instructed to: 1) place bags on screener belt; 2) place jacket on table; 3) step through screening machine; 4) recover your jacket. "But wait, no one touched the jacket. So I watched the entire crew and some passengers and nothing on the table gets checked. ... Had to point this little lapse out to the local authorities." Send your nominations to the e-mail address below or to John McCaslin, c/o The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C., 20002. We'll be sure to forward the best submissions to Davies. Winners will be announced at the 13th annual Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy in New York on Thursday, April 3. SURVEILLANCE, OR ELSE "Domestic surveillance is prevalent," reads a travel diary belonging to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is back from a nine-day intelligence-gathering mission to Britain and Kuwait. "In fact, the typical Londoner is caught on video an average of 52 times daily," the congressman writes. "London probably possesses the most civilian surveillance in the world, and people are accustomed to it. Privacy invasion does not appear to be an issue." In Britain, it no longer can be an issue. "Headlines announce that 10,000 asylum seekers who were refused asylum in Britain cannot be found," the diary continues. "The Brits, with a wink and a nod, did not enforce parts of their law and now are paying a price for this failure. ... The U.S. has a lesson to learn here. We need to reform and enforce our immigration laws." NO BEER HERE We revealed earlier this week that representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the United States and its ladies auxiliary were holding overseas discussions to open the first VFW post in Vietnam. Apart from meetings with Vietnamese officials, the delegation will meet with prospective VFW members, many of them American war veterans living in Vietnam. This first post would be located in Hanoi, according to the VFW, the Vietnamese capital and the center of military planning during the Vietnam War. "I had to stifle a chuckle when I read in your column that there is going to be a VFW post in Vietnam," writes Arlin Menager, of Silver Spring, Md. "In 1967, among thousands of others stationed in Vietnam at the time, after being eligible to join the VFW, I - we - joined the VFW via mail and our first VFW post was 'Post 15000' in Saigon, Vietnam. "I never had the chance to get to Saigon except to land there and get processed at Long Binh to get to my unit in 'upcountry' territory. I don't know if there actually was a physical VFW building in Saigon at the time, but our membership cards and other mailings came from an address of a VFW post in Saigon. ... "It may have been a ploy from the VFW headquarters itself to get newly eligible military members stationed in Vietnam to start paying dues," he surmises. VFW headquarters spokeswoman Peggy Allee confirmed Wednesday that VFW Post 15000 doesn't physically exist, "rather it is a means for somebody to become a VFW member at large." TROOP REVIEW Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner has just returned from the Middle East, where he conducted a troop review of U.S. men and women who could soon find themselves positioned along the front lines in Iraq. To say he was impressed is an understatement. "I've never seen a better trained, a higher morale, and a stronger commitment to support a president of the United States," said Warner (R-Va.). "When we talked to them face to face and looked into their eyes, it was a sobering experience for all of us, because it could be that if diplomacy fails, they will be in the forefront of the use of force." While President Bush has been the target of hostile protests at home and abroad - and had his judgment questioned by some Democratic presidential hopefuls - the U.S. military has unwavering and overwhelming confidence in the commander in chief, the senator says. "They said to me, when I asked them, they're proud of this president, they're ready to accept his orders," he said. "They made clear to me that the decisions the president's made in the past are sound; the decisions he's making today are sound, and whatever decision he must make in the future, they have confidence in him, together with the other world leaders."