Heart of a soldier

John McCaslin
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Posted: Aug 03, 2005 12:00 AM

It's the hope of those who knew and worked alongside Rick Rescorla that the former security chief of Morgan Stanley be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Come to think of it, it's difficult to imagine where Morgan Stanley might be today had Rescorla not safely evacuated the financial giant's 2,700 men and women from the South Tower of the World Trade Center - only to perish himself when, heading in one last time, the New York skyscraper came crashing down.

Wednesday night, at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, top officials of Morgan Stanley were to join Rescorla's widow, Susan, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James B. Stewart - who recounts Rescorla's heroism from the Vietnam War to Sept. 11 in the book "Heart of a Soldier" - in recognizing the Rick Rescorla Foundation, which promotes everything from patriotism to a scholarship fund for children of fallen members of the armed forces.

Sean Patrick Kemple, a financial adviser in Morgan Stanley's Alexandria office, had worked in the South Tower from 1996 to 2000. During those years, he tells The Beltway Beat, Rescorla "was drilling the heck out of us."

"The fire alarms seemed to be going off day after day, month after month," he says. "I vividly remember yelling for someone to shut the darn thing off, as we were trading in the midst of the stock market bubble. Rescorla timed the drills and was very insistent that everyone participate."

And for good reason. Rescorla had issued a report just prior to the 1993 terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center that the building complex was vulnerable. Then came the morning of Sept. 11, when Rescorla let it be known that he wasn't conducting another one of his drills.

"He caught everyone's attention by threatening to pull his pants down," Kemple was told by colleagues working in the doomed building. "Then he said please exit the building at a slow and calm pace. . . .

"At one point, he was on the 10th floor and (Morgan Stanley) Executive Vice President John Olson Sr. said, 'Rick, you need to get out, too.' Rescorla's reply was, 'I will leave once everyone else has exited the building,' and then proceeded to walk back up the stairs, never to be seen again."

Olson will be among those in attendance tomorrow.

Kemple said Morgan Stanley lost 13 employees on Sept. 11, out of the firm's 3,400 who worked in the World Trade Center complex.

SPOOKY TOWN

Next time you see a suspicious person standing at a mailbox without any mail in his or her hand, you might consider notifying the FBI.

You're living in the spy capital of the world, after all.

In her new book out this summer, Washington author and espionage connoisseur Pamela Kessler identifies more than 70 drop sites, rendezvous sites, safe houses and secure government meeting places in and around the nation's capital where the spy game is played.

She considers George Washington the country's "original spymaster," given all the false information he planted in British pouches and the disappearing ink he used to instruct his agents. Since then, as a summary of "Undercover Washington" describes, diplomats, politicians, generals, scholars, secretaries, clerks, mistresses and wives have lied, contrived, connived, denied, cheated, blackmailed, seduced and betrayed -- and right under our noses.

Consider these everyday landmarks and neighborhoods:

The Willard Hotel - It was here that Lafayette C. Baker, the infamous counterespionage officer in the Civil War, was recruited.

Hotel George - The only Soviet general to survive Stalin's bloody purge of Red Army officers died a mysterious death here.

The Exchange - The restaurant where KGB mole Karl Koecher and his wife, Hana, met with a swinging-couples group for exchange of wives and government secrets.

- Au Pied de Cochon: The Georgetown cafe where Soviet defector Vitaly Yurchenko had his last meal before redefecting.

- Mailbox at the corner of 37th and R Streets NW: It was here that Aldrich Ames, who worked for the KGB while serving as the CIA's chief of Soviet counterintelligence, signaled his handler he was ready to make a drop.

- Foxstone Park: "Doctor Death" Robert Hanssen dropped his last documents here, just before his fellow FBI agents arrested him.

Kessler, you might have guessed, is the wife of New York Times best-selling author Ronald Kessler, who has written about the FBI, CIA, Watergate and George W. Bush. Pamela Kessler lectures frequently on espionage at the National Archives, as well as before such groups as the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, the Old Crows (National Security Agency) and the American Political Science Association.

BUT CAN THEY COOK?

What do Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Dianne Feinstein of California, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine all have in common?

Apart from sporting different political patterns, the five women were named by Forbes magazine as among the "World's 100 Most Powerful Women."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gets top honors as the "World's Most Powerful Woman."

LONGING FOR HOME

COWPIE - the Committee of Wyoming People In the East - held one of its unique D.C. soirees Friday night.

Part of the Wyoming State Society, this COWPIE affair featured Budweiser and Jack Daniels for $20 a person. When not dancing to Western swing music, the Wyoming transplants took turns riding a mechanical bull.

SPEAKS FOR ITSELF

"Each of our fingers has a special purpose and meaning in life. Can you tell us what finger it was he held up?"

That's our "Question of the Week," posed last Friday by a member of the White House press corps to presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.

If you didn't see it, NBC "Tonight" show host Jay Leno aired a video of President Bush entering the U.S. Capitol late last week. As he walked away from the press, Bush suddenly lifted his hand high into the air and raised a certain finger.

"Mr. Leno interpreted it as, shall we say, a finger of hostility," noted the scribe.

McClellan declined comment.

PLAYING THE LOTTERY

So, Congress is demanding to know, after police began conducting random searches of bags carried into the New York City subway system, what's being done in the District to address similar transportation security concerns?

Hopefully, something more beneficial, say two leading terrorism specialists (although transit police in the District were sent to the Big Apple last week to observe how the bag inspections are being carried out).

"The odds of catching a would-be subway bomber are not very good," warn Charles V. Pena and Ted Galen Carpenter, director of defense-policy studies and vice president for defense and foreign policy, respectively, at the Cato Institute. Consider these statistics:

"New York's subways carry about 4.5 million passengers on the average weekday," the pair notes. "If, on any given day, there were a single terrorist riding the subway, and half the passengers were carrying some sort of bag, the probability of finding him or her during any particular search using a truly random search pattern would be about one in 2.25 million or about four 10-millionths of 1 percent. Such odds are only slightly better than winning New York's Mega Millions lottery - about 1 in 175 million."

POLITICS AS BUSINESS

As of a few days ago, the Democratic National Committee had hired 90 paid campaign organizers in 25 states to help rebuild a national party that New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton declared was in disarray.

"We're halfway there," DNC Executive Director Tom McMahon said of the Democrats' 50-state strategy that he calls "revolutionary" - albeit "a huge new financial commitment for the party."

The DNC executive foresees a paid staff on the ground in all 50 states before the end of this year, unlike in the past when Democrats "made the same mistake every election cycle - during the last few months before the presidential election we build a huge organization, and then dismantle it as quickly as possible."

ROMPER ROOM

Nobody else in the White House is talking, which leaves White House spokesman Scott McClellan ever so alone in answering the daily barrage of questions surrounding senior Bush aide Karl Rove's exact role in the Valerie Plame affair. Take this exchange earlier this week:

Reporter: Has Karl Rove offered to resign in view of his problems?

McClellan: Again, you keep asking these questions that are related to an ongoing investigation . .

Reporter: Does he still have his security clearance?

McClellan: . . . and those are questions that have already been addressed.

Reporter: No, they - I've never heard this before. Have you?

McClellan: The question has been asked before.

Reporter: We haven't heard an answer.

Reporter: What was your answer?

Reporter: There hasn't been an answer.

In response to this exchange, which originally ran in our Washington Times version, The Beltway Beat received the following response from Alexis von Spakovsky of Madison, Ala.:

"Your piece on (White House spokesman) Scott McClellan's daily bout with reporters reminds me of how my wife and I deal with our children (ages 9, 7, 5, and 2) when they do not like the answer to a question. Mr. McClellan should ask them the following: 'What was the question?' followed by 'And what was the answer?' If this does not work, Mr. McClellan should send these supposedly educated adults to time out."

HARRY'S COATTAILS

Thanking a dozen close friends who joined him for dinner Wednesday at Teatro Goldoni in Washington to celebrate his new book, "The Flying Circus," former House Speaker Jim Wright, Texas Democrat, said he wished he had added two simple words to the title:

"If I could have just changed two words in the book's title, I could have sold a zillion copies: Harry Potter's Flying Circus."

ANOTHER IRAQ?

Given our bloody U.S. military track record in Somalia, few Americans would propose ever returning to the impoverished and unruly African nation.

But that's just the path former Rep. Bill Brewster, an Oklahoma Democrat who retired from Congress in 1997, wants Uncle Sam to take. It so happens that Brewster serves as Somalia's official representative to the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Gulf states, we learn from the D.C. public relations/marketing Web site odwyerpr.com.

International Policy Solutions, the firm he heads, "has a $360,000 contract with the transitional government of Somalia to encourage the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to provide the logistical support to rebuild the Horn of Africa's country's infrastructure," O'Dwyer reports, noting that Somalia has been ruled by warlords since military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

The 1993 U.S. "humanitarian mission" to Somalia resulted in the deaths of 30 American troops. Since then, as a report by the International Crisis Group in Brussels pointed out this month, Somalia's capital city of Mogadishu is home to "al-Qaida operatives and jihadi extremists."

Nevertheless, Brewster's "pitch," O'Dwyer reveals, is to show that Somalia's transitional government is committed to wiping out terror cells and to "work as an ally of the Bush administration in the war on terror."

KYOTO, OF SORTS

One of the most honest assessments of the U.S. dependency on Middle East oil - and bottom-line explanations as to why his administration refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reductions - was given by President Bush during an obligatory interview late last month with Danish television.

Visiting Denmark in advance of the Group of Eight summit in Scotland, Bush rather quietly came clean: "We're hooked on oil from the Middle East, which is a national security problem and an economic security problem."

Insisting that the U.S. would eventually "diversify away from fossil fuels," Bush said adhering in the meantime to the Kyoto treaty would have "wrecked" the U.S. economy.

Instead, and without much fanfare this week, the United States joined with Australia - which also has refused to ratify the climate treaty - China, India, Japan and South Korea to create an Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development, energy security and climate change.

"This new results-oriented partnership will allow our nations to develop and accelerate deployment of cleaner, more efficient energy technologies to meet national pollution reduction, energy security and climate change concerns in ways that reduce poverty and promote economic development," Bush states.

Bush has directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman to meet with their counterparts in the five other countries this fall.