- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Pass the water

It was cold cuts, salad and soup for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his wife, Diane, after a Kennedy Center performance by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in advance of this week’s latest “blizzard” (Washington terminology for a light dusting of snow).

They pulled up to K Street’s Teatro Goldoni, one of their favorite restaurants, which had closed early owing to the forecast of “inclement weather” (Washington terminology for anything that falls from the sky when the temperature is lower than 50 degrees).

The city’s first couple had no problem securing their favorite power booth and were promptly served by the skeletal staff.

King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway, who were in town to mark 100 years of U.S.-Norwegian diplomatic relations, also attended the concert. They’d been luncheon guests of President Bush and first lady Laura Bush earlier in the day.

Atlantic Storm’

It wasn’t your typical congressional retreat.

Twenty-eight members of the House Homeland Security Committee huddled for two days this week along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay in Wye River, Md., responding to real-world simulations of both nuclear and biological terrorism.

In one exercise, congressmen were confronted with the nightmare scenario of a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb — transported by truck in a lead-sealed container to evade radiation detection — being detonated at midday at Grand Central Station in New York.

A subsequent bioterrorism exercise, “Atlantic Storm,” was formulated by a team led by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for Biosecurity. It required lawmakers to confront real-time decisions in the face of a terrorist-caused smallpox outbreak — initially confined to Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Turkey.

As committee members were asked to consider sharing a limited supply of U.S. smallpox vaccine stocks with the affected countries, it became clear that America itself was being hit with smallpox attacks. If that wasn’t hellish enough, a few days into the disaster, terrorists followed up with anthrax attacks in major U.S. cities.

Committee Chairman Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, said yesterday that such threats are real, referring to them as “civilization busters” with a potential of killing tens of millions of Americans and inflicting economic damage that could virtually destroy the United States as we know it today.

Asked by Inside the Beltway if it was his most “morbid” retreat, the chairman replied: “It was riveting, extremely riveting. … As grisly circumstances as one would care to imagine. It certainly focuses one’s attention.”

Say what?

September 11 made something else very clear: Americans speak few languages beside English.

Never before, according to the U.S. intelligence community, has proper foreign-language expertise been so greatly needed as today to understand national security threats and foreign-policy issues.

“The 9/11 joint inquiry reported a year and a half ago that our intelligence community is at 30 percent readiness in languages critical to national security,” notes Rep. Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Democrat and member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

In addition, a State Department-commissioned report last year determined that Uncle Sam had only 54 Arabic speakers working in the entire Foreign Service.

It was Mr. Holt at the time who asked David Kay, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, how many of his 1,400-member team spoke Arabic and understood the technology of weapons of mass destruction. He replied he could count them on the fingers of one hand.

“I posed similar questions to some members of the special forces who had been combing the mountains of Afghanistan looking for Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Holt recalls. “I asked how many of them spoke Pushtu. … If Osama bin Laden is truly American public enemy number one, how do we expect to track him down if we cannot speak the languages of the people who are hiding him?”

This week, the congressman and others spoke in favor of House Resolution 122, which reflects the warning of Undersecretary of Defense David Chu in his opening remarks at the National Language Conference last June. Mr. Chu said the United States needs “a permanent change in our approach to the peoples and cultures of the rest of the world.”

One figure presented this week shows only 9 percent of Americans speak two languages fluently, compared with 53 percent of Europeans.

Touring America

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was reminded yesterday that the Mexican state of Yucatan has published an 80-page “travel guide” with detailed information on how to enter the United States illegally, with descriptions of various routes to be used or avoided.

The Mexican government has similarly published a “Guide to the Mexican Migrant,” offering advice that includes how to evade immigration officers once safely in the United States.

Not surprising that a group of House Republicans is now calling on Miss Rice to protest the government of Mexico’s encouragement of illegal immigration when she meets with Mexican officials this week.

A strongly worded letter to Miss Rice, signed by 32 congressmen, condemns Mexico’s immigration policies and urges the secretary to warn Mexico “to cease and desist from its flagrant campaign to encourage its citizens to violate the immigration laws and sovereign borders of the United States of America.”

The lawmaker who authored the letter, Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, says “enough is enough.”

“We want the government of Mexico to understand that its aggressive encouragement of illegal immigration is a daunting if not insurmountable barrier to continued good relations,” he says.

He has reason to be disgusted. Along the Southwest border, including Arizona during 2004, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended more than 1.1 million people — 3,121 each day — up from 905,000 the previous year. Worse yet, the Border Patrol says it is catching only 1 in 4 illegal immigrants — the majority of them Mexicans.

All together now

“Two-thirds of Americans don’t know all the words to the Star-Spangled Banner,” Washington publicist Jody Clarke informs this column, explaining the reason behind today’s National Anthem Project on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.

Members of Congress, U.S. Marine troops, “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band and the Oak Ridge Boys will be among those helping the National Association for Music Education “reteach” Americans “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

First lady Laura Bush will serve as honorary chairwoman of the several-year-long project, which after today moves into all 50 states.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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