Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ask questions later

Let’s hope the private security officers protecting the U.S. government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) — 695 million barrels of oil stored in underground salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana — now have permission to shoot to kill any terrorists who might drop in unannounced.

The Energy Department’s inspector general writes in an investigative report we obtained yesterday that the authority to use deadly force at these facilities is “inconsistent.”

“Specifically, the SPR protective force had the authority to use deadly force only for protection of personnel,” writes Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman. “They were not authorized to use deadly force to protect the SPR infrastructure, the oil caverns, and the facilities which allow removal of the oil … ”

The inspector general said it was “indicated” to his office by the security personnel from Pinkerton Government Services Inc. “that the decision as to whether to use deadly force in the event of a terrorist attack on the SPR is currently left to individual SPR protective force officers.

“Under the current formulation, the protective force officer must decide at what point an attempt to destroy or damage the SPR infrastructure constitutes a danger to personnel. Then, and only then, can deadly force be used.

“In the post-9/11 period, we concluded that this policy should be re-evaluated, especially given SPR’s designation as part of the department’s critical infrastructure.”

Indeed, the Energy Department, in response to the Homeland Security Presidential Directive, designated that the SPR has a “national security critical essential function,” classifying it as a key resource for national energy and economic security.

Meanwhile, the inspector general additionally found that 87 percent of contractor and subcontractor employees at both SPR sites, “some with unescorted access to sensitive areas, had never been processed for any level of security clearance.”

“We were told that this was because they do not access classified information. As a result, these employees have never undergone a federal background investigation,” the IG states, even though the Energy Department requires background “checks and rechecks” for most private contract employees.

Mark Maddux, principal deputy assistant secretary for the department’s Office of Fossil Energy, has set a Sept. 30 deadline to address the inspector general’s report.

Eye candy

While 2006 is still months away, we were allowed first peek yesterday at next year’s Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute pin-up calendar, which honors “great American conservative women” for once.

Miss January honors, rightlyso, go to the late Mrs. Luce, an accomplished foreign and domestic journalist, magazine editor, playwright, congresswoman from Connecticut and ambassador to Italy.

Miss America 2003 Erika Harold is crowned Miss February; blonde TV pundit Kellyanne Conway, president and CEO of the Polling Company and WomanTrend, is Miss March; Miss April is Marji Ross of Regnery Publishing in Washington; Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president at the Heritage Foundation, is Miss May; and Suzanne Fields, the nationally syndicated op-ed columnist for The Washington Times, carries us into summer as Miss June.

Everybody’s favorite gun-rights advocate, Shemane Nugent, wife of rock legend Ted Nugent, is Miss July; Miss August is New York ladies’ magazine magnate Myrna Blyth; for Miss September, we find syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin; Miss October honors go to Virginia Republican Party Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin; popular MSNBC host Monica Crowley makes an attractive Miss November; and last but never least, Miss December is Ann Coulter, who requires no introduction.

Political paybacks

It’s no secret that U.S. presidents have rewarded large campaign donors with foreign ambassadorships, and President Bush is no exception to the long tradition.

The Center for Responsive Politics counts “at least 40” well-connected persons, all of whom contributed or raised generous amounts of money to help elect Republicans since Mr. Bush’s first campaign, currently serving or have been nominated to serve as ambassadors.

As a group, they forked over $8.8 million to federal candidates and political parties between 1999 and 2004 — $7.7 million, or 88 percent, going into Republican coffers. Some 9 percent went directly into Mr. Bush’s campaigns, or else the Florida-recount fund he formed after the highly contested 2000 election, in which he ultimately defeated Vice President Al Gore.

Of the 40 ambassadors, 23 were top Bush fundraisers, says the center.

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

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