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In the Loop

Honeymoon That Wasn't

By Al Kamen
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page A27

Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew S. Natsios may be heading to Dubai and Afghanistan next week, taking along a small press contingent: Rush Limbaugh and, briefly, CNN anchor Daryn Kagan -- they are a famous item these days -- along with Mary Matalin, who is going as an ex officio White House adviser.

AID lists the purpose of the trip as "to monitor progress in Afghan Reconstruction." Spokesman Jeffrey Grieco, who's listed as one of the five AID people going, would not confirm or deny, save to say the agency "is anxious to get the word out about our successful reconstruction program in Afghanistan," including improved health care and improved access to education for women and children. For his part, Limbaugh is also eager to speak to the troops.

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The always-reliable National Enquirer reported Jan. 11 that Limbaugh was divorced from his third wife and predicted Limbaugh and Kagan would marry soon. We are assured that this is utter nonsense, but the AID folks nonetheless speculated about a wedding in beautiful downtown Kandahar.

Turns out AID folks in Kabul, who are coordinating the trip, found themselves begging for rooms in Dubai, which were hard to book because of a major event this weekend. At this point, it appears the visitors will be split up into three hotels.

Cable traffic cautioned the group that "lodging is scarce" in Kabul and they should expect to be put in packing crates, known as "hooches," which are "multi-bunk rooms." AID folks were looking for a double bed for Limbaugh and Kagan's hooch, but none was available. Just as well, it turns out, because last night Kagan, who had been scheduled to go as Limbaugh's guest, dropped out of the trip.

The group is flying around Afghanistan for several days in a military C-130 transport, apparently stopping in Herat and Kandahar, in addition to Kabul.

Cutting Cards

Senate commerce committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) questioned David M. Stone, assistant secretary of homeland security for the Transportation Security Administration, about gaps in airline security these days.

"Our screening that is taking place now is really driven so much by the past and not really in tune with the future," Stevens said. "Now, for instance, I saw a display of a fellow with a deck of cards that stood about five feet away from a person holding a big carrot and he sliced off a piece of that carrot, just by throwing a card.

"I saw another person," Stevens continued, "take a credit card and cut through what would be the thickness of a person's neck in two seconds, much faster than a knife could do it. Yet, we seem to be really zeroing in on how can we pick up knives? Has any knife been the cause of an attempted hijacking since 9/11?"

"Not that I'm aware of, no, sir," Stone replied.

So people with credit cards -- and bridge players with spare decks -- are now on the "no-fly" list?

How the Fallen Were Mighty

Speaking of airline security . . . there were massive lines Wednesday morning in the U.S. Airways section at National Airport. And who was spotted waiting patiently in line? None other than Tom Ridge, who only days earlier headed the Department of Homeland Security.

People began recognizing him, reports Ian James, D.C. Bureau chief of Britain's ITN, who was headed to Tampa, and passengers engaged Ridge in humorous banter. The Brits were very impressed at how quickly the mighty fall around here. Well, it may be quick, but that doesn't mean it's painless.

Spogli for Itali

On the ambassadorial front, there are still some fine openings in Old Europe, but we are very upset to report word that the plummiest of all postings, Rome, the Eternal City, is likely going to Bush Pioneer and business school chum Ronald P. Spogli. He's a Los Angeles investment banker and leveraged buyout specialist.

Spogli, in addition to raising big bucks for President Bush, is a partner with Bush buddy and Pioneer Bradford M. Freeman. In college, Spogli studied in Italy and then worked at Stanford University's Italian campus. In 1972, he led a research project in Italy on labor migration.

He actually sounds qualified. Most annoying.

Inner Circle Hits 360 Degrees

The innermost staff is settling in at the State Department. As earlier noted, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has brought longtime Richard K. Armey aide Brian Gunderson, most recently at the U.S. trade rep's office, over to be chief of staff. Another Armey alumnus, James Wilkinson, who had been at the National Security Council, is senior adviser, overseeing media strategy, scheduling, overseas travel and speechwriting. Laura E. " Liz" Lineberry, something of an institution at Foggy Bottom, having worked for three secretaries and for Rice at the NSC, is back at Foggy Bottom as Rice's personal assistant. Ruth E. Elliott, who also worked for Rice at the NSC, is deputy chief of staff.

Hagel Aide Goes Private

Andrew Parasiliti, highly regarded foreign policy adviser to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for three years and, before that, director of the Middle East Initiative at the John F. Kennedy School, is heading to Barbour Griffiths & Rogers to be vice president in their international affairs group.

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