An Administration Ally Goes Off-Message

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Sensing GOP vulnerability, the Democrats' campaign ads focus on voter unhappiness with the Iraq war. The Republicans, in turn, prefer to talk about keeping us safe from terrorism.

So eyebrows popped up last week when none other than Richard Perle , former Reagan assistant secretary of defense, former Bush brain-truster on the Defense Policy Board, and a key promoter of the war to find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, blistered the administration as "dysfunctional" when it comes to stopping someone from bringing "a nuclear weapon or even nuclear material into the United States."

"Knowing that there are people who wish to do that," Perle said, "knowing they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, you would think that we would have put in place a system or at least be working assiduously in the development of a system that would allow us to detect nuclear material entering the New York Harbor or Boston Harbor or what have you.

"But we haven't done that," he said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies gathering. "And the reason we haven't done that is hopeless bureaucratic obstruction. Somebody needs to shake that loose." Perle added that while some have tried to overcome the bureaucracy, no one has succeeded.

"I think we have an administration today that is dysfunctional," Perle said. "And if it can't get itself together to organize a serious program for finding nuclear material on its way to the United States, then it ought to be replaced by an administration that can."

But President Bush , Perle emphasized, is not to blame for this sorry state of affairs. "I haven't the slightest doubt that if one could . . . put this proposition to the president, he would first be shocked to learn that we don't have the capability. Secondly, [he] would immediately order that we develop it."

Shocked? Well, let's see. Bush . . . Bush . . . Ah, yes, 202-456-1414.

Top-Shelf Tickets for a Cabinet Secretary

A coach-flying-government-employee Loop Fan reports that United Flight 915 from Paris on Saturday was delayed briefly during the boarding process to allow a small group of VIPs to get on.

So who might these folks have been? Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson , returning home from important conferences in Paris. Our caller was surprised to see Nicholson and his wife, Suzanne, not just in business class but in first class. Two agency aides were seated in business class. Nicholson's security detail was appropriately placed for security.

"The airline gave away their seats," a VA spokeswoman explained yesterday, "and couldn't get them back. So they bumped them up from business." Nicholson paid for his wife's ticket.

Nicholson was overheard chatting with an airline employee in what sounded like very good French. We were told he picked that up when he was an Army Ranger in Vietnam so he could work with his Vietnamese counterpart.

Chertoff's 'Illustrious' Two Years

A hearty congratulations to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff , who's been selected to receive the prestigious Henry Petersen award, named for the man who headed the criminal division during Watergate.

The award is usually -- but not always -- given to career division employees who toiled away in the job and "made a lasting contribution" after a long and "illustrious" career, according to the award criteria.

Chertoff, a former federal prosecutor in New York, headed the division for about two years. But it was a busy time.

A Little Moonlighting

Job opening! Mark Knouse , a Pittsburgh-based lobbyist who was appointed in 2004 by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to a three-year term as executive director of the Commission for Labor Cooperation, has called it quits after an investigation raised questions about his use of government money to pay for lobbying for his old clients, the National Journal reports.

Knouse, whose wife is Chao's executive assistant, told the magazine he'd done nothing wrong and thought he could take on outside work, despite a commission requirement that such work must be approved. The investigation also noted that, in 18 months, he charged the commission for more than a dozen trips to meet with Pennsylvania officials but met just twice with officials who were not from his home state.

"In hindsight," he said, "maybe I shouldn't have done" the outside work. Probably not.

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