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See it, say it - then wait for Homeland Security officials to pick up the phone

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 8:21 PM

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has launched a public awareness campaign to encourage Metro riders to be more vigilant. It's part of her department's "If you see something, say something" campaign. So "if you see something suspicious," she advises in a message airing on station speakers, "say something to local authorities to make it right." Report it to an employee or call Metro police at 202-962-2121.

It may work fine in Metro, but these "see-say" campaigns can be tricky. Our colleague Jeff Stein, on his SpyTalk blog, recently wrote of a retired municipal judge in New Jersey who tried repeatedly to report an abandoned suitcase in historic Jackson Square in New Orleans.

The judge, a frequent visitor to that area, was at home watching a live video feed of the square when he spotted the suitcase at 9:30 a.m. After about an hour, no one had picked up the suitcase, so he called the New Orleans police and was shunted to "complaints," where no one answered after 15 or 20 rings, so he hung up.

He then called the main Homeland Security number in Washington, and after describing his concern, he told Stein, he was "transferred to another number that never picked up." Same thing happened when he called the FBI's New Orleans office about 10:30 a.m.

Finally, around 2:30 that afternoon, a New Orleans FBI official called back and apologized for the delay. By then someone apparently had picked up the suitcase.

It's like that scene in Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part 1," when one rebel leader boasts that he can "call spirits from the vasty deep." Big deal, a skeptic replies, anyone can call them. Question is, do they show up?

Apparently not always.

Haute diplomacy

Back in June, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in Washington, President Obama took him to a getting-to-know-you lunch over cheeseburgers at Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington.

But the suits at Foggy Bottom prefer higher, much higher, cuisine. So when a group of senior-level State Department officials wanted to grab some grub with their Chinese counterparts a couple of months ago, they opted for a somewhat more upscale environment: the world-class Inn at Little Washington in Rappahanock County, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains - where dinner for two, with a modest bottle of wine, can run you nearly $600, we're told.

The inn apparently was picked not for its exceptional food but as an "informal setting that created an environment conducive to a sustained discussion on key issues," department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in an e-mail. No negotiating, just a free-flowing roundtable on various topics.

The American group, led by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, included the undersecretary for economic matters, Bob Hormats; arms-control special adviser Bob Einhorn; the assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell; and the National Security Council's senior Asia director, Jeff Bader. The Chinese quintet was led by Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, who handles the American portfolio for Beijing.

Crowley declined to say how much the meal cost. "We were able to negotiate a very reasonable arrangement for our meeting venue. Let's just say that if we have the same level of success negotiating with the Chinese on currency in the coming months, we'll be very happy," he wrote. (Campbell handled the negotiations with the inn. Even so, dinner had to run a couple grand, easy.)

Crowley wrote that the Americans had "cold cuts." Yeah, but that was lunch.

The dinner menu was: "A Mélange of Spicy, Big-Eye Tuna with Mango, Avocado and Crispy Shallots and Sake-Yuzu Sorbet; A Fricassee of Maine Lobster with Potato Gnocchi and Curried Walnuts; Barbecue Braised Short Rib on Crispy Green Tossed in Truffled Vinaigrette; Lemon Pudding Cake with Blueberry Cobbler and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream."

Still, the Chinese haven't budged on their grossly manipulated currency. Probably should have ordered the "Tin of Sin: American Ossetra Caviar with a Crab and Cucumber Rillette." But that's $24 more per person.

True, the Chinese spare no expense feting the Americans over there. But if they don't come through on the currency, next time it's Ray's.

Castro si, Mullen no

Our colleague Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars," is getting praise from some odd corners. Cuba's Fidel Castro ordered a quick translation of "Obama's Wars," saying, "It would not be possible to understand anything about the current policy of the United States if one ignores the contents of this book."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sept. 22, "I hope people will read the whole book."

But Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, who didn't come off so well in the book, disagrees. On Sept. 29 he said he hadn't read it, and it appears he has no intention of doing so.

On Friday, Mullen dispatched "a senior aide to my house to return the signed copy," Woodward told us Tuesday. The aide offered "no explanation of why the book was being sent back," Woodward said, nor did he "claim there were any inaccuracies. The chairman just plans not to read it." The book's spine was uncracked.

Big house, big plans?

Our man in Beijing, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, a fluent Mandarin speaker, raised a few eyebrows when he bought a fine, 5,100-square-foot, five-bedroom bungalow in Kalorama a few months ago for $3.6 million. It's a modest 13-room rowhouse with five fireplaces just two doors from the Verveers - Melanne, ambassador at large for global women's issues, and Phil, State's coordinator for international communications and information policy.

But it's not the price tag or size that caused a stir. Huntsman's father was a billionaire, after all, and he and his wife, Mary, have seven kids, two of them adopted, ranging in age from 4 to 25, so a large house would be in order.

No, the buzz was whether this meant that the highly regarded Huntsman, a Republican who had been ambassador to Singapore for Bush I and deputy trade representative under Bush II, might be moving back to run for president in 2012.

Not so. Best we can figure, the purchase didn't signal an imminent departure from China. Huntsman's always had presidential ambitions, but he wouldn't run against Obama in 2012. Maybe a run against Clinton in 2016?

A very desirable closet

Speaking of real estate: excellent, cozy office now available, two-year lease, in the West Wing. No windows, barely room to turn around, but ah, the location: just steps down the hall from the Oval Office.

Here's how it became available: Interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse moved across the reception area into Rahm Emanuel's fine corner office with that fireplace and the Don Regan Memorial Patio. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina moved across the hall to Rouse's office: larger and, more important, two windows.

Deputy Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen moved from her closet/office to Messina's larger one. So hers is now up for grabs. One caveat: Rouse is only interim, so your lease may terminate if everyone moves back. But the odds are better than 50.

Staff food critic Tom Sietsema contributed to this report.

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