Good Spies Make Good Neighbors

The postcard showed up in McLean resident Joseph Nelson Benton III's mailbox without a postmark.

On the glossy side were photos of the Berlin Wall, a bronze statue of Office of Strategic Services founder William "Wild Bill" Donovan and an aerial view of the Central Intelligence Agency. On the matte side -- along with phone numbers for the CIA's public affairs office and security operations center -- was an admonition to "report anything unusual or suspicious associated with your community and/or the Headquarters." There was also this homey message:

Dear Neighbor,

We started the annual distribution of this "phone card" three years ago. We have appreciated your comments and information, and remain committed to maintaining communication with our surrounding communities.



Yesterday the 57-year-old Benton, a freelance television journalist, told us that he discovered the postcard last month amid a stack of bills. "I was amused," said Benton, who lives behind Route 123, about 250 yards from the CIA's Langley headquarters. "I've never gotten mail from the CIA before, so this was a big day. I'm a smartass, so I decided it would be a good thing to share it with the people of Washington."

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow confirmed that the postcard was the agency's handiwork. The reason it lacks a postmark, he said, is that it wasn't mailed. Instead it was hand-delivered to around 250 area residents. Harlow added that "Marie" is a real person whose first name is really Marie. As for her surname, "I think we'll just stick with 'Marie.' "

Harlow explained: "It's just standard good-neighbor policy. We have a lot of neighbors right around the vicinity, and we just want to let them know if they feel any need to communicate with us, here's how to do it. They can put it up with a refrigerator magnet. I can't say we've rolled up any terrorist operations as a result of this, but we have gotten a lot of positive response from members of the community who seem to appreciate it."

We sure do.

Local venture capitalist Malcolm Bund and wife and business partner Eve Benton are still absorbing heavy fire from unlucky investors in their failed Ayres Rock Tool and Fastener LLC, a holding company for eight construction-related firms that went belly up last summer and lost a total of $8 million.

On Saturday Tampa, Fla., investor Robert H. Wenning--who with his wife Karen lost $250,000--shared with fellow sufferers a vitriolic e-mail he sent to Bund. Wenning, who told us his e-mail was not intended for public consumption, wrote to Bund: "We trusted you." When the news arrived that their money was gone, he wrote, "Karen came into the room....[S]he asked me softly: 'Does this mean what I think it means?' I answered: 'Yeah--it looks like it's all gone.' She broke into tears and slumped to the floor sobbing. You bastard."

Washington investor Mark Teitelbaum, who lost $128,000 in Ayres Rock, told us yesterday he endorses Wenning's e-mail--which was in response to Bund's e-mail saying that tax documents reporting the investors' losses would be mailed later than hoped. Bund, for his part, told us: "I always say to investors before they strike the check, 'Can you live without this money?' Because these investments don't always work... Mr. Wenning is a very unhappy person. We're all unhappy. We lost the most money. But life goes on."


* Did he or didn't he? Alexandria commuter Sarah Elizabeth Ulis insists that she watched in her rear-view mirror as D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, at the wheel of his police cruiser Friday morning, rolled through the stop sign at Massachusetts Avenue and 2nd Street NW But yesterday D.C. Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile told us: "The chief does not recall having rolled through that stop sign. He was attempting to merge into traffic, and he disputes the woman's perception." Alas, there was no camera to record the moment.

* Grumpy Old Man: Radio scold Don Imus is unhappy that Larry King hasn't found time to visit the cancer-afflicted children at the Imus Ranch in New Mexico. During his Friday show, Imus accused the CNN talkmeister of reneging on a promise to spend time with the kids last summer. They were crushed, Imus claimed. Imus bitterly recounted that when King phoned on Thursday, he instructed his assistant to lie to King and say he wasn't around. Yesterday King told us through a spokeswoman: "Imus is an old friend and I would love to see the ranch and the good work he does there firsthand. In fact, I'm a supporter of the ranch. I had a scheduling conflict last summer, but plan to go this year. I just hope he won't short-sheet my bed." Imus, natch, didn't return our call.

* Yesterday the folks at ABC News temporarily suspended the Note, the daily compendium of insider political gossip and analysis that journalists and politicos alike consume like crack. ABC News political director Mark Halperin told us that possible war with Iraq has made the Note too burdensome for now, though it will resume in due course. But U.S. News & World Report political editor Roger Simon was distraught yesterday. He emailed Halperin: "'The suspension of The Note means the terrorists have won' -- Osama bin Laden, March 10, 2003." We suggest rehab.