Brace yourself for alarming news. In general, I attempt to keep the tone of this column upbeat and relaxed, but the enormity of what I am about to reveal is such that traditional pleasantries must be discarded in the name of the public good: I have discovered a massive conspiracy that explains why the transportation system of this nation is slowly oozing to a halt.

For those of you who thought our problems with airline delays, traffic gridlock and train schedules were attributable to bungling managers, slothful workers and meddling bureaucrats (as I once did), you've got a surprise coming. The entire mess is the result of an evil cabal that makes El Fatah, the Colombian drug lords and the bad guys from SMERSH in the James Bond books look like splinter groups of the Sierra Club.

I speak of the Anti-Destination League, an organization so evil, so corrupt, so degenerate that it can tie up a freeway on a busy Friday afternoon, cancel flights on Mother's Day and make the Amtrak schedule look as if it runs not by the clock but by the calendar.

Existence of the scurrilous group was first hypothesized in Great Britain several decades ago. A noted English scientist one day awoke to the realization that his nation's network of miniature roads, interrupted every few miles and populated by legions of wheezing Morris Oxfords, many of them towing caravans, could not be accidental. It had to be part of an enormous and ghastly plan to prevent people from getting anywhere.

In its early British days, the Anti- Destination League's efforts were crude but effective: Hundreds of slow Morris Minors, Triumph Heralds, Austin 7s and Ford Zephyrs were deployed on the major roads leading in and out of greater London. Their mission was simple -- dawdle along, impeding faster traffic. If that tactic proved ineffective, each culprit was authorized to stop in the middle of the road and raise his hood. The ranks of the league grew so quickly in Great Britain that by the middle 1970s all movement by automobile in and around London was slowed to an average speed of less than 10 mph.

Apparently encouraged by this stunning success, the leadership of the ADL (suspected to be a consortium of anti-vivisectionists, Flat Earth Society members and dissident bird-watchers) extended their organization into the United States. Small pilot projects were set up on the Long Island Expressway, the San Diego Freeway and the Washington Beltway. A tiny cadre of elite ADL activists skilled in overturning tractor-trailer trucks was able to stop traffic on those routes for two hours on the average.

According to police records that have recently come into my possession, the Anti-Destination League in 1979 set up permanent headquarters in a suburban split-level in Lanham. Beneath the house is a bunker filled with exotic communications equipment monitoring information on all forms of transportation in the nation. The control the league can extend from this site is staggering. For example, should a Northwest Airlines flight be suspected of being able to leave on time from the Memphis airport, an ADL operative can be summoned immediately and put on the plane within moments, where he will feign a near-fatal nicotine fit guaranteed to delay departure by 40 minutes.

Should traffic be discovered to be moving normally on any section of the Beltway, construction crews can be signaled to speed toward the Wilson and the American Legion bridges, where they will set up pylons, reducing the number of passable lanes to one.

Although suspicion is mounting that the bureaucracies of the airline and railroad industries must be infested with ADL agents (how else could such systems be so out of whack?), it's the national highway gridlock we're facing that has experts worried. Control of the roads requires more effort and creativity on the part of the ADL. After all, automobiles operate independently, with vastly more flexibility than airlines and railroads. Blocking traffic on a major commuter road is one thing, but extending the mess to alternate routes is the work of geniuses. Stop the fast lane of the Beltway, and within moments traffic will seek out nearby surface roads. Create a stoppage on the 14th Street Bridge, and cars will immediately work their way over to Memorial Bridge. It is thought that the ADL now operates in squadrons, with multiple vehicles capable of blocking not only the main thoroughfare, but all adjacent routes.

I recently sighted an ADL unit at work on the Beltway. The leader, in the middle lane, was at the wheel of a GMC Scottsdale pickup, towing an Airstream Trailer with a "Good Sam Club" badge on the back (a giveaway?). Nearby in the fast lane was a Chevrolet Caprice sedan running at 48 mph. Up ahead in the right lane was a beat-up panel truck with smoke billowing out the exhaust. It was a clear day.

Then came what must have been the go signal from the bunker in Lanham. I watched in horror as the panel truck began to spew more smoke and slowed to 30 mph. The pickup and trailer pulled alongside each other. The Chevy braked hard. The three ran abreast and traffic behind began to coagulate.

Within moments a fast-moving river of steel had been transformed into a turgid swamp of honking, bawling automobiles mired in cement. Another mission completed.

Such simple acts are amazingly effective, insidiously slowing the pace of movement in our nation, leading inevitably to the grand moment of triumph when every automobile, truck, bus, airplane and train in the nation will be lured into the last great Gridlock. That day surely will come sooner than we think. ::