Who says Americans don't take pride in their work any more? Nothing could be further from the truth. Take, for example, the Virginia license plate on a red Jeep Cherokee Laredo that was spotted yesterday by a Loop fan heading to work over the 14th Street Bridge.

"SEN8AA" the plate said. Our source believes this translates to "Senate AA" or administrative assistant. If so, that would indicate an individual so proud of doing such important work that he wanted the world, or at least the automotive world, to know of his station in life.

We're not so sure. And since we don't know whose vehicle this was--but would be very happy to find out (loop@washpost.com)--it could very well be that the plates are simply an ad for an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter at the Senate.

Alice in Disneyland East

"George Orwell couldn't have dreamed this up," House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said yesterday.

Burton was referring to the strange events surrounding the June 24 testimony of Peter Leitner, a senior strategic trade adviser and a whistleblower at the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Leitner told the committee of harassment and threats against him for talking about Chinese pilfering of U.S. military technology.

Then, as Leitner was testifying that he had been wrongly accused of security violations by his supervisor, Air Force Col. Raymond Wilson, sources said Wilson was back at the office allegedly trying to get subordinates to give him access to Leitner's computer hard drive, which is in a safe. The effort failed.

But whistles started blowing and next thing you know DTRA Director Jay Davis is announcing "an investigation into the allegations of inappropriate actions involving access" to Leitner's computer. A DTRA press release says Davis asked the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to probe the matter. "Pending completion of the investigation, the individual who allegedly acted inappropriately has been temporarily assigned to other duties."

A Pentagon official yesterday said the investigation has already uncovered "similar attempts" to wrongfully access Leitner's computer.

Burton's right. This is way beyond Orwell. We're talking maybe Lewis Carroll here.

How the Wife Was Won

Let's have a huge Loop hand for Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), a champion of private property rights out West, who is planning to get hitched to Wayne Hage, 62, a leader of the like-minded Sagebrush Rebellion.

"Helen's really excited, being engaged," a spokesman said.

And how did the proposal come about? "He did it the old western way," a Hill aide said. "He told her and then asked her." The two have known each other eight years, the aide said, but it "just recently became romantic."

Hage argues that federal laws gave ranchers control over land in the West long before the national forests were created and federal grazing laws were passed. He has been charged with repeated grazing law violations.

No date's been set for the wedding. One problem may be that Chenoweth, 61, who has a son and daughter from her first marriage, will have to work the event into a busy schedule: She's off to Paris next week to be a House Resources Committee observer at a conference on U.N. designations of "world heritage" sites. Chenoweth opposes these designations as infringements on U.S. sovereignty by the predatory and powerful, if broke, United Nations.

Second problem: a stretch black helicopter for the wedding?

Family Man Decamps

Peter Goelz, managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, is leaving to become worldwide director of crisis communications for the public affairs company APCO Associates Inc.

In his four years at the board, Goelz built a help network for the families of air crash victims, ending years of hodgepodge, family-aid efforts by the airlines.

Beginning first as a one-man show at the 1996 crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 off Long Island, Goelz helped create a safety board family affairs team that has drawn high marks for its performance at several crashes and other transportation disasters. Goelz-inspired legislation then directed airlines to develop formal family assistance programs.

Dipping Into the Atlantic

Word is that the Clintonites, having gone the retired military route to find an ambassador to China in retired Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, may be going Navy once more to fill an important opening in Brasilia. This time they are eyeing retiring Adm. J. Paul Reason, former naval aide to President Jimmy Carter; former commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; and now commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Reason is the first African American four-star in the Navy.

King to Carnegie

Former local television anchor Susan King, who's most recently been assistant secretary of labor for public affairs, is heading back home to New York after 24 years in the big time to become director of public affairs for the richly endowed Carnegie Corp. foundation.