Karl Rove's loyalty police should be on deep orange alert, if not hot pink. There is a sleeper cell operating in the White House.

This tale begins with Joseph Shattan, who penned an article titled "Bush's Blunder" for National Review Online on Oct. 15. Bush's endorsement of a Palestinian state confirmed "America's cowardice and corruption" to Middle Easterners, he wrote. "Thanks entirely to the president and his team . . . the campaign to defeat the Islamist challenge has gotten off to a singularly inauspicious start."

And what is Shattan doing now? Well, he's about to begin a new job -- as a White House speechwriter. The appointment is all the more intriguing because Shattan recently had been recruited as a speechwriter for the Energy Department. His hiring was vetoed by the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, which cited the heretical article.

For Shattan to flunk the loyalty test for an agency job and then get a post in the White House is like an unruly passenger being turned away at an airport security checkpoint and then getting invited into the cockpit for a JFK-LAX flight.

How did it happen? Sounds like the work of the Kristol cabal, a vast, neoconservative conspiracy centered on William Kristol, publisher of the Weekly Standard magazine. Kristol, who backed Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the GOP primaries, is persona non grata at the White House. But he has some operatives on the inside.

Shattan, who worked for Kristol when he was Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff, will join Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully and Cheney speechwriter John McConnell, both of whom also worked under Kristol on the Quayle staff. Fellow Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner worked for Kristol when he was chief of staff to then-Education Secretary William Bennett, while National Security Council speechwriter Matthew Rees worked for Kristol at the Standard.

Nor is it just the wordsmiths. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is a Kristol acolyte from the Quayle days, while drug control policy chief John Walters worked under Kristol at the Education Department. Jay Lefkowitz, the new director of Bush's Domestic Policy Council, was Kristol's lawyer. Other Kristol pals include NSC Senior Director Elliott Abrams, Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of State John Bolton and Leon Kass, the head of Bush's bioethics panel. The tentacles reach into the kitchen cabinet, too: Al Hubbard, a close Bush friend, was Kristol's deputy on the Quayle staff.

"An entire cell -- right under the nose of Rove!" exults Marshall Wittmann, a McCainiac and Kristol ally who works at the Hudson Institute. He is amazed that "this control-freak administration has allowed this infiltration."

Shattan, who is leaving Amtrak to hitch himself to Bush's locomotive, was apparently flustered when presented with details of the Kristol cabal last week. "I'm sorry," he said after a long pause. "I don't discuss my employment status."

Is Kristol encoding messages to his White House agents in Weekly Standard editorials or TV appearances? "You mean like wiggling my right ear on Fox News?" Kristol asks mischievously, then turns grave. "For the sake of their careers in the Bush administration," he said, "I hereby denounce them all."

Kristol knows about the dangers of crossing the Bush folks. After supporting McCain in the primaries, Kristol predicted Al Gore would win the presidency, prompting a call from Ari Fleischer to say the disloyalty had been "noted" in Austin. When there was talk that Tommy G. Thompson wanted to recruit Kristol to work for him at the Department of Health and Human Services, White House higher-ups quashed the idea in a hurry.

For much of Bush's first year in office, Kristol was a steady critic. He criticized Bush's initial military budget as inadequate and then, in September, was one of those demanding a broader war that included Iraq.

Since then, however, something curious has happened. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" is morphing into Kristol's -- and McCain's -- "national greatness" agenda. Bush has taken up the McCain banner of national service and stands poised to sign the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform package. His "axis of evil" reference (coined by a Kristol acolyte) echoes McCain's and Kristol's calls for a broad assault on rogue states.

Kristol's not talking, but the innocent explanation for all this is that Bush aides, though hostile to McCain, embrace the senator's neoconservative ideas. But could it be Kristolean mind control at work on his inside agents?