The Navy, countering enviro efforts to stop bombing and shelling exercises at a tiny Pacific island, showed extraordinary creativity this month in marshaling an irrefutable legal analysis.

The enviros and Northern Marianas bird-watcher Ralph Frew, who complained that the resulting reduction in the bird population diminished his hobby, said in federal court the Navy hadn't secured a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct the training and therefore was violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The Navy said it had to keep using 200-acre Farallon de Medinilla, near Saipan, because it was the only available range in the Pacific. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan agreed on the critical importance of the Navy exercises, but then rejected some of the Navy's most inventive arguments.

First, the Navy said, using the island as a live-fire range is beneficial to the birds because it stops people from getting on the island and harming them. This is undeniably true. People do tend to avoid shelling. Yet Sullivan airily dismissed the claim as "surprising."

Then Sullivan, a Clinton appointee, rejected the Navy's argument that Frew didn't show sufficient injury from the bombing. "In some respects," the Navy said, "bird-watchers get more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a common one."

Sullivan dismissed that obvious truth. So the more birds the Navy kills, Sullivan said in paraphrasing the argument, "the more enjoyment Mr. Frew will get from seeing the ones that remain." Precisely! As long as the Navy doesn't cross the fine line between "rare" and "extinct," the bird-watchers should be delighted.

But Sullivan still sided with the enviros and declared the exercises illegal.

Resolving the Condonundrum So is the fact that Army Secretary Thomas E. White's $6 million Washington Harbor condo is for sale a sign that he's not staying long in his job?

Not at all, White told reporters Wednesday. "We're not condo people," he said, "so we're going to sell it." The problem was that this was "the first time we've ever lived in a condo," White explained, and "we have dogs. We gotta go down an elevator and three flights of stairs to walk the dog. So it's turned out not to be the smartest idea in the world to buy a condo.

"We'll move someplace else in Washington," he said, and "either buy or rent." So "the fact that we've put it on the market is an entirely personal preference and does not indicate in any way that we have any interest in leaving the job I'm currently in."

He acknowledged recent press efforts to help him sell the condo, saying, "The Web site has gotten a lot of attention."

What about the chatter that the reason he's building that 15,145-square-foot bungalow on the beach in Naples, Fla., is to take advantage of that state's homestead law protecting homes from bankruptcy court?

Not so. "First of all, if I was really interested in the homestead laws," he said, Texas has a very generous homestead exemption, "so I suppose I would never have sold my house in Houston." Second, he doesn't live in the Florida place, since it's still under construction.

DeLay Gives Watts the Slip There was some eyebrow raising at the GOP's Capitol Hill Club last week when the picture of Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), chairman of the Republican Conference, abruptly disappeared from the wall near the club entrance.

The picture had hung neatly with Senate GOP leader Trent Lott (Miss.), House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.). But on March 20, Watts was gone and a photo of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Tex.) graced the wall.

Come to find out DeLay's photo had been in that spot but it had been stolen (yes, stolen) several months ago. Suspects include DeLay fans or Democrats breaking in. Folks at the club got word that DeLay was miffed because he was being slighted, though everyone agreed Watts was far better looking.

So then the club found out March 20 that DeLay was going to speak at that evening's fundraiser honoring Armey. Watts, on the other hand, was out of town. What to do? Fortunately, the long-requested DeLay replacement picture arrived that very day, sans frame. Bingo! Just use Watts's frame, slip DeLay's photo over Watts's and problem solved.

A longer-term solution will reconfigure the photos to accommodate everyone.

They Were Not a Crook This from the recent Bryce Harlow Foundation dinner honoring veteran Washington lobbyist Tom Korologos, who worked with Harlow in the Nixon administration:

Korologos, referring to recent Fifth Amendment exercises on the Hill, recalled the Nixon era. "Those were the days, when men were men. None of this Fifth Amendment stuff for us. We went to jail."

Final Return for Tax Expert Mark Weinberger, assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax policy, who helped lead the fight on the Bush tax cut, is leaving next month. Weinberger, a former partner at Ernst & Young, is hoping to spend more time with his wife and four children, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill said.

Services to the Olderly This just in: An invitation from the White House office of public liaison to attend a "Senior Briefing" on issues affecting senior citizens on Tuesday. Part of the hour-long session will discuss "Medicare/Medicade Services." No doubt Gatoraid will be served.