The CIA tries to keep secret the names of its agents, evidenced most recently by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation of the exposure of agent Valerie Plame, which has landed New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the slammer in Alexandria.
You have to wonder sometimes if they might need to try harder. Take our friend, call him Loop Fan X, who recently rented a cheapo car at Dulles airport for his vacation and noticed some odd strips of paper stapled together in the recess of the driver's door. They appeared to be cables, with acronyms such as "COS Amman."
The papers referred to recent travel arrangements for a certain person. On occasion the person blacks out his name. Sometimes he neglects to do so. We can't reveal his name, so let's just call him John Doe.
Doe "is currently manifested," one strip says, "on the [code-named] flight out of Baghdad to Amman." The agency has a regular flight. "It is required that passengers on all flights wear shoes (No open toe shoes) and slacks (No shorts)," the cable says.
(Not sure what this is all about, maybe for safety in case of a crash or something. The agency was not being helpful when we called yesterday.)
"COS [chief of station] Amman welcomes ref [referenced] travel of [Doe] to Amman," another strip says. "Hotel reservations have been made at IDEN A" for two nights. "Station POC [point of contact] will be IDEN B, and embassy telephone numbers are listed in IDEN C."
The "IDEN" stuff is standard procedure. Pieces of secret info are put in different cables, so if one cable is captured by especially canny enemy agents -- or left in a rental car -- it won't be useful without the others.
"Request that [Doe] does not change hotel arrangements," the cable continues. "This is to insure that station can contact officer in case of an emergency. Meet/Assist [apparently the car service] has been arranged for flights in/out of Amman."
Now our favorite: "Please note that commercial expediter [apparently the driver] is uncleared and unwitting. Expediter will pick [Doe] up in front of the hotel" to go to the airport there for a flight out of the country. Doe made special note of that information.
There's also a Post-it note on one strip with the telephone number, we are told, of the CIA station in Amman. On the back, there are three first names and their phone numbers in Amman.
The last strip of paper, for when Doe arrives at Dulles and picks up his rented car, has detailed directions to the CIA's university -- location classified -- in Northern Virginia.
So please, please remember: Don't hit the "Reply to all" key on e-mail. Don't leave originals on copiers. Don't leave confidential papers in a Starbucks. And never, ever, leave secret information in a cheap rental car. At least Avis would try harder to clean it.
Got a Job? Have a Brownie
The positively shocking resignation Monday of Michael D. Brown as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency lends a heightened urgency to the Loop "Brownie's New Gig" contest. Now he actually is going to be out on the streets, so Loop Fans must act quickly to come up with a suitable new job for him.
Send your entry via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Naturally, entries by administration or Hill folks may be submitted on background. But all entries must include telephone contact numbers to be eligible. Winners will receive a coveted In the Loop T-shirt.
Deadline for contest entries is midnight Monday. A spot check of the flood of entries so far reveals some fine creativity -- and a lot of anger -- though there's a slower than usual inflow from fans overseas. Remember, a good job outside the country -- way outside the country -- might be just the ticket for this fine public servant.
Walking in Henry's Shoes
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell has been tapped to be chairman of the board of the Eisenhower Fellowships, succeeding former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger in May 2006. The private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization gives fellowships to people believed to be potential leaders.
God Makes Change
First the al Qaeda group in Iraq hailed the hurricane deaths from Hurricane Katrina as "the wrath of God." Then last week, Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas movement, said Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for President Bush's support for Israel's Gaza pullout.
"It was God's retribution. God does not shortchange anyone," Yosef said during his weekly televised sermon, according to the Associated Press.
A Quarter-Million Banked
Remember that State Department idea to give someone $250,000 for "an external study of publicly available data on foreign public opinion" and recommendations for "specific actions"?
The idea apparently was to have a new survey for incoming public diplomacy chief Karen P. Hughes to look at upon her swearing in last week. The plan to acquire what is publicly available was shelved last month. Now Hughes might have to walk over to State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to get the data -- or she could summon those folks to brief her.