Great novels about Washington have been exceedingly rare, and I suspect it's because (to paraphrase sportswriter Red Smith), reality is constantly strangling invention.
Which is a fancy way of saying, You just can't make this stuff up.
For instance, here is today's multi-faceted bemusement:
1. Porter Goss has abruptly quit his job at CIA director, and when asked by CNN to explain why, he responds that it's "just one of those mysteries." This can be interpreted in several ways: (a) He doesn't know why he's leaving his job; perhaps he has simply sleepwalked out of the post after borrowing some of Patrick Kennedy's Ambien. (b) He knows darn well why he's leaving, but he simply chooses not to tell the American taxpayers, who are paying the salaries of the people entrusted to keep the country safe.
2. A mystery leaves us all free to speculate, and even though "intelligence sources" tell us that it's just the result of a turf war with national intelligence director John Negroponte, we shouldn't necessarily ignore the Dusty Foggo factor. Dusty Foggo...isn't that a great name for a scandal figure? Dusty Foggo -- the CIA executive director (number three in the hierarchy), appointed to the post by Porter Goss -- has been linked (last week, by the Wall Street Journal) to a pair of defense contractors who are being officialy scrutinized in connection with bribing a member of Congress and Pentagon officials.
But that's not the seamy stuff. Goss' guy is also under investigation, by the FBI as well as the CIA inspector general, for his attendance, along with some unnamed congressmen, at a number of suspicious poker parties hosted by those defense contractors since the 1990s. It appears, as the Journal reported, that the businessmen (one of whom was a major Bush fundraiser in 2004) brought in prostitutes as part of their wining-and-dining pursuit of federal contracts. One congressmen in regular attendance was Republican Duke Cunningham, who recently gave up his California seat in exchange for spending time in the slammer after his conviction for taking bribes.
And -- here's one of the true-life plot points that strangles invention -- these fun parties took place at a famous Washington locale. The Watergate.
Could any of this possibly have anything to do with Goss' resignation? Even as a contributing factor? Nah, it's gotta be a "turf war"....but wait, here's one report out of Washington which indicates that members of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board wanted Goss ousted in part because of that party scene ("Alarms were set off at the advisory board by a widening FBI sex and cronyism investigation that's targeted Foggo, the No.3 official at the CIA, and also touched on Goss himself...").
3. And now President Bush wants to replace Goss with a guy who has already demonstrated that he doesn't understand the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.
Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency, has been one of the staunchest defenders of Bush's warrantless surveillance program. Clearly, by nominating Hayden to be the nation's top spook, Bush wants to pick a fresh fight with Congress over the surveillance program, in the hopes of giving strategist Karl Rove some fresh evidence that Democrats running for re-election are security softies just because they believe in court warrants.
Indeed, Senate Republicans sent a fundraising letter last week, warning that if Democrats took control of a congressional chamber, they would put the war on terrorism "on the back burner." True enough, polls last winter showed that a thin majority of Americans backed Bush's domestic spy program, when the issue was defined as a choice between the abstract and the visceral, i.e. a choice between civil liberties and personal safety. Bush doesn't enjoy an edge on much of anything else right now, so perhaps it makes political sense for him to bring up the spy program again (especially since most Democrats fled for the hills when liberal Senator Russ Feingold proposed censuring Bush over the program).
On the flip side, however, Bush is less popular today than he was even in January, so perhaps this issue won't give him the traction he seeks. The latest Gallup poll, released today, puts his approval rating at a record-low 31 percent; disapproval, 65 percent.
Anyway, I digress. The important point is, even some Republicans, including Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, are raising concerns about Hayden because of the spy program. And, regarding that topic, here's the part that's better than fiction:
Hayden doesn't know what's in the Fourth Amendment, which was crafted to guard Americans' privacy.
Last January, while defending the warrantless program, he tussled with Knight Ridder's Jonathan Landay, who is one of the sharpest pros in the Washington press corps. The transcript goes like this:
LANDAY: "...the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to violate an American's right against unreasonable searches and seizures..."
HAYDEN: "No, actually - the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure."
LANDAY: "But the --"
HAYDEN: "That's what it says."
LANDAY: "The legal measure is probable cause, it says."
HAYDEN: "The Amendment says: unreasonable search and seizure."
LANDAY: "But does it not say 'probable cause'?"
HAYDEN: "No! The Amendment says unreasonable search and seizure."
LANDAY: "The legal standard is probable cause, General -- "
HAYDEN: "Just to be very clear ... and believe me, if there's any Amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. Alright? And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. The constitutional standard is 'reasonable.'"
Read the Fourth Amendment for yourself:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." (Emphasis added.)
I loved the Washington satirical novel Thank You For Smoking. But with apologies to Christopher Buckley, this stuff is better.