The Squires of Surveillance

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

December 21, 2005

Dick and Rummy are holed up in the den of Rummy's Chesapeake Bay retreat, Mount Misery, pawing through sheafs of transcripts of wiretapped telephone conversations, hunting for inside dope.

Chinook helicopters patrol the skies above the red-brick waterfront mansion. Rummy loves the take-no-prisoners lineage of his $1.5 million getaway, built in the 19th century by Edward Covey, an evil slave owner.

Winter weekends by a crackling fire are cozy and conspiratorial, now that the two men have nearby spreads in St. Michaels, Md.

These squires of surveillance while away their evenings sipping from goblets of Glenlivet and perusing the illegally bugged phone conversations of any American they please. Getting in the holiday spirit, they're mining data to revise their naughty and nice lists.

"Check this one out, Dick," Rummy says excitedly. "I've been reading Jennifer Aniston's conversations for the last six months now, and I gotta say, I don't get what she sees in this guy Vince Vaughn. 'Wedding Crashers' was funny. They shot that here in this village, you know. But I don't trust the guy. No way he's going to give up lap dancers and be true. I just don't want to see Jen get hurt again."

Dick grunts. He's deeply absorbed in the classified reports on the F.B.I. infiltration of a Vegan Community Project and a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest against llama fur. He's ruminating over a naked picture of Pamela Anderson emblazoned with the PETA slogan, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur."

"Porter Goss tells me that Pam was shacking up with Mark McGrath - you know, he used to be with that band, Sugar Ray?" Rummy says. "Listen, Dick, we need to jawbone about this flapdoodle about our stateside spying operation that developed while you were on your whirlwind tour of American torture chambers in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Dick interrupts, "More torture."

"Some pansies are making unwarranted claims that we should have gotten warrants," Rummy continues. "But we can't worry about the Constitution's fine print during war. Besides, it's fun to secretly blow off the super-secret court. Sure, warrants would have been no problem - the court has turned down only five government requests since 1979. Why the dickens shouldn't we go in and eavesdrop on whoever we want? Who says we can't do sneak and peak searches whenever we dadburn please?

"Junior can try to model himself after Reagan, but you can't beat our old boss Nixon when it came to channeling paranoia in a productive way. Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover had it right: dark times call for dark measures. We're thinking too small, really. Let's sic the I.R.S. on Murtha, McCain and Feingold. Let's bug Condi and Lieberman - those back-stabbing sons-of-guns want our jobs. Condi has no clue who she's dealing with, right, Dick? I perfected the black art of infighting before Condi was born. And while we're at it, let's tap Risen's phone. His story in The Times about our wiretaps was an outrageous invasion of our privacy and an assault on our monarchy's - I mean, our executive branch's absolute power. We'll smoke out the rat who leaked that story."

Dick takes a sip of Scotch and nods. "More snooping," he says.

"Karl's new game plan of pretending to admit that we made some mistakes in Iraq seems to be working," Rummy muses. "The Kid's approval ratings are picking up. But I hope Georgie's not falling for that contrition guff he's peddling. We don't want him to go wobbly on us. We have a long way to go in Iraq. The Iraqi security forces are still curled in a fetal position. Oh, by the way, Chalabi called today. He thinks Iran did a better job trucking in stuffed ballot boxes for the Shiites than we did for the Sunnis." He adds slyly, "You'd think we'd be better by now at stealing elections."

"More fraud," Dick rumbles. "More rigged elections."

Dick points at the flat-screen TV over the roaring fireplace. It's time for their favorite Sunday night program.

"It isn't on yet, big guy," Rummy sighs. "The Kid is yakking again to the nation. He's so desperate he's pre-empting 'Desperate Housewives.' The gals won't be on for 20 minutes."

Dick glowers, sinking deep into his leather chair.

"Hey, I've got a great idea!" Rummy grins. "You wanna read a phone transcript of a big cat fight between Teri Hatcher and Nicollette Sheridan? Mueller just sent it over. Hot stuff!"

Dick perks up. Half his mouth inclines, indicating extreme joy. "More Nicollette Sheridan," he nods.