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Security Clearance

Behold, on any downtown street corner in the nation's capital -- The Lanyard!

By 7.6.05

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This article appeared in the June issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe, please click here.

Behold, on any downtown street corner in the nation's capital -- The Lanyard!

Familiar to all who work in, or near, government buildings, the Lanyard is a metal or woven necklace that allows an individual to wear five or six identity-security-swipe-card-badge-thingies 'round one's neck, all the better to swipe one's way back into Productivity while dutifully multi-tasking one's head off, using newly freed hands to paw cell phones, BlackBerries, Starbucks cups, and all the other accoutrements of modern, enlightened life.

As these necklaces have proliferated, in tandem with the rise of electronic security checkpoints (keys nowadays seem so... blue collar), the Lanyard has stealthily acquired the cachet of a bona fide status symbol. The strap might announce the exclusive setting in which it was obtained (the G8's SEA ISLAND Summit 2004), or, cooler still, it might not, consisting only of a string of inscrutable, transfixing ball bearings that offer no vital information about the Lanyard Wearer. For maximum effect, the Lanyard will be worn so that the chain or strap itself is visible but the swipe-card-badge-thingies that dangle from it are tucked casually into one's jacket or shirt pocket.

Thus even the most unaccomplished wretch -- some pencil-necked Geek no older than 23, stumbling around with a stupefied look on his face, and savoring the 61-minute escape from his dreary bureaucratic Stalag he calls "lunch" -- why, even such a creature can, if he's wearing the Lanyard in just the right way, suddenly arouse your curiosity. Because there you both are, standing at the corner, waiting for the light to change, and Geek Boy here's got some hidden swipe-card-badge-thingies casually tucked into his shirt pocket -- and you're left to wonder into what Impenetrable Government Fortress, into which Heavily Restricted Vault of Atomic Age Secrets, this Geek, this miserable wretch is permitted, with a mere swipe of his hairy and unattractive hands... access!

You'll never know, of course, and that's just as the Lanyard Wearer wants it; for if, in some perfect world, black-booted agents of the Department of Homeland Security stopped you both right there, and forced Geek Boy to come clean, to spread out his card-badge-thingies for all to see, he would stand utterly unmasked, naked, stripped of his cachet, revealed for what he is: a trafficker not in secrets of X-Files enormity, but in... routing slips... inter-office data transfers... total minutiae... for the Federal Maritime Commission.

It isn't just the government, either; the press corps, too, is bursting with people who would find themselves, anywhere else, 100 percent socially unacceptable. At the State Department's daily press briefing you'll spot them: nudgeniks, otherwise unemployable, who pester the spokesman until he's purple with irritation, the other reporters, too, about -- what? -- Avian flu? WMD? The Middle East? No, the preferred topic might well be… the earth-shattering comments of that esteemed figure, the agriculture minister of Zimbabwe.

Exaggeration? From the January 31 briefing:

QUESTION: The Agriculture Minister of Zimbabwe is saying that the U.S. and other governments are involved in a plot to destabilize the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe. Any comment?
MR. BOUCHER: Not seen that particular comment...

It gets worse (as the ellipses indicate). On March 3, one reporter, clearly in extremis, sought to reclaim the daily briefing at "State" from the humorless nudgemony. A Japanese reporter was carrying on about a beef over beef, a subject, to some, of grave import (puns: geeky!) but not exactly the stuff of headlines, when the aforementioned Mr. Richard Boucher, State's supremely droll spokesman, protested that American beef, embargoed by Japan amid recent Mad Cow scares, was -- quote -- "good."

QUESTION: Richard, did you intend "good" to be synonymous with "tasty" just now?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: Tasty, wholesome, healthy. It's wonderful. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Juicy? Can we get "juicy" on the record?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll get "juicy" on the record, too.

No wonder an identity-security-swipe-card-badge-thingy is also required to leave State -- to escape! At such moments, tout le monde knows it's best to have the identity-security-swipe-card-badge-thingy at the ready, perhaps hanging 'round your neck... but tucked into your shirt. Casually.

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About the Author

James Rosen is a White House and State Department correspondent for Fox News.