Okay, so I'm working on a new book, and it will include a guide to Masonic sites and other items of interest to Masons and DaVinci Code enthusiasts in Washington DC. I have made a lightening-fast trip to DC to get some last minute photos to add to the book just before the deadline.
And, okay, so there's this cool sculpture that has flummoxed the most dedicated code breakers for years. It's called Kryptos, and it's a piece of ostensibly public sculpture, paid for at no doubt lavish taxpayer expense, sitting on government property. As a taxpayer, interested citizen and curious boob, I wanted to see it in person. After all, people the world over have been trying to decipher its curious message since it was erected in 1988.
And, okay, so it's at CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia. So, I'm driving along the George Washington Parkway this morning, and I see the turnoff clearly marked "CIA." And you thought it was a big secret. In I turn, and roll right past the little brown Park Service sign that says "Private Government Installation. No Photography" and other such boilerplate jazz. Humph. I'm a famous big deal writer, a Freemason and a taxpayer. I just want a shot of the sculpture, and I'll leave. Hell, I'll bet guys like Tom Clancy have a parking pass for this joint. Surely they'll be flattered by my simple request.
Now, I remember touring the FBI HQ in Washington when I was a kid. They showed it off big time to anyone who wanted a look. Tommy guns fired off for school kids. Books of fingerprints being microfilmed. Pinups of Dillinger's bullet-ridden corpse and J. Edgar Hoover beauty shots in the gift shop. I figure the CIA's the same way. Just let me see the pretty sculpture, maybe buy a miniature of it and a "spook" hat in the gift shop, and I'll be on my way.
I drive up to the entrance gate, and ask the stern looking man in the flak jacket if there is a visitor's center. "You have no official business here sir?" Well, no, sez I. Just taking pictures for my book.
BLAM! Up pops a mechanical roadblock from its buried slot in the roadway. Suddenly, I am surrounded by guards, and am ordered into a holding area. I am now a "person of interest." For ten minutes, I am questioned, all details of my driving record, vehicle ownership and undoubtedly checkered credit history are poured over in the guard shack, while other guards surround my van, peering into the windows and looking both nervous and annoyed. There's more than enough firepower in sight to stop a whole bus of Indiana dumbasses with Masonic plates, so I am assuredly not going anywhere. It suddenly begins to dawn on me that I could quite possibly be arrested and tossed into Gitmo for driving thirty feet beyond that little brown sign and asking my stupid question.
An efficient and unamused officer at last returns my driver's license to me, and informs me that I could be heavily fined and arrested for my behavior, something that will certainly happen if I am ever caught on the property again in my natural life.
We live in nervous times, and with good reason. CIA nervousness predated 9/11. In 1993, a Pakistani named Mir Aimal Kansi got out of his car not far from this very same gate and opened fire with an AK47, killing two CIA employees and seriously injuring three other people. Incredibly, he managed to escape and flee the country. It took the FBI four years to track him down in Pakistan and extradite him.
So, I don't blame the officers of the CIA for doing their jobs, and doing them very efficiently. Maybe more prominent signage would save other dopes who show up like I did from making them so nervous. On the other hand, I honestly don't know how many signs I drove past. I don't know what I expected - after all, the damned place is supposed to be a bloody secret!
Yes, go ahead. Say it.
Even the FBI won't let you in anymore.
*sigh* I wonder if the NSA has a gift shop.