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Is that Graham in a trench coat?

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002


In defending the White House's handling of terrorist information received before the Sept. 11 attacks, Florida Sen. Bob Graham said, "No one should expect the president of the United States nor members of Congress to put on their James Bond uniforms and start becoming CIA case officers."

But Graham, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, kind of did that Friday night. For his 381st workday, Graham spent Friday night as an FBI counterterrorism agent with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Tampa. When asked whether he was going to interrogate someone, Graham said, "They know my limitations."

So Graham was not exactly Elliott Ness, but get this: He actually went out with agents investigating illegal residents who may be a threat to national security. Graham said they went to one home in the Tampa area where the resident had moved, but the agents, along with Graham, interviewed neighbors and got information about the resident's whereabouts.

At a second home, the supervisor decided the circumstances were not right to go in and the agents decided they would return the next day.

Graham also met with officers from the various agencies involved -- the task force consists of personnel from the Tampa police, county Sheriff's Office, U.S. Customs, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Naturalization Service, IRS, U.S. Customs, Postal Inspector's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

He concluded his night by spending time with the cybercrime unit, which is investigating how terrorist supporters use the Internet to scam people and gather money to fund terrorist efforts.

Graham said the Tampa task force has an excellent national reputation in law enforcement circles. I asked FBI Special Agent Brian Kensel what made Tampa's unit stand out, and he said if he told me he would have to kill me.

No, he didn't say that, but he did say: "When you develop information, put things together, develop a critical piece of the puzzle, that doesn't necessarily create a situation you can talk about."

Final analysis: Graham did not get to kick in any doors, did not grill a suspect and did not discover the task force is really an alien fighting unit that wears black suits and dark sunglasses.

But he did consider the night worthwhile.

"It was a good learning experience," Graham said. "I was surprised at the number of issues involved. When people think of terrorism, they think of stopping people from flying planes into a building, but there are a lot of different forms of fighting it."

Graham hopes to take the information he gathered and use it as a guide to developing questions as the House and Senate intelligence committees prepare to hold hearings on a congressional investigation into intelligence failures surrounding Sept. 11.

* * *

Trust me, I love being married and I love having a family, but every now and then I envy those who revel in the single life. No, I'm not jealous of their frequent dating, quiet homes or financial freedoms.

It is the ability to do dumb things and not face repercussions that is the biggest advantage of being single. Due to years of channel-surfing, my mind occasionally short-circuits. If I were single, I could deal with the results of my brain-dead ways in private.

But when you have to tell your wife you did something stupid -- and you only tell her if you absolutely have to -- you immediately begin preparing for daily doses of humility.

After I lost the car keys Saturday, my son said, "Call Mom."

I said, "Think about what you're saying. We don't want to do that."

But call I did after exhausting all other possibilities. She didn't go ballistic. Rather, she quietly smirked and then asked that I hand over the house keys, kind of like when Sheriff Andy used to take away Barney's lone bullet.

She knows that for at least a week, I will be the humble husband who quietly does what he is told and never questions her authority. If I acted this way all the time, she will tell me, I wouldn't do dumb things.

Sometimes, love is a many-splintered thing.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com.

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