Since we began our round-the-clock, if-it-moves-blog-it coverage of the Cynthia McKinney cop-punching scandal, we've been getting the same question from our readers: Do you mean to tell me the security of our nation's capitol depends on a system of dinky lapel pins?
The short answer: Yes. In an era of retinal scanning, five-fingerprint ID, facial recognition technology and all the rest, anyone wearing a dinky lapel pin can breeze past guards within the Capitol complex.
Hardly able to believe it ourselves, we called the House Sergeant at Arms' office. They're the ones who control the pin operation. We got an aide on the line who wouldn't be named -- the Sergeant forbids the staff from speaking with the press -- but who offered to help. Here's what we learned:
The pins are just that -- pins. They have no microchip, no tracking device, no RFID, nada.
Here's how they outwit the terrorists: They change the pin design every two years. (The pin apparently sports a sufficiently complicated design that it takes at least two years to replicate it. We assume.)
Possible security gap: When members leave mid-session -- Tom DeLay, ahem -- he or she is permitted to keep the current pin. (What if they sell it on eBay to help cover the costs of their legal defense?)
By our estimates, that makes the Capitol slightly less secure than your local airport, but more secure than state secrets kept in Dick Cheney's office, at least if they make him look good.