TWO YEARS AGO, LE MEMORIAL DE CAEN INVITED ME TO DEBATE RICHARD PERLE on the conduct and direction of U.S. foreign policy at a star-studded event attended by about 4,000 people. The entire meeting was terrific, and on another day I will share some of the juicier moments of the exchange.
However, today is my birthday and I want to keep today’s commentary somewhat festive.
One of the other speakers at this assembly in Caen, France was former Polish President Lech Walesa, with whom I had a two hour lunch discussion via a very busy interpreter. Walesa didn’t need much prompting to share his views on anything, but at some point, I needed to ask him something that might prove worth his attention.
So, I asked him who among the many U.S. presidents he met did he like and appreciate the most. He paused and went silent for quite a long time and then pounced on this question, replying that as he thought about it, he was of a mixed mind.
Walesa liked Ronald Reagan the best. He trusted Reagan; they joked a lot and traded bad jokes. He thought George H.W. Bush honorable but less compelling than Reagan. But then his face crinkled up and said that Bill Clinton used to make him crazy, making him wait forever in a holding room. He said that Clinton wouldn’t waste the time meeting until all of the media and camera crews were in the room, and then as soon as the cameras were rolling, Clinton came alive and the show began. Clinton taught Walesa that what really mattered when they met and pushed big issues was how the world was seeing the meeting — and that depended on the performances before the camera.
Walesa said that though Clinton could be frustrating, he learned the most from him, particularly about the politics of communication.
This is all leading somewhere. Somehow, and I am not sure how, I have been receiving internal emails from Department of Homeland Security staff that I don’t think I should have received. Clearly, after this posting, I’m going to be cut off. I’ve called a lawyer and don’t think I can be tossed in jail for posting what I am about to share with you.
Besides, what I am going to post is a cool thing to know — rather than something devious or dark. And frankly, if I were helping to run one of the units at the Department of Homeland Security, I’d be thinking about movie and television branding too.
To cut to the chase, various officials at Customs & Border Protection at the Department of Homeland Security are worried that Heather Locklear and NBC’s new show (scheduled to premiere on September 13th), LAX, will feature border control authorities in the wrong uniforms with the wrong patches, and so on.
Does anyone think that the premiere date coming just two days after 9/11 is just coincidental?
NBC’s promo blurb for the show reads:
Television favorites Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood are teamed as intense rivals in this dramatic series centered in a world unto itself: a major international airport. Security breaches, terrorist threats, illegal immigrants, missing children, drug busts — when it comes to stories to tell, well, the sky’s the limit. Each week will feature compelling dramas, from chance encounters to surprise reunions to the ongoing power struggles and romantic misadventures between the people who keep LAX running smoothly.
Clearly, lots of intense homeland security action and terrorist tension are planned each week if the show makes the cut — which is all a great opportunity for DHS Customs and Border Protection personnel to get some good branding and air time on commercial television.
Again, nothing cosmic follows in these three emails — and reportedly, the show’s producers have promised everything under the sun (short of compromising artistic license) to make sure that DHS/CBP is happy with the image of CBP officers generated in the show.
I have censored certain names to protect the innocent and those who may have inadvertently sent this to me. Email number one reads:
Subject: ‘LAX’ – NBC series
Following up on the XXX’s (title removed) question on how CBP will be identified, at this time it’s “U.S. Customs & Immigration.”
The producer has pledged as accurate a depiction of CBP as possible while not compromising dramatic license but NBC’s legal department will not allow “U.S. Customs & Border Protection,” identical looking patches (they’re going to use patches similar to those in ‘The Terminal’), badges, etc.
Concerning our uniforms, in the first four episodes uniforms will be gray – future episodes they’ll be CBP dark blue.
The producer suggests CBP HQ contact NBC’s counsel to agree, in writing, that ‘LAX’ can use our agency’s title in the program.
XXX (initials removed)

Email number two follows:
We don’t want to endorse the show. we want the pubic, however, to know that we are the unified border agency for the U.S. We need to be careful here.
XXX (name removed),
Please advise on any “landmines” here re our conversation with the show.

The final email I am probably going to receive on this reads:
I think it is extremely important that we work with them to get our agency right. I got a strong feeling that they will work with us if we are cooperative…anyway..branding a new agency is difficult enough without having a television show watched by millions as unbranding us by calling us something different and making us look different..xxx (name removed)
This clearly isn’t a major national security item, but I think it does provide some insight into the marketing concerns and priorities of evolving government agencies which know that they will be depicted in entertainment shows.
Heather Locklear assures that this will get some attention.
And who knows — maybe some of the folks on the email list I have will end up advising the show like former Clinton White House National Economic Advisor Gene Sperling does for The West Wing.
— Steve Clemons