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Welcome to Top Secret Washington

Washington D.C. never seems to sleep. 

It’s overrun by tourists, politicians, and diplomats from around the world. While it has a very public side, I’ve been privileged Diana PR Thumbnail phototo be invited into places the average person never gets to see. 

So whether it’s a private play at the Italian Embassy, dinner at the French Ambassador’s home, or a look at the artwork in the highly restricted halls of the Department of Justice, I’d like to show you what is going on behind closed doors in this amazing city of mine. I’ll also be including you in day trips from West Virginia to New York City and taking you on my travels all over the globe — places that have shaped the plots of my books — and letting you share the everyday experiences of my life. 

Will you take the journey with me?

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Saint or Sinner: Why Ryan Lochte is Neither

I’ve run the gamut this week: upset for, mad at, and now, unbelievably, outraged on behalf of Ryan Lochte.

Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show should be ashamed of himself.

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Unless you’ve been on Mars, you’ve by now heard the tale of the robbery that wasn’t, or perhaps sort of was, but in any case was overblown. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte reported that a taxi transporting him and three other fellow gold medalist swimmers was pulled to the side of the road by men impersonating the police. A gun was held to Lochte’s forehead, the men were relieved of money, but no one was injured.

Ryan went home, but when his teammates tried, two were forcibly taken off of their airplane, all detained by police, and made to atone for their sins.

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Is Matt Lauer as able a judge as Solomon?

It turned out that Ryan’s account wasn’t true — or rather, he had neglected several important facts. Reports of him vandalizing a bathroom and leaving a poor gas station owner with huge bills surfaced. These, too, were untrue.

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A gold laurel wreath won by an ancient athlete.

Video now confirms that the swimmers asked the taxi to pull into a gas station because they were in need of a bathroom. When they didn’t find one, drunk and full to brimming, these immature young men relieved themselves in the bushes in the back alley. Lochte made the situation worse by pulling a poster with a thin metal frame off of the wall.

When I heard of the vandalization, I was on the gas station owner’s side. I thought Lochte was a horrible person as well as a liar. But when I found out that the crime was so little — not that he and his teammates should have done it in the first place, I grew indignant.

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Enter Matt Lauer, appointing himself the dubious moral center of NBC– and we all know how pious and free of sin everyone there is. Matt decided to grill Lochte for 20 minutes. Repeatedly Lauer exhorted, “It wasn’t a robbery, was it?” and then several more times more emphatically, “It was a negotiation, wasn’t it? It was a negotiation!”

Well Matt Lauer, when someone takes a gun and points it at you because you pissed in their alley it most certainly is NOT a negotiation! Don’t get me wrong, the four young men were disgusting. I’d be upset if anyone did that on my property. But from what I hear, that method of finding relief is not uncommon in Brazil. Still, there is no excuse for their behavior. Making it worse by pulling down a poster, while a small sin, is still a form of vandalism and deserves no pity.

However, reacting to that by brandishing a gun is extreme and utter lunacy. Imagine anyone in the U.S. doing such a thing?

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When you take a gun and aim it at someone, whether it be a few feet away, or touching their forehead, it is a terrifying experience. In Lochte’s drunken state, possibly even more so. When you force four men to empty their wallets to pay for such a small thing, that is extortion if not robbery. When the Brazilian police pull men off of a plane, that is idiotic.

UPDATE: Take a look at this well-balanced piece from USA Today reporters Taylor Barnes and David Meeks and the accompanying video footage by clicking HERE.

And thanks to these two reporters who are REPORTING, not grand standing, we learn there were two men pointing guns at the swimmers. I’m surprised that gas station didn’t have more to clean up than just urine!

Further, when Matt Lauer then asks Ryan Lochte if it was not indeed his fault for one of his teammates, James Feigen, being charged with false reporting and being forced to donate $11,000 to a local charity before the judge would drop charges, Ryan Lochte was speechless. Lauer went on to postulate that Feigen disavowed being involved because he didn’t want to tattle on Lochte.

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Well, no, Matt Lauer, it was Feigen’s decision to lie, just as it had been Lochte’s. Still, not one of these young men has deserved the harassment, the persecution by you and Al Roker, being humiliated, pulled off of planes, and the like. And further, for you to imply that Lochte deserves to be banned from the next Olympics and to lose his endorsements, is absolutely ridiculous, and cruel.

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Lochte is a wild card, immature, irreverent, flashy, outrageous, and the like. But he also gives the sport a boost, both by being the second most highly decorated swimmer in U.S. history, and also by adding a bit of dash to the lineup. Whether it’s his outrageous star spangled grill, or his bluish-white hair, or whatever silly thing he’s up to, he adds the same sparkle Johnny Weir does to ice skating.

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If we can forgive Michael Phelps, which we do gladly, albeit for a much more serious offense, then Lotche deserves the same chance. And you, Matt Lauer, need to get off of your soap box.

Author’s update: I totally forgot to say that Billy Bush, who did the initial interview and then followed up, was indeed both a fair minded journalist and a gentleman when he tried to temper things on camera. He explained that a scary incident involving a gun had been involved, and though Lochte shouldn’t have over-embellished, it certainly was a traumatic encounter. Kudos to you Billy Bush, I hope to be seeing more of you on TV. 

Tell me what you think by clicking HERE.

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Sneak Peek of the African American History Museum!

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is slated to open on September 24th, 2016, however that didn’t stop Top Secret Washington from getting a behind-the-scenes tour on June 5th, 2016, almost four months early!

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Seeing the museum dusty and draped gave me the opportunity to study it’s architecture and appreciate all that went into it. Judson McIntire, chief architect of this project for the Smithsonian, is rightly proud of this project. Walking around the construction site, seeing the attention to detail, the thought and planning that goes into such a project was amazing. When the crowds come, they might not notice every single aspect, but I was grateful to Jud and his team for everything they have done.

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This project actually started in 1915 when African American vets first raised the issue. In 1929 Herbert Hoover appointed a committee to fund a building. In the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s much discussion and bickering took place — some from other African American museums that thought this building might take some attention away from their already established projects such as the Anacostia Community Museum. In 2001, legislation was re-introduced, and now, finally, fifteen years later, the dream of so many people will soon be a reality.

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Some of the things you might not notice when touring the museum is that the angles of the roofline are at the same degree as the Washington Monument that towers behind it. Please pardon my photos that don’t show this well. The gorgeous lattice brown facade is called a corona — and relates to masks and tribal decorations. The backside of the museum features a deeply shaded porch with a water feature. The messages engraved on the pool are inspiring but the real purpose of the water is to provide cooling to families who need a break and are perhaps eating their lunch in the cool recesses of this feature.

The building is truly a masterpiece. From the inside, the corona cloaks the space in a warm, bronze-colored lacy veil. It mutes the sun, turning our focus internal, a literal and symbolic great divide between what is and what was. It frames specially chosen views as well. Imagine coming down a dark corridor and seeing a postcard-perfect view of one of our nation’s most treasured monuments, framed in latticework. The contrast is so stunning that I, and others in our party, literally gasped. We were drawn to the windows as mindlessly as moths to a lantern — hypnotized by the beauty outside.

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Pictures speak a thousand words, so here are my many, many photos of the museum, including the cloaked airplane from a Tuskegee pilot and Chuck Berry’s cherry red convertible. Also shown is the Poolesville, MD home of the Jones Family who were freed slaves. Interesting fact, the museum was literally built around the train shown below — a Pullman car that was the segregated area for African American’s traveling during the Jim Crowe era. (See the slide show at the end of this post)

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More than anything, this collection, like that of the Holocaust Museum, is vitally important to show where we’ve been so we never forget it. The museum showcases such wonderful positive things, and it makes me proud of the progress we’ve made, but it also reminds me of how much farther we have yet to go.

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Congratulations to the 2016 Golden Heart Romantic Suspense Finalists!

Thank you Sharon Wray for featuring the Golden Heart Suspense finalists — including me!

Kiss and Thrill

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Today is one of my favorite blog post days of the year. It’s the day the Kiss and Thrill authors introduce the 2016 Golden Heart Romantic Suspense finalists. And this year’s RS class includes two previous winners and a double finalist. All of the stories are different with as many twists and turns as a Daphne Du Maurier novel. And they all sound wonderful!

Because I know many of these women personally, the following list is in alphabetical order by author last name.🙂

dianaDiana Belchase is celebrating her third Golden Heart nomination. The first book in her Born to Spy series, The Spy in the Mirrorwon the Golden Heart in 2011. Escape from the Harema sequel to The Spy in the Mirror, is a finalist in this year’s Romantic Suspense Category.

Sent on a cruise ship as bait for a ring of kidnappers…

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Gorgeous pink Cherry blooms (c) Diana Belchase

Remembering John Rehm

On June 23rd, 2014, John Rehm passed away. Though it has been two years, I still think of him often. He was a mentor and friend who died much too young and much too painfully. Please join me in remembering him via this post from back then.

Too many people don’t know who John Rehm was and that’s a great pity. Not that he ever sought the limelight — he was a humble, gracious man who preferred to stay in the shadows and support those who knew how to shine best. He was many things: a D.C. insider, an attorney, an author, a husband and father. He was genius bright with a razor wit and self-deprecating humor. Most of all he was a really good man.

I fell into a teeny sliver of his life, but that sliver will stay with me forever.

One day my husband called me from work. “The employees have been invited to go to the Freer Gallery at lunchtime, would you like to come?” I adore art, so my answer was an immediate yes. I wasn’t an employee, so I figured I’d hang back at the edge of the group and try to blend in. That office was huge, surely there’d be a crowd.

The crowd turned out to be just three people: John, my husband, and myself. I remember him turning toward me with a sparkle in his gentle eyes, not caring whether or not I came from the office, just glad I was there.

This was the first of many lunchtime art sojourns we took with John. On that first trip, he brought us into an enormous room filled with books and scrolls. At first glance, it looked as much modern art does — odd, pretentious — is it really art?

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Xu Bing’s Book From the Sky courtesy of Wenchee

John never lectured to us. Instead, he started asking questions. Through his Socratic method of teaching, we learned Xu Bing, the artist, was a victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. How, at that time, while still in exile, he’d created over one thousand imitation Chinese characters to get the viewer to understand his point — that all the little red books in the world, even when stacked end to end, would never have real meaning. Continue reading “Remembering John Rehm”

Red-shouldered Hawks Leave the Nest!

In this guest post, naturalist and bird expert Cecily Nabors continues her fascinating series on the wildlife in and around Washington, D.C.

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Last weekend when I went to look at the Red-shouldered Hawks’ nest near Bel Pre Elementary School, I saw only one youngster standing in the nest. IMG_1365The second one could have been hunkered down, or dead, or (nicest answer) fledged already. The young hawk I saw then was almost ready to fledge. It looked strong and fully decked out in juvenile plumage.IMG_1366

I apologize for the quality of the photos, as my camera was at full zoom and I had to crop a bit. But as you can see, the young hawk’s chest feathers feature dark streaks on a creamy background. In fact, they’re pretty streaky everywhere. Adult Red-shouldereds have the shoulder patch that gives them their common name, plus a finely barred and streaked reddish chest.

This weekend, the nest was empty, but there was lots of hawk activity . I never saw more than a hurtling body, but…

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How Not to be a Victim: Survival Tips for Women

The theme of this blog is Top Secret Washington because of all the special things I get to do behind the scenes in D.C., but it’s also called this because of my spy series. I love empowered women who can take care of themselves — something I’ve always wanted to be, but don’t always achieve. Part of that takes skills — survival being the dominant skill set we all need, primarily as young women.

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Here are some tips:

  • Don’t walk and talk or text on your cell phone. Pay attention to your surroundings. Same goes for music on earbuds. Don’t get lost in the melody and forget where you are. Paying attention can save your life!
  • Notice if anyone is watching you. Scan the area. Be vigilant.
  • Walk with purpose, carry keys splayed between your fingers as a weapon. Don’t be so overloaded with packages you cannot defend yourself if necessary. If you look like a harder person to deal with, they’ll look elsewhere for an easier target.
  • If someone is near your car, turn around, wait inside the building you just exited until they leave, or ask someone to escort you. This is easier than you think. Most male employees at offices or stores are more than happy to help out.

Continue reading “How Not to be a Victim: Survival Tips for Women”

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Museum Mondays: Woman Eating by Duane Hanson, the Art of Character

This woman is so lifelike, so realistic, it can be debated whether this is art or a mannequin display like you’d see in a shop window. I personally think the work of Duane Hanson (1925-1996) are character studies that could drive a novel.

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This again is the type of work that is easily passed by. Once you get over the fact there is a woman eating in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and realize it’s made of polyester resin and fiberglass, most people laugh and move on.

But take a look at the incredible detail, and the pathos Hanson elicits with his creation. Spend a few minutes with this woman, with her condition, her moment in life, and let her speak to you.  Continue reading “Museum Mondays: Woman Eating by Duane Hanson, the Art of Character”