Jardine: I spy a coup for our CSU

From the e-mails, voice mails and headlines:

JUST A THOUGHT ... — When CIA Director Leon Panetta gives a commencement address at California State University, Stanislaus, next month, will his speech be classified top secret?

After all, I once knew a person whose description of his former employer seemed an awfully lot like the CIA, though he never used the acronym. He said, "I attended meetings that never happened in buildings that didn't exist, with people who were never born."

No matter. Scoring Panetta is a real coup for the school. Serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton, then as Clinton's chief of staff, and now heading the nation's intelligence agency, you could say he's the polar opposite of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who will speak at the CSU Stanislaus Foundation fund-raiser in June.

Among Panetta's many talents? Great timing.

He stepped down as Clinton's chief of staff in January 1997, a year before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. And he took over as CIA director when the agency was in disarray as President George W. Bush left office. Panetta is credited with reorganizing the CIA's intelligence operations and being extremely aggressive against al-Qaida and the Taliban, while winning the political battles that threatened to engulf the agency in Washington.

MORE SPY-VS.-SPY STUFF — The Secret Service is just as secretive.

In 1998, when I was on assignment in Washington, D.C., and the federal government was simply frozen because of the Lewinsky scandal, I visited with 1991 Davis High grad Nancy Abrahamson.

She worked as an associate producer on "Larry King Live." She invited me to the studio to meet King and to watch that night's show from the green room, where guests await their turn.

Among the guests that night: Secretary of Defense William Cohen. His Secret Service agent came into the green room. Dressed in black and wearing sunglasses even though it was at night and indoors, he wanted to know why I was there. He also gave the third degree to Democratic consultant Bob Squire (now deceased) and William Bennett, a conservative who was President George H.W. Bush's drug czar, who were awaiting their respective eight-minute segments with King.

Then the agent made a mysterious phone call. He began by speaking in English. Then Chinese. Then Spanish, Russian, French, maybe whatever they speak in Senegal, Uzbekistan, Guam and New Jersey, switching every few sentences.

Whatever he said, his secrets were safe with me. I wonder, though, if he was just showing off while ordering a pizza.

SECOND CHANCE — The Latino Community Roundtable will hold another candidates' forum, this one at noon Thursday at the Stanislaus County Economic Development and Workforce Alliance in the city-county building downtown. Candidates will include Assemblywoman Anna Caballero and Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella for the state's 12th Senate District seat; Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson and challenger Rob Jackson, a Turlock police captain; and county Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan and challenger Terry Harwell.

Harwell and Lundrigan were supposed to face off April 28 at El Rematito flea market on Crows Landing Road. But when expected rain forced the event indoors -- they made their decision and informed members and candidates via e-mail more than 24 hours ahead of time -- Harwell didn't show up.

Organizer Maggie Mejia said Harwell told her he hadn't received the e-mail even though she said he was part of the message group she used in scheduling these events. He went to the flea market and later e-mailed her, she said, returning a previous e-mail that included her cell phone number. Lundrigan went to the new venue (the SBC warehouse on Janopaul Lane) and addressed the crowd.

Mejia said they'll give Harwell another chance Thursday to compete for the roundtable's endorsement.

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE — Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueño wants to bring in a facilitator to help council members act like adults during meetings. I suppose with the city manager being accused of repeatedly dropping f-bombs on one of the council members, and most meetings becoming insult wars among the elected, it certainly merits peace talks.

A bit of advice, Virginia: Don't use the Hughson council as your role model.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or