So, I'm getting gas the other day and talking on my cell phone. Just as I approached the $10 mark a lady customer, probably about my mother's age, warns me of the possibility of a cell-phone triggered explosion.
"It's been all over the news," she said, which shocked me almost as much as her well-intended warning. I hadn't heard anything about cell-phones sparking gas station explosions and I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe news.
Being in a position of perfect ignorance on the matter, I stopped pumping the gas and walked several feet away from my car to wrap up the conversation I was having on this deadly detonation device that moonlights as a portable telephone.
That's when the manager of the gas station literally comes running toward me, ordering me get off my cell phone. I told him I was getting ready to do just that. Then he scolded me saying I should have known better because, like the woman said, "it's been all over the news."
When I went inside to pay for my petrol I suggested to the manager that if cell-phones are so deadly at gas stations, why not post a sign warning ignorant patrons like myself. Even McDonald's warns its customers about the temperature of their coffee.
But the manager insisted that "everyone" knows that cell-phones can combust the vapors at gas stations. My skeptical mind wouldn't quit. So I turned to the five people in line with me, asking each one if they ever heard anything about this.
Four of them said no. The one exception was a guy who looked like he was some kind of construction laborer. He said he had heard about the alleged danger but, he added, "I think it's just a rumor - a wives tale, bro."
Speaking of something being "all over the news," it appears the cell-phone ignition theory has more substance than the White House explanation for bad WMD intelligence.
Trying to beat around the bush in the mounting intelligence scandal, the Bush administration claims that statements about Iraq's alleged attempts to obtain unenriched uranium from Africa may actually be factually correct because Tony Blair says British intelligence has "other sources" besides the forged Niger documents.
They can't share those sources with American intelligence officials or the International Atomic Energy Agency. But rest assured, they exist, they say.
Former CIA analyst Mel Goodman, professor of international security at the National War College and a senior fellow for intelligence reform at the Center for International Policy, points out the credibility gaps in the Bush-Blair show.
"During my 24 years with the CIA, I often worked with the Joint Intelligence Committee, which is Britain's senior intelligence institution. I have never once heard a British official say that we have this important document but we can't show it to you," he says.
"The rule is that truly sensitive stuff which cannot be shared is not talked about at all. If it can come up, it can be shared. Otherwise, the CIA would not - should not - take an unsourced, unseen claim seriously."
"This is especially true for this particular claim because the uranium market is a heavily monitored international market. It's nearly impossible for anyone to obtain a sizable quantity without some information being gleaned."
Besides, Goodman says, the Niger documents shouldn't distract us from all the other bogus claims that were floating around, i.e., the never-proven Iraq-Al Qaeda links, the massive stockpiles of WMD and the biological and chemical weapons attack that could be launched within 45 minutes - something President Bush repeated on September 26, 2002, citing a British source.
"The main question was: Is Iraq an imminent threat? Based on the intelligence, the answer seems to have been no."
At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if the Bush administration issued an executive order banning cell-phone use at gas stations for "national security reasons." Imagine if dozens of "terrorist cells" dispersed to strategically located gas stations all over America and started using their free minutes calling up all of their suicide-bombing friends.
Just to play it safe, be on the look-out for any suspicious-looking cell-phone users at gas stations. And tell your friends to do the same. When they ask why, just say: "It's all over the news" and that should be enough to persuade them of the imminent threat at hand.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.
Copyright © 2003 Cape Cod Times