Deep Throat II - A Washington Copying Shop
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Forget meeting in darkened parking garages, empty parks or dimly-lit bars - the best place to pick up secret government documents is now a downtown copying shop.
The White House has labored mightily over the past several months to keep the lid on the president’s health care reform package. But now, in a print shop just two blocks away, copies of the once-confidential document are selling for $25.97.
″That includes tax,″ said Peter Liakos, who runs Frank’s Express Printing and Copy Center. ″And I can do this cheaper and faster than the government. I’m just a printer, but I got a neat little cottage industry going here, I guess.″
It seems that last Friday, a breathless lobbyist came into Liakos’ National Press Building shop and asked for six copies of a bulky, dull-looking document.
After settling on a price, Liakos started smelling real money as soon as he read the first page, which carried the ominous message: ″Working group draft. Privileged and confidential.″
Soon, the keys to the health reform kingdom were for sale.
″I made six copies, and I kept one for myself,″ Liakos said. ″I copied that, and I’ve been selling them ever since.″
He’s unloaded about 200 so far, mostly to lobbyists and reporters unable to secure the report from a more traditional source, like a government official who, technically, anyway, risks his job in turning it over.
″Everyone’s breathless for this, whether they’re lobbyists or newspaper people,″ Liakos said. ″Word seems to be spreading among them.″
Liakos’ business has been a fixture since 1946 in a building that houses dozens of newspaper bureaus covering the capital. But since he got his hands on Vice President Al Gore’s ″Reinventing Government″ report last week, he’s increased his visibility.
At the same time he was selling Gore’s report, Liakos plastered the press building with fliers entitled ″Hot, Hot, Hot 3/8″ to tout his bootleg copies of the health care document.
And can future Bob Woodwards count on cutting out those expensive source lunches and inconvenient weekend meetings that are staples of the quest for The Big Scoop?
″I’d be glad to help them,″ Liakos said. ″If I could pay someone to leak me information, great. I wouldn’t deal with anything on national security - I feel strongly about that - but other stuff, fine.″
Liakos has been selling copies of Gore’s report, which targets waste, fraud and abuse, for $11.95. It’s available from the government’s printing office for $14.
″That just proved what Gore said - that government is inefficient,″ Liakos boasted.
He even claims that three different government employees, unable to get copies through conventional means, called him in.
How did he know they worked for Uncle Sam?
″They tried to use their government credit card,″ Liakos said. ″But I don’t take MasterCard or Visa. Maybe I should, though, so I could do business with the government.″
His peppiness gave way to concern at this point, however.
″They probably never will give me any work now,″ he said.
But maybe he should be more optimistic.
″Ah, American ingenuity,″ said Carla Craot, a spokeswoman for the Government Printing Office, which is selling the Gore report. ″It’s out there in the public domain, and it’s whatever the market will bear. It’s totally legal and proper.″
And until Monday, anyway, Liakos has clear sailing. Craot says the GPO is out of the Gore report until then.