Four Seasons Hotel manager Dirk Burghartz had a big smile on his face Wednesday night, and for good reason: His biggest party rooms were rocking. Upstairs, in Seasons, the French and their American friends partied extravagantly, paying $1,000 a person for a five-course dinner that started with flutes of Louis Roederer Cristal at the opening reception, followed by another 14 stellar vintage wines and a cognac. Downstairs in the packed ballroom, representatives from the defense and intelligence industries honored young achievers and heard warnings about the real world, battling cyber threats in and out of the US. They, too, ate and drank well, beginning with a boisterous two-hour cocktail reception.
The French dinner, which went on ’til close to midnight, was to raise money for the French-American Cultural Foundation, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary. The dinner was hosted both by the foundation’s president, Leonard Silverstein, and the French ambassador, François Delattre, who greeted the hundred or so guests as they arrived and later made welcoming remarks. Its theme was “cultural icons,” and they included the Hotel George V in Paris—which is managed by the Four Seasons and whose executive chef and staffers flew to DC to prepare the dinner—as well as Air France, Baccarat, and the producers of some of France’s greatest wines.
Delattre put it this way: “The Bordeaux wines you are tasting tonight . . . come from estates that have no fewer than 46 centuries of combined history. Much of that storied past involves America and luminaries such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.”
So many wine glasses crowded onto the gold-silk-covered tables that there was just enough room left for the lacquered plates. What was poured into the glasses included Grand Crus from Margaux, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julian, Pauillac, and Haut-Médoc. The pairing menu offered chilled oysters with caviar, duck foie gras, steamed Maine lobster, roasted lamb, a cheese course, and a variation on a tarte Tatin for dessert. There was also a silent auction offering items such as a 2001 Royal Imperiale Château Mouton Rothschild, on which someone placed a starting bid of $4,500, jeroboams (double magnums) of other world-class wines, and a collection of French coffee table books.
The flower arrangements, in hues of blue and purple, were created by the George V florist, who also flew from France for the occasion. The swag bag bulged with French toiletries and luxury-brand gifts.
There were no floral arrangements on the tables at the fourth annual Intelligence and National Security Alliance gala, where tickets ran $195 for members and $275 for nonmembers. One guest speculated the reason for the lack of flowers was simple: Intelligence operatives and contractors might suspect the flower arrangements were bugged. The meal, however, was deluxe: a hearty salad of mixed autumn greens with nuts, dried fruit, and goat cheese; an entrée of tenderloin and grilled scallops and shrimp; and a dessert of ice cream, mousse, and chocolate toffee.
For all the flourishes at the INSA dinner, the message was serious and, for some, personal. The audience included staff and operatives from the CIA, the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, and Treasury, Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Security Agency, and the intelligence units of all the branches of the military, plus analysts, scientists, and scholars who give them assistance. The main speaker, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, decided to be candid. Before he began his prepared remarks—“approved by the public affairs department,” he said—he wanted to talk about the NSA, which has been under extreme scrutiny since the Edward Snowden scandal erupted. “I want to give my support to the NSA,” he said. “They have some amazing people there. There is not a combat veteran who has not benefited from their work.”
He also wanted to talk about what he thinks is a prime security risk, the cyber threat. “Information technology is one of our military’s most important enablers,” he said. “It allows our military forces the flexibility to act across the entire operational spectrum. While we grow ever more worried about the threats to the infrastructure in our increasingly wired society, DIA is increasingly focused on the threats that can degrade our military capabilities.” He said “militarized cyber weapons” are the “newest tools of cyber warfare, and we need to better understand the doctrine and intent of our cyber foes in order to manage the risk that they pose.” Flynn said, “that is the reality of the future that we face.”
The honorees, all young people who have tackled threat issues in their fields, were Dr. Amber Aiken of the US Army National Ground Intelligence Center, Lieutenant Colonel Ian McCulloh of US Army Central Command, Trey Smith of the Central Intelligence Agency (fun detail: in the dinner program instead of his photo there was only the CIA logo), Dr. Anton Pfeiffer of Northrop Grumman, Gunnery Sergeant James Brenneis of the US Marine Corps, and Lindsay Hovis of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Joseph De Trani, INSA’s president, called the group of award winners “hard-working, unsung heroes.” He said they and their colleagues “do outstanding work to keep our nation safe, and I can’t say enough about that.”
Just like the French dinner upstairs, the downstairs dinner also ran late. So much to say, so much good food to eat and fine wine to drink. Bottom line: a good night for the Four Seasons.