WASHINGTON – What's the biggest threat to U.S. forces in Iraq? If you ask New York Rep. Gary Ackerman, it might be a terrorist "platoon of lesbians."
The tongue-in-cheek description was a roundabout way for the Democrat to say he believed the State Department might be able to save a few bucks by hiring some of the military linguists fired under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy instead of hiring and training new linguists.
During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the State Department budget, Ackerman told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice he was "intrigued" that she spent so much time in her testimony talking about "the foreign language deficit" and how much the government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers.
Then the conversation turned to the military's policy on gays.
"It seems that the Defense Department has a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy when it comes to homosexuals. You don't have such a prohibition in your agency, do you?" Ackerman asked.
"No, we do not," Rice said.
"Good for you. Well, it seems that the military has gone around and fired a whole bunch of people who speak foreign languages — Farsi and Arabic, etc.," Ackerman said, adding that after much money and time were spent to train the linguists and after they passed their security tests, "many of them told on themselves and were fired."
"For some reason, the military seems more afraid of gay people than they are against terrorists, but they're very brave with the terrorists. ... If the terrorists ever got a hold of this information, they'd get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad," Ackerman said, receiving some chuckles from the audience.
Additional laughs came when Ackerman asked Rice if her department could take on some of the linguists.
"Can we marry up those two — or maybe that's the wrong word — can we have some kind of union of those two issues?" Ackerman asked.
Rice dodged the subject of homosexual linguists, but answered with a grin.
"Congressman Ackerman, I'm not aware of the availability of people, but I certainly will look [at] what we are doing right now," Rice said.
She said her department has quadrupled staff in "critical languages areas," but would like to train linguists at higher levels.
Ackerman tried one more time: "But maybe you might find some of those competent people among those who are recently unemployed."
"We'll look at it," Rice said.
Ackerman's comments were lauded by the gay and lesbian rights organization Human Rights Campaign, whose spokesman said Ackerman was clearly lampooning the military's unjust policy toward gays.
''It is clear that the congressman was underscoring the ridiculousness of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, and how it's hurting our efforts to fight the War on Terror," said spokesman Luis Vizcaino.
"Excluding qualified translators simply because they are gay or lesbian is a disservice to our nation and a threat to our security," he added.
Ackerman has a history of colorful comments and quips. When his congressional district was reshaped some years ago, he said the resulting district line resembled the trajectory of the bullet that struck President Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally.
Rice too is no stranger to being baited during congressional hearings. Last month, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., brought up Rice's single status during a hearing on the Iraq war policy. Rice later said she was confused by the line of questioning.
FOX News' James Rosen and Greg Simmons contributed to this report.