Today's Papers

Y2K Bombshell

USA Today

’s lead is that the Pentagon office responsible for the safety and security of the U.S. nuclear stockpile falsified reports certifying its ability to deal with Y2K problems. The Washington Post goes with the finding of American experts that Russia’s economic crisis has left its stocks of uranium and plutonium increasingly vulnerable to theft and diversion. The New York Times leads with word that because most states are behind schedule in their attempts to eliminate Y2K problems from their computer systems, it’s likely that some people receiving welfare and other anti-poverty benefits will have their payments and/or services interrupted. The Los Angeles Times leads with the goings-on at the China/Japan summit in Tokyo (which is also fronted by the WP, and carried inside at the NYT), where leaders of the two countries agreed to deeper economic, environmental, and social ties, but haggled over the form and wording of Japan’s official apology for the brutal acts it committed against China during World War II.

USAT says the DOD Inspector General concluded that despite its claims to the contrary, the Pentagon’s “Special Weapons Agency” never performed the required tests on three of its five essential computer systems. Also, it’s revealed that overall the Pentagon got a “D-minus” grade for its Y2K efforts from a House oversight committee. The paper quotes the DOD Y2K czar saying nevertheless that “there’s very little real mischief going on here.”

The Post lead quotes an American nuclear security expert saying that the Russian economy is the world’s greatest proliferation threat–since the ruble was devalued last summer, the government has slashed the salaries of nuclear plant workers and guards, which means not only fewer people protecting the nukes but also more people prone to the temptations of selling them. Several other authorities, including a Clinton administration policy maker, agreed. But the nukemeisters on the other side display to the Post the same lack of alarm USAT finds at the Pentagon: “I am not particularly worried,” says Russia’s atomic energy minister.

The NYT lead reports that according to the General Accounting Office, only one-third of the 421 computer systems used nationwide for the major health, welfare and nutrition benefit programs are ready for the year 2000. The piece goes on to quote a White House official with Y2K responsibilities complaining that the problem is wrongly viewed as merely an information technology issue, and a California official who warns, “If social services are disrupted, you’ll have more than computer problems. You could have civil disturbances…”

The LAT lead says that the Japanese delegation finally issued an unsigned document that refers to some of Japan’s prior expressions of remorse about China, but stops short of actually apologizing. But the document does contain one breakthrough: the first official Japanese reference to the “invasion” of China. The paper explains why Japan is hesitant to go further than this: it fears Chinese demands for compensatory damages.

Yesterday’s LAT front reported that Exxon and Mobil were in serious merger talks (a story that today runs on the front at the NYT and USAT), and today, the LAT’s front says most energy experts conclude that such a merger would be good for oil and gas production worldwide, thus benefiting consumers. The resulting company would have an increased capability to develop new oil deposits. A Wall Street Journal front-page feature er, refines this point, saying that Mobil brings with it a far more aggressive approach to exploration.

The WP reports that after a long fallow period, the CIA is recruiting again. The Agency has narrowed its focus to 66 colleges and universities with which it either has or intends to develop, close ties. The list includes, says the Post, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Cornell, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Howard, Grambling, Brigham Young, Texas A&M, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Stanford and Berkeley. (What happened to those traditional spook stomping grounds, Yale and Princeton?)

That USAT story about Y2K and nuclear weapons control includes the definitive Washingtonthink quotation. Despite the revelations, the co-chairman of the Senate Y2K committee definitely sees a glass half full: “There aren’t as many people lying to us as there used to be.”