Today's Papers

Siege of State

The Los Angeles Times leads with Boris Yeltsin’s blunt reaction to President Clinton’s criticism of Russia’s Chechnya operation: Don’t forget that Moscow has a vast nuclear arsenal. The Wall Street Journal flags Yeltsin at the top of its front-page news box. The New York Times carries Yeltsin’s remarks inside (as do the other papers), somehow leading instead with the promise made Thursday by Russian officials that refugees who’ve flooded out of Chechnya recently will be able to return to Russian-controlled parts of the region by the end of the year. The paper explains this is intended to signify that Russia is making progress towards stabilizing the Chechen situation. The Washington Post goes with the Army’s newest recruitment lure: offering entry-level soldiers an array of virtually no-cost college-level courses over the Internet leading to an associate’s degree. This unprecedented educational expansion for G.I.s , the WP explains, is a sign of the difficulties the Army is having trying to compete with the booming civilian job market. USA Today leads with a new outside study blaming government and industry for failing to sufficiently ensure the Y2K-compliance of the nation’s drinking water and sewage systems.

The LAT calls Yeltsin’s comments, which came while he was in China to win support for the Chechnya operation, an “outburst,” and compares it to Nikita Kruschev’s “We will bury you.” But the paper depicts both President Clinton and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as trying to de-escalate. The other papers agree on these points with this slight difference: The NYT see Yeltsin’s performance as “apparently calculated.”

The WP lead explains that the Army’s new educational initiative is particularly well suited to Hispanics, who make up 40 percent of those potential recruits who show high military aptitude despite lacking a high-school diploma, and to deployed soldiers, who, it is thought, should be able to keep up with course work via Internet-aided “distance learning” far better than they could via traditional classroom-based coursework. A question the story doesn’t address: Why is this change only being proposed by the Army? Wouldn’t it also help the other branches with their recruitment woes?

USAT, the WP, and LAT front (while the NYT stuffs) the fascinating spy story unfolding in Washington, where the day before yesterday it was announced that a career Russian intelligence officer was sent packing after being caught engaging in an eavesdropping operation against the State Department. The coverage reports that the Russian was, without ever having set foot in the building, communicating with a bug that had been professionally secreted in spaces near Madeleine Albright’s offices–the first ever known penetration of Foggy Bottom. It is reported that some 50-100 sensitive meetings took place there during the bug’s deployment.

The NYT and WP report that the Russian operative was caught with a device hidden in his clothing that turned on a receiver and tape recorder in his car. The LAT quotes one “senior official” who denies that there was a recorder involved, but also others saying there was. The LAT says officials refuse to say whether disinformation was fed to the Russians after the bug was discovered, while the WP says this is precisely what was done.

The LAT points out that the former Soviet Union excelled in this sort of high-tech bugging, and gives a nice history of the known Soviet operations of this sort undertaken against U.S. facilities. The story also quotes former CIA director Robert Gates as saying that 15 years ago the U.S. was concerned about the Soviets’ “ability to read conversations from the vibrations of window panes in Washington.” A question about that: Presumably the window pane technology and U.S. worries about it are classified. So who says private citizen Gates can mouth off about it to the LAT? Today’s Papers guesses that if this statement came out of the mouth of say, Daniel Ellsberg, handcuffs might be involved.