Today's Papers

It’s OK, Don’t Go Ballistic

The New York Times leads for the second day in a row with an exclusive on the proliferation of missile technology. U.S. intelligence shows that rouge China has been helping rogue Pakistan acquire long-range missiles. This week, the Clinton administration will dispatch a team of negotiators to Beijing. The Washington Post picks up a study commissioned by the National Parks Service finding that D.C. monuments are vulnerable to terrorism. The report proposes a one-time $3 million solution to beef up security at eight of the monuments examined. The Los Angeles Times leads with a story on the other two fronts: After a flimsy, closed-door trial, an Iranian court convicts 10 Jewish and two Muslim men of spying for Israel.

The NYT lead is a wrestling match of sorts between two of the Clinton administration’s pet issues: trade with China and missile proliferation, played out in the drive for a national missile defense (despite the treaty, ho-hum, we signed outlawing them). All along, China has helped Pakistan beef up its forces; Clinton passed up an opportunity to slap China’s wrists in May 1996, when the latter was discovered to have sold Pakistan equipment for its nuclear program. Sino-U.S. talks on restricting exports of nuclear weapons technology were suspended last year after the U.S. accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Meanwhile, the bill permanently normalizing trade relations (see below) with China awaits new scrutiny and a call for export restrictions in the Senate. The jump carries the story’s real intrigue. The first full paragraph on Page 7 reads: “Moreover, the administration fears that in order to win passage of the trade bill, it may have to accept a bill constraining China’s exports of missile technology.” Clinton’s theory, the paper says, is that China will stop horsing around with Pakistan once its markets have opened and leaders there learn how good nations behave.

Western observers had pegged to the Iranian espionage case hopes that the nation’s conservative judiciary might relax a bit. Indeed it has–the defendants could have been executed. Nonetheless, the trial outraged people inside and outside Iran. The suspects were kept in jail for over a year before the trial, forced to confess, and denied lawyers until just before the trial began in April. The LAT points out that Iranian law demands evidence to back up confessions, but none was provided. Before the arrests, the accused worked as shopkeepers, teachers, and a rabbi; now they face sentences ranging from four to 13 years in prison.

The LAT fronts a poll of Mexican voters conducted by a Mexico City daily. Twenty-five percent of voters expect fraud in today’s presidential election and 60 percent foresee conflict afterward. Opposition candidate Vicente Fox said he wouldn’t believe a victory by the PRI’s Francisco Labastida unless it surpasses 10 percentage points, although they have been tied in the polls. The election is Mexico’s first to have an independent group monitor fairness, and experts do not expect fraud.

The D.C. counterterrorism study, conducted by Booz-Allen & Hamilton, finds that the U.S. Park Police are understaffed and underfunded, but does not evaluate other law enforcement organizations responsible for security, such as the FBI and Secret Service. Among the practices of monument employees seen as creating an opportunity for terrorists: leaving doors to memorials unlocked, duplicating keys, and communicating on 20-year-old equipment.

The Post’s David Ignatius poses a question only the rare journalist need ask: Will writing a story compromise “national security”? Ignatius describes the outrage Bill Gertz’s Washington Times reports have had on Pentagon intelligence officials. Gertz writes about weapons proliferation and defense intelligence, consistently revealing both sensitive information and the United States’ means of gathering it. Ignatius does not supply an answer, which is disappointing, but offers Gertz’s.

Last week, the Pentagonese phrase for nations that are developing advanced weapons and have conflicting interests with the United States was changed from “rogue state” to “state of concern.” The papers are trying to find their footing. No one wants to just switch terms–seems too obsequious. Yet editors must feel a need to acknowledge or hide from it. The NYT writes in its lead that China, the White House says, has not sold nuclear or chemical weapons to nations “that the United States considers a strategic concern.” Subtle. Makes it sound neutral, as if nothing had happened. The Post succumbs to the full awkwardness: “The United States has portrayed Iran as a terrorism supporter and a ‘rogue state’–more recently a ‘state of concern.’ ” Seems bumpier than the recent glide from “most favored nation” trading status to “permanent normal trade relations.”

The Post and NYT take time to rib American college students for collectively flunking U.S. history. David Broder summarizes a survey released last week in which 556 seniors at 55 top universities were asked 34 high-school level questions about American history. Sixty-five percent failed. The average score was 53 percent, and just one student answered all correctly. Broder reports that a resolution was introduced in Congress stating that legislators are shocked (shocked!) to learn that so few are learning. The Times reproduces the exam in its “Week in Review” section (print only). A doodler in the Times art department subtly pokes fun at modern students’ values. The test is decorated with marks of a test-taker’s frustration: the word “peace” is scrawled in a margin of the test, below an incomplete “peace” symbol–the Mercedes logo.