Today's Papers

Germ Squirm

The New York Times lead discloses that three years ago the CIA began sending teams of American officers to northern Afghanistan in an attempt to persuade anti-Taliban resistance fighters to assassinate, or at least capture, Osama Bin Laden. The Los Angeles Times’ top story online reports on fears within the U.S. intelligence community that Bin Laden has already plotted a counterattack to any forthcoming American military action. The Washington Post leads with a series of disparate portraits documenting the grief and guilt felt the day after by those personally affected by the World Trade Center tragedy.

The NYT’s lead reports that, under Clinton, CIA officers secretly traveled to northern Afghanistan to meet with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the military leader of the largest opposition group to the Taliban. Massoud, who was assassinated three weeks ago, was apparently offered large sums of money to go after Bin Laden, though it’s not clear what sort of an effort, if any, his army really made. The article also reveals that the Clinton administration considered initiating a clandestine operation to steal millions of dollars from Bin Laden’s terrorist network by siphoning it out of international financial systems. Unfortunately, no explanation is given as to how this might have been done.

Intelligence experts reason that, given the level of planning put into the WTC attacks, it seems likely that Bin Laden has calculated a few moves ahead and has already planned for a U.S. counterattack–perhaps with some counterretaliation waiting to be unleashed. The LAT quotes an anonymous Bush administration official saying there is “no doubt” that Bin Laden has already plotted some response to America’s anticipated military reprisals. To cope with any secondary attacks, a number of federal law enforcement agents are not participating in the current terrorism investigation and are instead being held in reserve to handle any new investigations that might arise.

According to a piece fronted by the LAT, America’s visa-granting and immigration systems represent a major vulnerability in our war on terrorism. Not only were the Sept. 11 hijackers able to slip into the U.S. without raising any eyebrows, some were also able to leave the country and return despite expired visas. Part of the problem, says the LAT, is that our visa and immigration procedures have until now been primarily geared toward keeping out illegal workers, not terrorists.  

The NYT off-leads with a piece on America’s vulnerability to bioterrorism. Health experts and government officials warn that our hospitals are ill-equipped, and our doctors ill-trained, to deal with germ warfare. And what’s worse, the different branches of our federal bureaucracy aren’t on the same page when it comes to bioterrorism. Officials at the CDC and the FBI can’t even agree as to which germs constitute the greatest menace. But then, neither can the experts cited by the WP in its own piece on biological and chemical threats. It concludes that there’s no clear front-runner when it comes to guessing which germ or toxin terrorists are most likely to try to release. Both papers note that the U.S. does not have enough smallpox vaccine on hand to combat a serious epidemic.

The WP off-lead establishes that the hijackers “worked with little outside help as a single, integrated group, composed of identifiable leaders and shadowy foot soldiers who prepared for their final day in a tight choreography over 18 months.” This description contrasts with earlier accounts that the operation was carried out by four compartmentalized terrorist cells. Another above-the-fold WP piece says the U.S. is receiving conflicting intelligence about Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Though some reports say he’s fled Afghanistan for Somalia, Chechnya, or Pakistan, the CIA remains convinced he’s holed up somewhere in the Afghan mountains. After all, if Bin Laden has left Afghanistan, and the Taliban knows that, wouldn’t they want to spare themselves by telling us? 

A NYT front-pager paints a gloomy picture of the U.S. economy in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Sales are falling in nearly every sector, spending is way down, investment in new equipment has frozen, and consumer confidence, which initially rose after the attacks, has nose-dived.

The WP fronts a photograph from yesterday’s anti-war protests in downtown Washington, but reefers the article to the front page of its “Metro” section. Though 100,000 people were initially expected to descend on D.C. to protest globalization and the annual IMF and World Bank meetings, the Sept. 11 attacks and the cancellation of the meetings changed the tone of the protests to “a largely peaceful display against military retaliation.” The NYT and LAT both stuff their coverage of the protests and disagree widely over the number of protestors present. In its skimpy six-paragraph article, the NYT insists there were only “a few hundred protestors.” Police put the number at about 7,000; the LAT puts the number at about 10,000; and event organizers put it at around 25,000.

Both the NYT and the WP go below the fold with articles exploring the other branches of the Bin Laden family tree. The NYT piece describes how, following the attacks, 24 members of the Bin Laden clan were evacuated from the U.S. under FBI supervision out of fear that they’d be subject to violent reprisals. The WP zeroes in on the startling contrast between Osama and the well-connected, Western-educated international capitalists to whom he’s related. His jet-setting older brother, for example, attended an exclusive boarding school in England and owned a lodge overlooking the Colorado River. A Boston University professor puts Osama’s rebelliousness in perspective: “It is like someone called Rockefeller becoming a communist.”