Today's Papers

Kicking Some Assets

The papers are dominated by the latest developments in the U.S. anti-terror campaign: 1) President Bush’s announcement Monday directing all U.S. banks to freeze any assets they’re holding belonging to any of 27 individuals or organizations associated with Osama Bin Laden. This was an expansion of a similar Clinton administration directive, but there was also something completely new: Bush advised foreign banks that if they don’t do likewise with Bin Laden-related assets and don’t cooperate with U.S. investigators, the U.S. will freeze those banks’ U.S. assets as well. 2) The Bush administration seemed to back off the Sunday assertion made by Colin Powell–and given wide play by the papers Monday–that it would provide public proof that Bin Laden was behind the WTC and Pentagon attacks. Both Bush and Powell said yesterday that since most of the evidence against Bin Laden is classified, it will not be disclosed. 3) Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country will be part of the emerging U.S.-led counterterrorism coalition, sharing intelligence with the U.S., providing weapons to the Afghan anti-Taliban forces, and even participating in search and rescue missions inside Afghanistan. Putin also said he would not object if Russia’s Central Asian allies made bases available to U.S. military airplanes. Apparently, Russian troops will not be involved. 4) A TV station in Qatar broadcast a statement it said it received from Bin Laden that urged Muslims to “deter with all their capabilities the American crusaders from invading Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

The New York Times fronts yesterday’s surge in the stock market, and the WSJ reefers it on the top of its front-page business news box. Elsewhere, it’s inside.

The papers make it clear that freezing Bin Laden assets in the U.S. won’t by itself accomplish that much, mainly because he mostly keeps his money elsewhere, but that putting pressure on other banks worldwide could. The NYT has the most on some possible problems with this latter strategy: One obstacle could be local bank confidentiality laws. Also, the relatively small amounts of money Bin Laden operations seem to cost are hard to track around the globe. For instance, notes the Times, the 1993 WTC bombing is estimated to have cost but $20,000, with the Sept. 11 attacks probably coming in at around $200,000.

The Washington Post notes that the freeze list does not include Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad, pointing out that although these three are frequently denounced by the U.S., they “receive support from countries that are seen as potential members of the coalition Bush is trying to build.”

The Wall Street Journal says that according to one unnamed senior U.S. official, the Bush administration plans in the near future to add 90 more alleged Bin Laden-related entities to its freeze list and that some of these will be charities overseen by “high-profile foreign individuals.”

Both the WP and Los Angeles Times front Attorney General John Ashcroft’s revelation yesterday that the federal investigation into the attacks has a much wider scope than previously thought. More than 350 people have been detained thus far (with some already released), and agents are looking for another 400. The LAT suggests that the detainees and those still sought are likely to be virtually all of Middle Eastern heritage. Both stories report that according to federal court records, the first person publicly charged in connection with the attacks is a Virginia man who (probably in ignorance of the hijack plan) allegedly helped five of the suspected hijackers illegally obtain false driver’s licenses. The Post story has a government official confirming that box-cutters have been found aboard four other planes that were in the flight system the day of the attacks. The NYT fronter on the investigation describes two camps among law enforcement officials: a) The attacks were so intricately timed that they required help from accomplices on the ground; and b) the hijackers designed their plot to self-destruct, leaving behind no co-conspirators or much evidence.

The USA Today lead and a separate NYT fronter report that the largest pilots’ union will on Tuesday propose that airline cockpit crews who’ve undergone training, psychological testing, and background checks be permitted to carry handguns. The head of the FAA is open to the proposal. The Times calls the idea “a stark departure from the traditional approach to airline safety.”

A WP insider surveys the Taliban’s order of battle, concluding that its forces might still have 100 to 200 of the 1,000 Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missiles the U.S. supplied to anti-Soviet Afghan fighters in the 1980s, but that Afghanistan contains a bigger threat: an estimated 10 million buried land mines, which could pose a special threat to lightly armored U.S. commando units. As for the Stingers, the story points out that even though they’ve been sitting around for many years, every one of the missiles test-fired after being returned to the U.S. through a buy-back program worked.