The majors continue to focus almost exclusively on this week’s terror and its aftermath. USA Today’s lead is that the FBI has identified and is hunting for as many as 52 surviving hijack conspirators, some of whom may have planned other hijacks for this past Tuesday that for some reason weren’t carried out. The story’s headline also refers to Thursday’s comments by Colin Powell confirming that Osama Bin Laden is suspected of sponsoring this week’s attacks, the first Bush administration official to do so. The Washington Post’s biggest headline reads “U.S. PREPARES FOR WAR AS FBI LINKS 16 HIJACKERS TO BIN LADEN.” This refers to President Bush’s vow yesterday to win “the first war of the 21st century,” the Pentagon’s request for White House authorization to call up more than 40,000 military reservists, and to an unnamed government source’s take on the hijackers. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times leads cover much the same ground. But the NYT also goes high with Congress’ swift movement toward giving the administration $40 billion for the military and intelligence costs of its upcoming anti-terror moves while the LAT adds high that the Pentagon has ordered an aircraft carrier battle group to remain on station near the Arabian Sea and that Colin Powell has won a pledge of support from Pakistan. The LAT lead, which runs under the headline “U.S. READIES WAR OPTIONS,” also reports high that, apparently based on some new threat information, the Secret Service has moved Dick Cheney to Camp David, while President Bush remained at the White House.
The USAT lead says that sources tell the paper most of the hijackers appear to have received terrorist training from Bin Laden lieutenants and that some were associated with Islamic Jihad Egypt, a terror group linked to the Cole bombing and to the 1995 massacre of 62 people in Luxor, Egypt.
The NYT lead has the most detail on U.S. plans, reporting that the administration is “focused on trying to use Russia and Pakistan in an encircling movement on the north and south of Afghanistan.” The paper points out that Russia could offer the U.S. intelligence as well as bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The story sees the planning and language employed by the administration thus far as a sign that Powell is preparing the way for a military force “that could ultimately be used to occupy Kabul … and overthrow the ruling Taliban.” The WP reports that Pakistani military commanders said yesterday they were willing to meet some U.S. demands for assistance, such as granting access to Pakistani air space, but not others, such as allowing in U.S. ground troops.
The WP and NYT fronts both have good details about a number of people being taken into custody at Kennedy and LaGuardia yesterday afternoon shortly after those facilities were reopened. The papers report that one of the men was caught using a false pilot ID. The NYT says that one of the men stopped had, while wearing an American Airlines crew uniform, tried on Tuesday around the time of the hijackings to board a flight to Los Angeles and had become infuriated then when it was canceled because of the attacks. The Post says that the two groups detained yesterday were armed with knives, and that U.S. government officials feared they intended to hijack a pair of airliners in order to mount another suicidal strike. The Times quotes a passenger’s account of the cops’ methodology that led to yesterday’s arrests: “Anyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent was taken aside and searched. … And then they went to any male with too much facial hair.” (Notice that that’s racial profiling, and notice that given the total context of this week’s attacks, it makes perfect sense.)
The papers take time to appreciate the role the cell phone played in this week’s tragedy. Since Wednesday, many stories have reported that cell calls from the planes provided clues about what was going on. Today’s WP and Wall Street Journal note how they allowed doomed passengers and WTC office workers to give their loved ones psychologically precious closure. So anyway, why is cell use banned during flight? The NYT explains that actually in-flight cell calls don’t pose a threat to aircraft electronics, but because high altitude calls employ multiple cell base stations, they suck up more frequencies, rendering on-the-ground cell calls less effective. The WSJ reports that systems are being used at Ground Zero that could locate survivors by tracking the energy transmitted by their turned-on cell phones even if they aren’t being talked on.
The WP and NYT report that Jerry Falwell, in an appearance yesterday on Pat Roberston’s 700 Club show, stated some heretofore overlooked contributing causes of Tuesday’s dreadful events: the ACLU, the federal courts, gay rights advocates, and abortion providers. Robertson agreed.
The WP and WSJ get into an important aspect of the hijacks that has previously virtually escaped notice: the nonexistent U.S. Air Force response. The WP reports that even though 40 minutes passed between the time the second airliner hit the World Trade Center and one hit the Pentagon and then 27 more minutes elapsed after that before another plane crashed in Pennsylvania, no U.S. fighters were able to get airborne. The Journal contrasts this to the Air Force fighters that shadowed Payne Stewart’s Lear jet for three hours when it deviated from its flight plan. The Post has the explanation for Tuesday’s nonresponse offered in a congressional hearing by the Air Force general slated to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs: “We’re pretty good if the threat is coming from outside; we’re not so good if it’s coming from inside.”