The Los Angeles Times lead focuses on the increasing isolation of Afghanistan. Until a few days ago, three countries recognized the Taliban. The United Arab Emirates cut ties yesterday. Saudi Arabia says it plans on doing the same. And Pakistan, the sole holdout, says it has withdrawn its diplomats. Also yesterday, Turkey said it will let the U.S. use its airbases to carry out attacks against Afghanistan. The New York Times leads with President Bush’s weekly radio address in which he predicted that the economy will rebound “in the years ahead.” The Washington Post leads with news that government officials have identified four to five al-Qaeda groups operating in the U.S. The (unnamed) officials say that they haven’t found a direct connection between these groups and the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Members of the al-Qaeda-linked-groups are under surveillance but haven’t been arrested. That’s because, at least so far as the FBI knows, the men haven’t committed any crimes and entered the country legally. Officials say they aren’t sure what the men are doing in the U.S. There’s no evidence that the men are planning an attack. They could simply be doing the same thing millions of other immigrants do: Earning money to send … well … who knows where.
The president may wish for a booming economy, but his speech didn’t contain many details about how to attain it. The “vagueness,” says the Times, is the result of a debate inside government about how quickly the administration should act to shore up the economy. Who wants to wait? Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, for one. Of course, notes the Times, “Mr. Greenspan does not have to run for re-election.”
The NYT reports that investigators in the U.S. and abroad have identified more components of Bin Laden’s terrorist network, including a top lieutenant operating in Europe. (The Times doesn’t mention the groups the WP cites in its lead.) Lest anybody think investigators are close to catching all of Bin Laden’s minion, the Times also notes that investigators believe that he has trained more than 11,000 supporters in just the past five years. Many of these men are members of Islamic separatist movements around the world. But the paper says officials believe that at least 3,000 are “hard-core terrorists.”
The WP examines the failure of the government’s terrorist “watch list.” One problem is that it’s rarely shared with airlines. Another is that the list is focused on stopping suspects before they enter the U.S. “Our immigration system is like a football game,” said one expert. “If you get across the goal line, you’re almost never tackled in the end zone.” Airlines have their own passenger profile database. But it’s designed to thwart terrorists who try to plant bombs and thus is mostly used on passengers who check bags.
The LAT fronts a similar piece, this one focusing on why airport security didn’t stop the terrorists. The paper says the system is so lax that the killers probably walked right through with their weapons without violating security policies: “Nothing in Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations–even assuming they were followed to the letter–would have prevented the hijackers from carrying out their baleful missions.” The piece also rehashes airports’ inability to catch even the items they’re looking for. When the FAA would test security by trying to sneak weapons on board, they would “use the same stupid Samsonite briefcase every time,” said a former top government official. “[Security personnel] all recognized it–it might as well have had the FAA seal on it.” The weapons still got through about 70 percent of time.
The WP stuffs word that the FBI knew “for years” that suspected terrorists were training at U.S. flight schools. According to the paper, a government “official said there was no information to indicate the flight students had been planning suicide hijacking attacks.” A few paragraphs down, however, the paper mentions that one of the men who attended flying school was later convicted of plotting to hijack a jet and crash it into CIA headquarters. (Free Monday-morning QBing story idea: Given that a terrorist was convicted of trying to slam a highjacked jet into a government building, shouldn’t anti-terrorism services have considered that others might try to do the same?)