The Washington Post leads with suggestions from Bush administration officials that the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks is not imminent, while the New York Times leads with suggestions from them that it may not, whenever it comes, even be primarily military. USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with President Bush’s anticipated call today for a larger government role in upgrading air travel security, which is expected to include adding federal law enforcement officers in an oversight role at airport security checkpoints, mandating beefed-up cockpit doors in airliners, and putting federal air marshals on most domestic flights. USAT says the Bush proposals also include modifying airliner transponders, which help ground controllers locate and assess air traffic, so that unlike what happened in several cases on Sept. 11, they cannot be turned off in flight. Both papers say that Bush will not support two ideas recently bandied about: 1) a complete federal takeover of aircraft security; 2) arming pilots. Both stories quote Bush as saying he views restoring the public’s confidence in air travel as key to the U.S. economic recovery. The LAT says Congress is not likely to rubber-stamp Bush’s recommendations because “lawmakers consider themselves experts on air travel.”
The WP lead says comments yesterday from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, indicating a U.S. military counterterror response is still a ways off are apparently based on the need to gather further intelligence about Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Other explanations canvassed by the paper include: strategic deception masking a strike that is indeed imminent; the need to continue marshaling all the supporting forces a strike requires; and the need to continue upgrading U.S. domestic flight security to protect against any air terrorism that might be attempted as a response to a U.S. strike. The New York Times lead has Wolfowitz telling NATO defense ministers at their meeting in Brussels that the U.S. doesn’t anticipate “for the moment” collective military action involving other NATO members. The story says that one reason the military part of the U.S. response is being de-emphasized is that some American mission planners are frustrated about the “unattractive array of military options” in Afghanistan and the emerging need to include planning for a possible humanitarian disaster in the theater because of the increased numbers of destitute refugees there.
The NYT lead says that some of the NATO defense ministers pressed for but did not get from Wolfowitz a detailed showing of the U.S. evidence implicating Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida network in the Sept. 11 attacks. The story counts the German defense minister among the disappointed. The Times says that despite some earlier indications from Colin Powell that such proof might be forthcoming, administration officials are still locked in a debate about how much of such evidence can be released since “much of it rests on secret communications intercepts.” But the Times doesn’t wonder here how the sources and methods behind communications intercepts can be news to NATO defense ministers. By contrast, a WP insider has the British defense minister saying after a U.S. presentation at the meetings that the culpability of Bin Laden “becomes clearer and clearer. …”
On the diplomatic front, the papers note that the U.S. demarche toward Iran failed, with Iran yesterday saying it would not participate in any action against Afghanistan. But Russia has apparently already been rewarded for its decision not to resist U.S. air-basing in Central Asia–an unidentified Bush official tells the paper, “We know that Al Qaeda has exploited the war in Chechnya, may have even helped to provoke it.”
The WP goes inside to report that in responding to questions inspired by a CBS news broadcast and an AP story, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday seemed to drop the assertion he made on Sept. 13, which was apparently confirmed by Dick Cheney on Sept. 16, that during the Sept. 11 attacks a specific credible threat was made by phone to the White House against Air Force One.
The Wall Street Journal identifies one possible beneficiary if the U.S. boosts its defense spending to support its response to Osama Bin Laden–Bin Laden’s family, which is an investor in the super-plugged-in, Washington-based aero- and defense-oriented merchant bank, the Carlyle Group. In recent years, reports the story, business visitors to the Bin Laden family headquarters in Saudi Arabia have included Carlyle principals former Secretary of State James Baker, ex-Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, and former President Bush. Another visitor there: Jimmy Carter. The Journal says that there is no indication that the current President Bush has ever met any of the Bin Ladens, who long ago disavowed Osama and have cooperated with several federal investigations into him.
The NYT and a WP wire story report that Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said that Western civilization is superior to the Islamic world. Berlusconi urged Europe to “reconstitute itself on the basis of its Christian roots.”
Jay and Dave are still not back to making fun of President Bush, but the WP is making more of an effort to return to normalcy. The paper includes this quotation from Bush: “The folks who conducted to act on our country on September 11th made a big mistake. … They underestimated America. They underestimated our resolve, our determination, our love for freedom. They misunderestimated the fact that we love a neighbor in need. They misunderestimated the compassion of our country. I think they misunderestimated the will and determination of the commander in chief, too.”