Today's Papers

A Powder Keg

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox all lead with news that 31 congressional staffers, 23 of whom work in Sen. Tom Daschle’s office, have tested positive for exposure to anthrax–though none have actually contracted the disease. In response, the speaker of the House ordered the House closed until Tuesday. The Senate, which will remain in session, has closed several of its buildings. By the end of the day, upward of 2,000 people on the Hill had been tested for exposure to the bacteria. USA Today leads with investigators’ conclusion that the letter sent to the tabloid in Florida and the one sent to NBC News in New York both contained the same strain of anthrax–though, oddly, they’re not sure exactly what strain it is. Scientists say that just because it’s the same strain doesn’t mean it came from the same source. The papers also report that a small amount of anthrax was found in the New York governor’s Manhattan office. (New York City’s police commissioner theorized that state police inadvertently infected the office after they visited NBC headquarters.)

The papers say that confusion reigned supreme in the capital. Yesterday morning, the speaker of the House said he was shutting down the House because “this stuff has gotten into the ventilation system.” He later said that was merely a possibility. One congressman told the Post that the events have thrown Congress into “legislative limbo.”

Officials have been giving conflicting statements about the anthrax found in Sen. Daschle’s office. Some government health officials said the bacteria is “a common variety” and “highly treatable.” Other officials–most notably the attorney general–have said that the anthrax is “weapons grade.” The papers intimate at, but don’t make clear, a potential explanation: While the bacteria itself is garden variety, the powder in which it was carried was very fine and easily dispersed–in other words, weapons grade.

The NYT goes inside with an account from the frontlines where exasperated Northern Alliance troops waited again–in vain–for U.S. planes to attack their adversaries. The WP, on the other hand, notes that the U.S. says it’s increasingly concentrating airstrikes on the frontlines.

Battles raged around the strategically located city of Mazar-e Sharif. An American general said control of the city’s airport–which U.S. forces want to use–“was going back and forth.” But the LAT, alone among the papers, quotes Northern Alliance commanders saying that they are losing the battle.

The LAT, citing a report from a Pakistani journalist, says that a U.S. bomb hit a truck carrying refugees and killed at least six people.

The WSJ sees one sign that U.S. choppers are on their way into battle. American planes over Afghanistan have begun broadcasting the following message: “Our helicopters will rain fire down upon your camps.”

The WP, in what it calls “a revolutionary step in the conduct of warfare,” says the U.S. has deployed unmanned armed aircraft in Afghanistan and that they’ve fired missiles. The article credits The New Yorker with breaking news of the deployment. 

The NYT reports on President Bush’s statement that the bombings are “paving the way for friendly troops on the ground.” Whose troops might those be? Citing a senior official, the Times says, “The president was not referring to using American and British troops but to the Northern Alliance and anti-Taliban groups in Afghanistan.” Given that clarification, Today’s Papers is a bit confused by the article’s headline: “BUSH SAYS AIM IS TO EASE ENTRY OF LAND FORCE.”

The NYT highlights infighting between the Department of State and the Pentagon. The former wants the U.S. to keep the Northern Alliance at arm’s length, while the latter wants to buddy up with them.

The WP says there’s also continued disagreement on what to do if and when the Taliban fall. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday that U.N. peacekeepers could be part of the solution. But the U.N.’s envoy to Afghanistan doesn’t think that’s a good idea: “Afghans don’t like being ordered around by foreigners … especially in military uniforms.”

The Post and USAT front news that the Taliban have seized two U.N. food depots, which contained fully half the emergency food in Afghanistan.

The papers front the assassination of Israel’s most recent tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi. A radical Palestinian group claimed credit for the attack. Zeevi, a long-time right-winger, had resigned from his post Monday, saying that the Israeli prime minister’s policies were too dovish. The prime minister responded to the attack by offering Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat a choice: Crack down on the terrorists or be treated as one yourself.

The papers have plenty of reports about confusion yesterday. But perhaps the most important miscommunication occurred over the summer: According to the LAT, in August the CIA sent the FBI a memo warning that “Bin Laden related individuals” had entered the country. The CIA says it labeled the document  “Immediate,” the highest-level peacetime alert. The FBI, though, says the memo had no such signal, and only contained a request that the two men be “immediately” put on a watch list. Three weeks later, the two men helped highjack the plane that flew into the Pentagon.