Today's Papers

Anthrax Alerts

The Washington Post leads with, and the other papers front, new cases of anthrax exposure: one more possibly infected employee at NBC in New York, five more at American Media in Florida, and one envelope filled with anthrax at a Microsoft subsidiary in Reno, Nev. The New York Times lead reports that President Bush and his advisers have met several times recently to discuss how the U.S. and its allies should go about quickly building a government to replace the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Los Angeles Times leads with, and the NYT and WP report inside, news that a U.S. missile was misprogrammed (military personnel transposed latitude and longitude figures for the target) and hit a residential area, instead of a helicopter, near Kabul. Reports from Kabul say that up to four civilians were killed and several injured. The LAT lead also contains fresh threats from al-Qaida, which the NYT reports inside and the WP doesn’t mention, at least not online as “Today’s Papers” went to press.

The papers say that no Microsoft employee has tested positive for anthrax. The second case at NBC exhibits symptoms of cutaneous anthrax, and the five American Media employees show evidence of exposure to the bacteria. The WP reports that an employee of Ford Motor Co. in New Jersey has symptoms of cutaneous anthrax, and his initial anthrax test results are ambiguous. The LAT says that the white powder found in an envelope addressed to an NYT reporter (who wrote about her experience receiving potentially deadly powder in an NYT insider) has tested negative for anthrax.  Authorities now believe that the NBC anthrax came not from an envelope filled with white powder mailed from St. Petersburg, Fla., but from an envelope filled with a brown granular substance from Trenton, NJ. The Microsoft anthrax letter originated in Malaysia. Both Trenton and Malaysia are thought to be hotbeds of al-Qaida activity.

The strategy sessions on Afghanistan’s future, reports the NYT lead, have three main goals: to create a viable coalition government, to build up the economy, and to provide security for the new regime. Bush is reportedly concerned about keeping a new Taliban from emerging in the future. The former Afghan king might play a role in a broad-based new government. Bush has agreed with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the U.N. should take the lead in creating the new government, but he remains adamant that American troops should not play a long-term peacekeeping role in the country. 

The coverage reports that an al-Qaida spokesman has videotaped another threat to the U.S., warning Americans again about a “storm of airplanes” and advising Muslims in Britain and the U.S. not to fly. The American TV news networks honored National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s recent request that they not air al-Qaida messages unexamined, and each network simply summarized the tape.

An NYT front page report describes how the U.S. didn’t recognize a “drastic shift in the ambitions and global reach” of al-Qaida over the last few years. Osama Bin Laden’s new strategy has been to become a financial and logistical sponsor of locally hatched terrorism plots brought to his attention by Islamic extremists around the world. This approach greatly expands his choice of targets. American intelligence didn’t realize Bin Laden’s expanded global reach would include the U.S. homeland despite the fact that the CIA intercepted an al-Qaida message last year that promised a Hiroshima in America. As recently as late last year, the FBI told the White House they had a handle on U.S.-based al-Qaida  members. The LAT also fronts a piece on signals American intelligence missed in monitoring Bin Laden’s group, including an example of how suspected terrorists schemed against America while in federal custody.

The WP fronts its discovery that for the last few years, the U.S. and Uzbekistan have been working together, covertly, against the Taliban and al-Qaida, which would explain how readily the two countries seemed to arrive at an agreement on how to jointly fight terrorism. American Special Forces have been training the Uzbek military, and the countries have been cooperating on intelligence matters. 

The WP off-leads some specific information on what could be the next phase of military operations in Afghanistan. According to anonymous defense officials, the U.S. will use raids, bombs, and helicopter attacks to destroy the Taliban’s 55th Brigade, an assault force of several thousand, many of whom guard Bin Laden. Some experts think killing these soldiers will be vital to dismantling Taliban/al-Qaida power. Other experts wouldn’t go that far but think it’s smart to get this brigade anyway since they undoubtedly send members abroad to work as al-Qaida terrorism soldiers.

The NYT and WP run similar front-page analyses of shortcomings in the government’s plan to deal with bioterrorism. The NYT says there are no highly reliable, rapid tests to detect anthrax, and there may not be enough antibiotics to treat a big outbreak. The WP notes cooperation among federal and state agencies was at times nonexistent during the response to the Florida anthrax cases, and bioterrorism disease detection isn’t as sophisticated in some states as it is in New York and Florida. The experts cited in the NYT deemed the government’s efforts to inform the public about the anthrax cases “often inadequate and at the outset, misleading.”