Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with the British government’s release yesterday of what it claims is evidence linking Osama Bin Laden and his terror organization to the Sept. 11 attacks. The material was introduced via Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech on the topic to Parliament and the posting of a 16-page official document on the Internet. USA Today, which reefers the British revelations, leads with “DEATH TOLL IN NYC FALLS BY 1,400,” which is happening because the NYPD is removing duplicate missing persons reports from its master list. The paper’s headline is followed by this world-turned-upside-down subheadline: “Analysis offers hope it could be below 5,000.” The Washington Post, which fronts the British news, leads with the midair explosion of a Russian airliner enroute to Siberia from Tel Aviv that killed all 76 people onboard. The story says that terrorism has not been ruled out, but that a more likely explanation, seemingly supported by U.S. satellite data, is that the plane was accidentally struck by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile launched during a military training exercise. The Wall Street Journal tops its front-page worldwide news box with a sketch of the U.S. strategy and its planned Afghanistan bombing campaign: targeting Taliban headquarters, training camps, airfields and military supplies in hopes of producing an atmosphere in which anti-Taliban armed factions will be encouraged to move against Osama Bin Laden. Roads, bridges, and other civilian infrastructure will not be targeted, and food and medicine will be airdropped to the general population.
The coverage reports that the British brief against Bin Laden is often vague to protect sensitive intelligence sources and methods but that according to Blair, it leaves no doubt. The papers also report that yesterday, Pakistani government officials stated that the evidence was sufficient even for a legal case against Bin Laden. The brief’s highlights: 1) Known associates of Bin Laden warned of an attack on or around Sept. 11, telling certain members of the organization to return to Afghanistan before that date; 2) an unnamed senior associate of Bin Laden’s was in charge of planning the Sept. 11 attacks; 3) it has been confirmed that three of the hijackers have been positively identified as members of Bin Laden’s network, and one of them has been ID’d as involved in planning the 1998 East African embassy bombings and the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole; 4) a surviving participant in the Kenya embassy bombing afterward called a telephone number in Yemen for money, a telephone number that was later the same day called by Bin Laden’s phone. None of the papers’ main stories has another similar datum, which is included in the official British government document: 5) The faxed claim of responsibility for the embassy bombings was traced to a phone number that had been in contact with Bin Laden’s phone. Of the majors, only the WP’s story includes the Web address for the British government site posting the case against Bin Laden– www.number-10.gov.uk.
The WP front reports that U.S. intelligence officials have told members of Congress that there is a “high probability” that terrorists associated with Bin Laden will try to launch another major attack on American targets “in the near future,” a likelihood rising to “100 percent” (in the words of one unidentified intelligence official) if the U.S. strikes Afghanistan.
The WSJ relays “the most graphic report yet” of how widespread the economic fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks has been: Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose 71,000 (to 528,000), more than double what Wall Street had been expecting. The paper quotes an economist predicting that the U.S. unemployment rate–which was at 4.9 percent in August–will hit 6 percent early next year.
The NYT lead editorial says that although it would be irrational and counterproductive to respond to the terror attacks with a drastic reduction in the number of immigrants and foreign visitors admitted to the U.S., homeland security officials need to “crack down on lax enforcement of the immigration laws, with a sense of urgency.” Buried at the end of a WP Page 14 story on the U.S. consular system that seamlessly issued tourist or business visas to all 19 hijackers is the revelation that the State Dept. doesn’t have quick access to FBI databases of suspected criminals, even though this information is commonly available to local police departments.
The USAT fronter on the U.S./British commando hunt for Osama Bin Laden, which the paper continues to say is already in progress on the ground in Afghanistan, says that two key members of Congress told the paper that the intelligence being acquired about Bin Laden’s movements is “surprisingly good” and that the commandos “almost” know where he is.
The papers go inside with word that a 63-year-old Florida man has come down with pulmonary anthrax, which is common in farm animals but very unusual in humans (only 18 cases in the U.S. in the 20th century). The secretary of HHS, Tommy Thompson, said yesterday at a White House briefing that the man’s disease was not caused by terrorism.
Note to Sally Quinn: They also mess up your hair. The LAT goes inside with a gas mask debunker, which reminds that most of the masks available in surplus stores are there because they don’t work, that you have to be taught how to wear one to get protection and to avoid suffocating, and that they aren’t effective absent a detection system that tells you when they’re needed–a system utterly absent in civilian life. Plus, for protection against serious chemical or biological agents, you need to be wearing a correctly fitted protective suit as well.
And what could be a more traditional value than insensitive stupidity? The WP reports that the Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman and founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, said yesterday that the public and private relief agencies providing assistance to Sept. 11 attack survivors should not aid surviving members of gay partnerships.