Today's Papers

High Anxiety, Part 2 


The New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal’sworldwide news box all lead with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s warning that another terrorism attack could be on the way. Though the threat was “credible,” Ashcroft said the U.S. didn’t know when or where the attack might occur. This is the second terrorism warning since the Sept. 11 attacks. The Washington Postleads with news that the mail rooms of four more government buildings have tested positive for traces of anthrax. Health officials believe that each was contaminated because it receives mail from the infected Brentwood postal facility. The Los Angeles Timesleads with President Bush’s call for a review of immigration procedures in order to ensure that terrorists can’t enter the country. Specifically, Bush said the review will scrutinize how student visas are issued and will look at ways to try to prohibit students “who would use their training to harm the United States and its allies.” The administration also said it would work with Mexico and Canada to create a shared a database list of potential terrorists.

What prompted yesterday’s alert? The government won’t say. But the NYT, citing officials, says the threat “came from an intelligence source that has proved reliable in the past.” The Post says the warning wasn’t caused by one specific threat. Instead it was the result of intelligence from various sources. In response to questions about the vagueness of the warning and the cry wolf factor, one official told the WSJ, “It’s very real, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.”

President Bush whittled the administration’s message down to two sentences: “Our enemies still hate us. Now, having said that, the American people must go about their lives.”

What really has health authorities worried wasn’t the traces of anthrax found in various government buildings, it was confirmation that a New Jersey woman—who is not a postal worker—has contracted skin-based anthrax. Authorities have no idea how she got it. But officials have noted that the woman received mail from a post office that processed anthrax-infected letters. As a result, authorities are now reconsidering their long-held belief (that is, held for about a week) that recipients of non-bulk mail (i.e. you and me) could get the disease from cross-contaminated mail. The papers also report late-breaking news that a female employee at a New York City hospital—who does not work in a mail room—has likely contracted inhalation anthrax. If in fact the woman does have inhalation anthrax, it would be the first such case in New York.

The papers report that health officials are considering spraying disinfectant on more than 30 tons of the government’s backed-up mail. The LAT, though, mentions a potential drawback: “Sanitizing the mail could kill evidence of the anthrax that might provide additional clues.”

The WP reports inside that a chemical analysis of some of the anthrax-tainted letters suggests that the anthrax did not come from Iraq and may have come from U.S. labs.

The NYT goes inside with a report that the Northern Alliance may attack Taliban positions near Kabul “within days.” If they do attack, they will be facing long odds. The 3,000 to 5,000 attacking troops will be fighting between 5,000 and 10,000 Taliban who are in trenches and pillboxes. The article says the attacks need to occur soon since the Northern Alliance—in what seems to be PR move—will refrain from attacking during Ramadan, which is two weeks away. (In past years, the Alliance didn’t pause for the holiday.) Northern Alliance commanders, meanwhile, are continuing to complain that American airstrikes aren’t continuous or heavy enough. The Times notes, though, that the U.S. has begun parachuting ammunition to Northern Alliance forces. In fact, the paper says, the U.S. has been doing so for two weeks.

The NYT off-leads with the Pentagon’s assessment that the documents snatched in the U.S. commandos’ raid on Mullah Omar’s compound aren’t particularly interesting. The article also reports that Human Rights Watch said yesterday that at least 25 civilians were killed last week after U.S. planes mistakenly bombed an Afghan village. The group based its statement on interviews with six survivors. 

The WSJ reports that cultural differences may have led the FBI to falsely suspect two men of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The two men were arrested Sept. 12 on a train in Texas and were found to be carrying box cutters, false passports, and $5,000 in cash. But what really got investigators curious was the fact that the two men had both shaved body hair—an act that Mohamed Atta had suggested to the other hijackers. It turns out that shaving body hair is a common practice in the two men’s hometown in India. The men are still jailed, but authorities say they haven’t found evidence connecting them to the attacks.

The NYT reports that the U.S. has enlisted three unlikely countries in its anti-terrorism efforts: Syria (supporters of Hamas), Libya (bombed by the U.S. in 1986 in response to a terrorist act), and Sudan (the former harborers of Osama Bin Laden). Each of the countries has been trying to reform its image as a supporter of terrorism.

Last week, the WSJ reported that the FBI said it didn’t plan on checking the hijackers’ former apartments and cars for traces of anthrax, at least partially because they had already been thoroughly cleaned. Well, apparently the agency has rethought things. The Post reports (in the 11th paragraph of a story it stuffs) that the FBI has now tested both the apartments and cars. The apartments, of course, were right where the FBI had left them. The vehicles, though, were a different story. Said an FBI spokeswoman: “We picked them up from a used-car dealer.”