The papers are fairly uniform in their coverage this morning, with stories on anthrax, terrorism, and anti-terrorism, as well as some analysis pieces on the war against the Taliban. The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with the new case of inhalation anthrax that was contracted by a worker at a State Department mail-sorting facility in Virginia. USA Today off-leads the story, quoting an unnamed public health expert that Iraq and the Czech Republic are possible sources. The top story in the Wall Street Journal world news box says that the agent bentonite may have been used to make the anthrax more deadly, indicating that state-sponsored terrorism is likely. The New York Times and USAT lead with, and everyone else fronts, Senate passage of anti-terrorism legislation.
The State Department worker is the eighth person to contract the more deadly airborne strain and the fifth in the Washington area. The mail center, located in Sterling, Va., receives mail that is processed by the Brentwood Road site in the District of Columbia, where two workers have died from anthrax. Eighty percent of the mail that passes through the Sterling site goes to embassies abroad, widening the scope of the threat. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, says that this new case “shows how potent this anthrax really is, how pure it is and how easily it can be disseminated.” The LAT notes that the number of Americans advised to take anti-anthrax drugs has climbed to more than 15,000.
The NYT goes high with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge’s acknowledgment that the anthrax mailed to Sen. Tom Daschle’s office contained finer and more concentrated spores than the other packages, though Ridge claims he cannot assess the level of expertise required to make such anthrax. “The tests may or may not lead us to the source,” says Ridge.
The Times story argues that Ridge’s remarks yesterday mark a 180-degree turnabout on the administration’s response. At first, the White House was exceedingly careful with their comments, downplaying the possible risk to the American public. But now, suggests the Times, Ridge has changed his tune, especially with comments like, “Clearly, we are up against a shadow enemy, shadow soldiers, people who have no regard for human life. They are determined to murder innocent people.”
Though Ridge says the source of the anthrax has not been pinpointed, he warns, “we’ll find you.” The WSJ quotes a U.S. official who says that if the agent bentonite is confirmed, “it raises it to a whole new level of sophistication.” Of all the papers, USAT seems most convinced that the new information points to countries like Iraq. “We’re in a war, aren’t we,” USAT quotes David Flemming of the Centers for Disease Control. “One of the fundamental notions of war is that you need to be prepared for all contingencies including the worst one.”
The Post gives over a second article to the implications—and uncertainties—of the Sterling contamination. Can inhalation anthrax be contracted by handling a piece of mail that has come in contact with a tainted letter? Or are multiple letters circulating in the system, spreading the disease? Either way, “both possibilities raise the question of whether the U.S. mail stream as a whole at some point might need to be deemed potentially deadly.”
The anti-terrorism legislation, which passed the senate 98-1, gives the government new authorities, like eavesdropping electronically, detaining immigrants without charges, and investigating money-laundering banks. The lone dissenter, Democrat Russ Feingold, argued that the legislation simply went too far. To address similar concerns of other senators, the bill imposes some limits on the government’s new powers: It does not allow foreign wiretaps that would be illegal in the U.S., nor can authorities detain immigrants indefinitely.
The WP quotes Attorney General John Ashcroft: “Let the terrorists among us be warned, if you overstay your visas even by one day, we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, we will … work to make sure that you are put in jail and … kept in custody as long as possible. The president is expected to sign the bill into law within hours of receiving it on Friday.” The LAT reports that the bill’s effect will be immediate and start with an extensive “guidance” paper that Ashcroft will send to the 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and 56 FBI field offices across the country.
The lead Post editorial calls it a “Panicky Bill,” while the WSJ editorial page soothes privacy fears by writing that on the money-laundering provisions, “Congress has tried to strike the right balance.” Also in the Journal’s editorial pages is a piece penned by Sen. John McCain arguing that “war is hell. Now let’s get on with it.”
The LAT, WP, and NYT front the decision by the Bush administration to delay three tests (the Post puts it at a “pair”) of the proposed missile defense shield in an effort to reach a broader arms control agreement with Russia when Bush meets with President Putin next month. At issue is the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which the White House has long argued is obsolete and “dangerous.” In making the announcement, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said “we have said we will not violate the treaty while it remains in force.” The LAT couches the postponement in terms of the anti-terrorism partnership with Russia, while the Post and the Times focus more on arms control agreements between the two countries.
A WP fronter analyses why the U.S. has failed to engineer any split within the Taliban. This failure is a major obstacle to toppling the radical Islamic militia. The Post quotes a Western official who says that initial expectations on the Taliban were “horrendously naïve.”
The NYT fronts news that while Bayer, the maker of Cipro, has agreed to offer 100 million pills at nearly half-price, the “big three” pharmaceutical companies are offering their antibiotics for free if the Food and Drug Administration approves them. The Times cites industry executives who maintain that Bayer is probably still making a profit under the deal.
The LAT looks at how the U.S. is going to fight the cave-dwelling Taliban militia. While Soviet forces had a difficult time when the mujahideen fighters sought refuge inside of mountains, U.S. military technology may prove that the refuge of the caves is more myth than reality. For example, when enemy troops light up a fire to stave off the bracing Afghan night, they can’t hide from the thermal-guided cameras on gunships. Even so “the notion that we can find Bin Laden’s ‘fortress of solitude’ and that all 5,000 of his henchmen are going to be down there among the stalactites, you know, it’s just ridiculous,” says one defense expert.
Pinstriped patriotism: USAT’scover story is on “America’s Team: The hated Yankees?” The paper reports that after Sept. 11, “something new is in the air as Game 1 of the World Series comes Saturday: The hated Yankees—the imperial, dynastic, big-city, big-ego, big-money Yankees—are a sentimental favorite for perhaps the first time in their history.”