Today's Papers



The Los Angeles Timesleads with—and everybody else fronts—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement that American troops are in Afghanistan directing air strikes and advising Northern Alliance troops.  The New York Times(online) and Wall Street Journalworldwide news box lead with news that health officials still have no idea how two women—one in New York City and one in New Jersey—contracted anthrax. The Washington Postleads with news that two more post offices in the D.C. area have tested positive for anthrax and are being shut down as a result. Though the paper runs a near banner headline (4 columns), the article itself quickly quotes a top D.C. health official saying that the post offices only tested positive for “very, very low levels of contamination.” Both post offices received mail from the infected Brentwood sorting facility. USA Todayleads with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta’s comments reiterating what most air travelers already know: Airport security ain’t all that. “Someone may undergo strict screening in Kansas City, while someone else can slip a pistol by screeners in New Orleans,” said Mineta. “This is intolerable.” Mineta is now authorizing FAA agents (yes, they have agents) to shut down security points check that don’t pass inspections.

Rumsfeld said that “something like 80 percent” of the airstrikes are now aimed at Taliban front-line positions in the north, presumably to soften them up for a Northern Alliance offensive. The secretary added that the special operation troops in Afghanistan are already making the air strikes more effective.  He refused to say how many troops are on the ground, but a Pentagon official told the NYT it was fewer than a 100 but more than a dozen.

The Post says that concentrating attacks in the north has diplomatic advantages. For one, Pakistanis are more sensitive to bombings in the south, where their “ethnic cousins” (as the WP calls them) live. Also, a lull in bombings in the south would allow CIA operatives to move in and try to push for leaders in the area to fight the Taliban. But perhaps most important, the paper says, the strikes are meant to keep the fighting away from Kabul: “The United States and Britain would like to preserve that standoff [near Kabul] by having the Northern Alliance advance against the Taliban elsewhere,” namely Mazar-e Sharif, the strategic city in the north.

The papers report that Monday’s terrorism alert was the result of warnings from multiple sources, including electronic intercepts of al-Qaida “associates” using code words to discuss an imminent attack. The papers points out that the men could very well have suspected they were being eavesdropped upon and therefore purposely spread disinformation. 

The LAT fronts members of Congress questioning the utility of the alert. Some agencies, though, are taking concrete steps in response to the warning. The FAA, for example, banned planes from flying near nuclear reactors. Also, Vice President Dick Cheney returned to his supersecret hiding place. The Los Angeles Police Department is reacting, too. According to the paper, after reviewing the FBI warning, “the Los Angeles Police Department actually downgraded its alert status.” 

The Post’s lead mentions down low that “many of the messages sent to federal employees and postal workers yesterday seemed contradictory.” For example, employees who worked in the mail rooms of various federal agencies were told to go to an assigned hospital and get antibiotics. But when many of the employees showed up, they were turned away and told only employees of the Brentwood facility needed treatment. The workers, though, didn’t leave the hospital empty-handed. They were each given a pamphlet about coping with anxiety.

At the State Department, a medical officer talked to an auditorium filled with State employees. His assessment was frank and probably not very comforting. “Your office areas probably have some contamination,” he said. “We’ve got envelopes probably throughout the system that may have very few spores on them.”

The NYT fronts a “news analysis” (read: op-ed lite) headlined “QUAGMIRE RECALLED: AFGHANISTAN AS VIETNAM.” The article doesn’t impress. In fact, the piece cites plenty of evidence why Afghanistan isn’t akin to Vietnam. One reason: “The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington would give any United States decision to dispatch ground forces a kind of moral imperative that American involvement in Vietnam lacked.”