Today's Papers

A Letter Bomb

Everybody leads with news that an Enron employee warned the company’s chairman, Kenneth Lay, in August that the company’s shell-game accounting practices—which used partnerships to keep losses off the books—were a big problem. “I am incredibly nervous that we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals,” she wrote. Near the time the letter was sent, Lay was sending out emails to his employees promising that Enron was stronger than ever. The letter was made public by congressional investigators who say they found it while sorting through boxes of documents. 

An Enron attorney criticized the release. “A committee that professes to be objective is selectively releasing material and putting a spin on it,” he said. “Why have a hearing?” Everybody agrees that Lay ordered the company’s lawyers to investigate the claims in the letter. But the papers note that Enron told them to keep their inquiry limited. The lawyers eventually reported that nothing was fundamentally amiss. 

The Wall Street Journal, whose top business story is Enron, leads its wordwide newsbox with the U.N.’s announcement that Afghanistan needs millions of dollars in the next few days or the government will cease functioning. The Washington Postsays that the United States is preparing to release about $220 million in Afghan government assets that were frozen in 1999. Most of it consists of gold the United States was storing for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has announced that it has completed its pummeling of the Zhawar Kili cave complex near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. “It is now time to go look elsewhere,” said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Los Angeles Timesemphasizes that there are plenty of other caves in the area. In fact, the paper says there are so many, “the work is overwhelming the small number of special operations troops locating them.”

The WP notes that the CIA denied an ABC News report that the agency has concluded that Bin Laden left Afghanistan, most likely via a ship in early December.

The papers say that Pakistan seems to be following through with its promise to crack down on terrorists. It has arrested more than 1,000 Kashmiri militants in the past few days.

The New York Timesoff-leads the killing of Raed al-Karmi, head of a leading Palestinian militia group. A bomb exploded next to him as he was returning to his safe-house. “The Israeli Army remained silent about the matter,” says the NYT, “as it has after the many mysterious deaths of Palestinian militants.”  The WSJ is less coy: “Israel has killed dozens of Palestinian militants suspected of aiding or planning terrorism.” And there’s a good chance Israel killed Karmi. Israel acknowledges that it tried to kill him in September. And after his death yesterday, the government released a long list of his alleged terrorist activities. The WP calls it an “apparent assassination…by Israel.”

Karmi led the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which claims to target Israeli soldiers as well Israeli settlers in the occupied territories, but not civilians in Israel proper. Perhaps because of that, the papers avoid calling Karmi a terrorist. Instead, he was, as the WP put it, “a militant who admitted killing Israelis.”

Karmi’s group, which had had been abiding by Yasser’s Arafat’s cease-fire order, issued a press release after their leader’s death: “The hoax of the so-called cease-fire is canceled, canceled, canceled. With your assassination of Raed al-Karmi, you have opened hell on yourselves.” Hours later, members of the group shot and killed an Israeli soldier.

The 19th graph of the NYT’s article notes that the Palestinian Authority has “limited power to govern Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

The Times’s article has two photos (at least online). Both are absorbing: One shows a bloody, stoic, and incredibly young-looking Karmi after the September attack on him. (He was 27.) The other shows Palestinian children kneeling in very close and staring at the blood-splattered piece of asphalt where Karmi died.

The LAT fronts word that Colombia reached a last-minute agreement with rebels to restart peace-talks, thus avoiding a full-scale war. Meanwhile, the WP fronts word that the White House is considering increasing military aid to the country and lifting restrictions on how the aid can be used. The proposal, said one official, is a direct result of Sept. 11. President Bush has listed Colombia’s three guerrillas groups as terrorist organizations.

USA Today  reports above-the-fold that the Pentagon said it wants to cut back on the number of combat air patrols over the United States. The military says the patrols are expensive and take time away from other tasks—like training.

“On the face of it, the sudden political storm over Enron is puzzling,” writes Paul Krugman in the NYT. “After all, the Bush administration didn’t save the company from bankruptcy.” Still, says Krugman, we’re right to smell a skunk. “The administration fears, and the press suspects, that the latest revelations in the Enron affair will raise the lid on crony capitalism, American style. That’s why the Bush administration will try to keep the Enron story narrowly focused on one company during its death throes. Just remember that the real story is much bigger.”

The WSJ reports that it’s hard to get picked to carry the Olympic torch. Out of 210,000 people nominated, only 7,200 people were chosen, each of whom is supposed to embody the Olympic spirit. Of course, if you don’t meet that criterion, there is another way to carry the torch. Buy a Chevy dealership. Chevrolet, which is sponsoring the event, is allowing dealers to carry a torch—for $15,000—complete with a stop at the showroom.