Today's Papers

Comrades in Kashmir

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Libya’s offer of $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 victims of Pam Am 103, which was bombed out of the sky in 1988. Libya did not take responsibility for the bombing and said that about half the payment is contingent on the U.S. ending economic sanctions and taking Libya off its list of terror-supporting states. The State Department said the U.S. hasn’t signed on to the deal. The New York Times leads with word that the Supreme Court, in an expansion of states’ rights, ruled yesterday that states are immune to complaints that private citizens might bring before federal agencies. The ruling was decided by a 5-to-4 margin. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that al-Qaida operatives recorded on an Italian police wiretap before Sept. 11 may have made reference to the impending World Trade Center attacks. The Washington Post leads with news, also fronted by the NYT and LAT, that the FBI is set to announce a major reorganization today, beefing up its terrorism units and centralizing those operations. The NYT calls it “the transformation of a law enforcement agency into what will be at its core a domestic intelligence agency.” USA Today’s lead reports, “Al-Qaida and Taliban members are helping organize a terror campaign in Kashmir to foment conflict between India and Pakistan, U.S. intelligence officials and foreign diplomats say.” The paper points out that the U.S. has yet to “conclusively link” either group to specific acts in Kashmir. USAT says,“A link between al-Qaida and Kashmiri militants would pose an awkward problem for the U.S.” by making it tough for the U.S. to “remain neutral in the India-Pakistan dispute.”

(As Today’s Papers understands it, al-Qaida has long had links to Kashmiri militants and has event sent some fighters there over the years.)

Regarding Libya’s Pan Am 103 offer, the WSJ notes, “U.S. oil corporations and other companies eyeing the oil-rich North African nation are expected to weigh in on [Libya’s] behalf.” Last year, a Libyan intelligence agent was convicted in the airliner bombing. A few months ago, USAT said that Libya was considering offering a deal.

Everybody goes high with word that Palestinian gunmen snuck into an Israeli settlement near Nablus and murdered three teen-age students. Also yesterday, Palestinian gunmen ambushed a car, killing one Israeli.

As the papers emphasize, Israel is considering building a security fence along long portions of the West Bank’s border and is already building one around some of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers raided, among other places, Jenin’s refugee camp.

According to the WP, “The Israeli military chief of staff said that the Palestinians have ‘rehabilitated’ what he called their terrorist infrastructure in at least four cities: Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem.”

The NYT notes an “emerging power struggle” among Palestinians. On one side are Arafat loyalists (often older, returned exiles), who now oppose further terror attacks. On the other side are “those who grew up [in the occupied territories] under the first armed uprising more than a decade ago.” The paper notes that the latest Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades communiqué claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing didn’t have its usual Fatah stamp.

The papers all note critics’ skepticism about the FBI’s impending transformation. “Anything controlled by headquarters is destined to be utterly frustrated,” one former G-man told the Post. Meanwhile, the NYT says that one critic pointed out, “Instead of 18 percent of the bureau’s roughly 11,500 agents devoted to counterterrorism duties, it would be 22 percent.”

The WP and NYT go inside with word that an FBI investigation two years ago into a suspected al-Qaida cell got fumbled because of a glitchly computer spying program. The software, dubbed Carnivore, was supposed to monitor only the al-Qaida e-mails. But it ended up picking up other people’s communications, causing an FBI agent to throw out all the e-mails the program nabbed, including those from the suspected al-Qaida crew. The FBI says it’s fixed the problem.

The WP fronts word that U.N. war crimes prosecutors have been giving the U.S. al-Qaida-related intel. Some in the U.N. told that the Post that they’re worried that such assistance will undermine U.N. impartiality and make them look like the U.S.’s lackeys.

The LAT’s lead on the Italian wiretaps that might have referenced Sept. 11 says, “One Justice Department official noted that a small cadre of U.S. intelligence experts might have been privy to the transcripts.” The paper skips an important bit of context: According to wire reports, the Italian authorities only recently got around to transcribing and translating the recordings.

The NYT goes inside with a “rare interview” with a top, unnamed Pakistani intelligence official, who emphasized that contrary to U.S. officials’ assertions (and the NYT’s lead yesterday), al-Qaida leaders are not hanging around the border area in Pakistan. Rather, the official said, they’ve headed inland to major Pakistani cities. 

The papers all note that NATO and Russia formally signed an agreement yesterday giving the sleeping bear a small say in some of the alliance’s policies. Everybody also says that the deal doesn’t give Russia full membership or veto-power.

The papers report that NBC announced that Tom Brokaw will step down as the anchor of its nightly newscast in 2004 and will be replaced by MSNBC anchor Brian Williams.

The WSJ’s “Personal Journal” notices that the USPS’s Priority Mail isn’t too prioritized: “The latest post office statistics show that the typical Priority Mail shipment now takes more than half a day longer to reach its destination than first-class deliveries that cost as little as 34 cents.”