Today's Papers

Fubar Bureau of Investigation?

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times all lead with FBI Director Robert Mueller’s comments that, contrary to previous Bush administration statements, the FBI might have been able to thwart 9/11. Here’s what he said:“I cannot say for sure that there wasn’t a possibility we could have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers.” Mueller also told reporters that while there weren’t specific warnings, “that doesn’t mean that there weren’t red flags out there, that there weren’t dots that should have been connected to the extent possible.” The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that 300 British troops have begun a new operation to hunt for al-Qaida fighters near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. USA Today leads with news that the U.S. has “begun drawing up plans” to evacuate American civilians and soldiers in India and Pakistan.

USAT cites officials saying there are about 63,000 American civilians in the region and 1,100 U.S. troops. (Given that, the article’s subhead could have been clearer: “64,000 U.S. troops, citizens in region.”) The paper says that if in fact war breaks out and all these folks get airlifted, it would “dwarf the evacuation of Americans from Vietnam.” 

According to early morning wire reports, Kashmiri militants have infiltrated an Indian police camp, killing at least two. India typically holds Pakistan responsible for such attacks.

As USAT emphasizes, Director Mueller also said that FBI agent Coleen Rowley was “absolutely right” when she wrote a letter complaining that HQ should have done more to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui last summer.

By the way, here’s another letter-story, which most of the press has skipped over: Last Saturday’s LAT reported that in December a Phoenix-based FBI agent—not the one you’ve already read about—wrote a letter to Mueller complaining that the Phoenix office’scounterterrorism program “ground to a halt a couple years ago because of the micromanaging, constant indecision, and stonewalling.” (And, in case you’re wondering, no, Today’s Papers hadn’t noticed it until today either.)

Meanwhile, everybody goes high with the FBI’s disclosure that it’s happened upon two more memos that may point to missed warning signs. In one memo, from 1998, an FBI pilot in Oklahoma reported that he was suspicious about a “recent phenomenon” of “large numbers” of Middle Eastern men receiving training at local flight schools. The FBI agent’s supervisor decided not to investigate. (According to an AP report, the memo was marked “routine.”)

In the second memo, which seems less significant, intelligence officials noted that a country in the Middle East tried, unsuccessfully, to buy a restricted U.S. flight simulator program.

As everybody notes, the FBI director’s admissions came as he formally announced that the FBI will be re-jiggered to focus on preventing terrorism. Among the changes, about 400 agents will be moved from drug investigations to counterterrorism. (The NYT’s lead editorial concludes, “Mr. Mueller’s blueprint is too timid to get the job done.”)

The WP and NYT front new Justice Department guidelines that relax the rules under which FBI agents can search for evidence. As the papers note, civil libertarians said the changes are a bad move. Hmmm. According to the NYT, “Under the old guidelines, surfing the Internet for the sole purpose of developing leads was prohibited.”

Everybody goes high with a federal judge’s ruling that the government’s blanket policy of holding secret deportation hearings for people detained in post-9/11 sweeps is unconstitutional and instead needs to be done on a case-by-case basis. The Justice Deptartment is expected to appeal.

The WP reports that not only has al-Qaida moved into major Pakistani cities (as yesterday’s NYT mentioned), but now there’s“fresh evidence that Pakistani militant groups that [once] worked independently—and toward differing goals—have coalesced around al-Qaida to combat the United States and its allies.”

“So many linkages,” said one Pakistani observer. “This really scares us.”

The NYT stuffs word that al-Qaida may also have another new friend: Fundamentalist AfghanwarlordGulbuddin Hekmatyar, who appears to be teaming up with OBL’s troops to try to bring down Afghanistan’s interim government by launching terror attacks there. The U.S. tried, unsuccessfully, to kill Hekmatyar last month, and it’s not sure where he is now.

The NYT fronts news that the Bush administration has delayed plans to hold a Mideast peace conference. In the past, the administration had said the meeting might happen in June. Now, officials are simply saying it’ll be a summertime event, and as one official pointed out, “Sept. 20 is officially the last day of summer.” Sources told the Times that the conference has been delayed because the White House needs to first figure out what’s likely to happen at it.

The NYT notes that the administration also appears to be backing away from the idea (floated in the WP earlier this week) that it will offer a detailed outline of a suggested settlement.

Meanwhile, the NYTnotes that the White House announced that CIA Director George Tenet will leave for the region tomorrow to focus on figuring out how to rebuild Palestinian security forces.

The papers front President Bush’s announcement that the feds will buy back $235 million worth of oil and natural-gas rights off the coast of Florida and in the Everglades in order to curtail drilling there. As everybody notes, the move will help the re-election efforts of Florida Gov. (and first brother) Jeb Bush, who, it turns out, was at the White House today to help promote the plan.

The WSJ profiles defense reporterRaymond Cromley, sole representative of Cromley News Service. He’s 91 years old and still dutifully attends nearly every Pentagon press conference. In fact, Cromley has only slowed down in one small respect: He hasn’t filed a story since 1996. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Pentagon officials still enjoy his company. According to the bureaucrat in charge of press credentials, “I don’t know for a fact that [Cromley’s] not writing and I don’t really want to know. As far as I am concerned, he is a working journalist employed by Cromley News Service.”