Today's Papers

Intelligence Secretions

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeseach lead with an article on the intelligence community, highlighting, respectively, its forebodings, failures, and recent massive inflation. The Times and the Post both off-lead with an analysis of White House politics and both front features with new angles and stories from the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal.

The NYT’s foreboding lead reports that U.S. intelligence agencies “have intercepted a vague yet troubling series of communications among Al Qaeda operatives”—a pattern of chatter and gossip disturbingly similar to what was picked up last summer, in advance of Sept. 11. Intelligence officials insist they are “determined to avoid a repeat,” but acknowledge that the “cryptic and ambiguous” intercepts don’t give them much to work with. This in turn highlights some of the difficulties with and pointlessness of the political attacks regarding what Bush knew before 9/11, specifically the July FBI memo and August CIA briefing that have come to light in recent days. “Just as last summer’s threats left counterterrorism analysts guessing about Al Qaeda’s intentions … the new interceptions are so general that they have left President Bush and his counterterrorism team in the dark about the time, place or method of what some officials refer to as a second-wave attack.”

Not to say that Bush’s critics aren’t having success with this sort of political attack. The best measure of their success, notes the NYT’s Patrick Tyler in the off-lead, is “the ferocity of the White House counterattack.” Tyler reports that the conclusion that there will be serious political fallout from last week’s intelligence revelations is all but taken for granted in Washington; but “the central question is where the public will place responsibility.” The old analogies with to Pearl Harbor return at this point in the hands of Republican pollsters who note Franklin Roosevelt’s ability to rise above any criticism of the failure to predict and prevent Pearl Harbor. The article also provides a little ‘reap what you sow’ political insight aimed at Republican hawks, noting that a cooperative forgive-and-forget attitude “might not be satisfactory to Democrats who have suffered months of taunts by Republican conservatives, who disparaged Democratic efforts to fight terrorism in the Clinton era as weak and indecisive.”

The Post starts its intelligence story with an arguable scoop, writing that although “previous accounts of the [FBI Arizona office] memo have disclosed no hint of connections between the students and bin Laden’s cause, other than the agent’s hunches,” in fact the memo asserted that one of two named student suspects “had made a telephone call to a man with a possible link to an al Qaeda associate” and the other “displayed a photo of Osama bin Laden on his living room wall.” Suspicious indeed; but not exactly smoking guns. The article, slugged “FBI Memo’s Details Add to Questions,” quickly morphs into a broad review of FBI director Robert Mueller’s reform efforts at the agency. It notes that Mueller has “has replaced a quarter of the FBI’s 212 executives with his own hires” and is in the process of “deciding what kinds of criminal cases the bureau and its 56 field offices will no longer handle in the post-Sept. 11 world.” Looks like “bank robberies, narcotics investigations and car thefts” may be out.

The Post’s off-lead by Dana Milbank notes President Bush’s surge in partisanship now that the November midterm elections are less than six months away. “White House officials ‘do not have confidence that there is a possibility of governing in a bipartisan way if Daschle is majority leader,’ said a prominent Republican with close ties to the White House.” Hence, the across-the-aisle, change-the-tone style of politics Bush waxed on about during the campaign and even during portions of his first year is being replaced a Machiavellianism par excellance. Milbank’s illustration is Bush’s relationship with Ron Kirk, the popular former Dallas mayor now campaigning to be Texas’ first African American senator. During the campaign, Bush and “called Kirk’s election as mayor ‘a new day’ for Dallas and jokingly called him ‘Vice President Kirk’ in a warm exchange.” But last week Bush “took the unusual step of granting an Oval Office interview to a Dallas television station and assailed Kirk as ‘an obstructionist’” and said he wouldn’t be able to work with him in Congress.

The LAT’s intelligence lead concurs with the Times report that there has been an increase in intercepted al-Qaida threats, though vague ones. The article quotes an official: “These things, the noise, the chatter, go in cycles … We are in an up cycle at the moment.” Most of the article, though, tells the story of how the CIA is currently inflating “at its fastest rate since the Vietnam War era.” CIA officials are quite upfront—and quite happy—about this. “‘Today, the year 2002, I have more spies stealing more secrets than at any time in the history of the CIA,’ Jim [“Clandestine”] Pavitt, head of the agency’s clandestine service, told a Duke University Law School conference last month,” write the LAT. Meanwhile, the CIA’s executive director “Buzzy” Krongard “told a group of Washington investment advisors in October that the Bush administration had ‘showered’ the CIA with cash and power. ‘Today, there is only one rule, and that is, there are no rules,’ he said.” Now we all feel safer.

The Post’s article on the Catholic church scandal takes a further interesting look at the problems with implementing a much-demanded “one strike” policy for priests confirmed guilty (or just accused?) of sexual abuse. Besides the typical problem of false positives, where unique circumstances are unable to be taken into account and the result is harsher punishments than most reasonable people would agree to, the article explains why the Catholic institution, in particular, is hesitant; its fundamental ethical nature is “to leave open the possibility of repentance and redemption.” While “canon law, the church’s internal legal code, forbids sexual contact with minors … it also requires bishops to try to reform a priest before imposing permanent punishment for any offense”

The NYT church scandal front profiles Father Paul Shanley. It opens with a woman’s story of how she was sexually abused by a priest as a child—and how Shanley uncovered that priest and helped put him jail. Recent reports of Shanley’s own pedophilia have, needless to say, come as a shock to that woman even more than others. Shanley was “part protector, part predator,” writes the Times; “a contradiction that some who know him find impossible to reconcile.” The woman’s final conclusion: perhaps “there is no real truth.”

Finally, the LAT reports on one answer to the country’s perpetually embarassing problem of pathetic scores on history exams: Lynne Cheney. Though not your average apolitical scholar (do such creatures still exist?), the second lady has been a history buff—indeed, a history evangelist—for decades, including during her term as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Now she is “doing her part to convey lessons of the past in a book she’s written for youngsters called ‘America,’ with the subtitle ‘A Patriotic Primer.’”

“A,” not surprisingly, “is for America, the land that we love.” “D” is for the “Declaration that proclaimed we were free.”

We are left to guess what “C” is for. The political movement that saved freedom from the moral pit of permissive liberalism? Or, perhaps, the greatest vice president that ever lived?