Today's Papers

Warning Daze

The New York Times leads with word that although “tens of thousands of foreigners have illegally obtained Social Security numbers” by using fake documents, the government has yet to settle on a way to weed out the bogus papers. According to the Times, the INS has records to vet the docs, but the Social Security Administration hasn’t figured out how to coordinate with that agency. The Los Angeles Times leads with news that President Bush will announce slightly increased humanitarian aid to Cuba (such as scholarships for the children of political prisoners) and will offer to ease the embargo in return for free and fair elections. The Washington Post and USA Today lead with Vice President Cheney’s warning on a Sunday news show that new terror attacks against the U.S. are “almost a certainty.” Cheney said, “It could happen tomorrow, it could happen next week, it could happen next year, but they will keep trying.” The top of the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox mentions Cheney’s warning but focuses on a scoop: “A week before the Sept. 11 attack, investigators told the Federal Aviation Administration that student-pilot Zacarias Moussaoui had been arrested and was under investigation as a potential terrorist with a particular interest in flying Boeing 747s. But the agency decided against warning U.S. airlines to increase security.”

The NYT stuffs the Cheney warning. Today’s Papers thinks that’s a wise move given that the vice president seemed to be talking in the abstract and not about any new threats.

The Journal points out that when the FBI warned the FAA about Moussaoui, the FAA might have thought the threat was already under control because “Moussaoui was [already] in custody and FBI officials hadn’t amassed evidence that he was connected to a larger plot.”

The WP emphasizes, “Democrats markedly softened their harsh attacks of last week on Bush for his handling of intelligence received in the months before the [9/11] attacks.” As House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., put it, “I never ever, ever thought that anybody, including the president, did anything up to September 11th other than their best.”

Everybody mentions that the Bush administration wants to limit the number of congressional inquiries into 9/11 and that it opposes the creation of an independent commission. The Post says that the administration argues that one of the reasons it’d be bad to have numerous inquiries is that “resources would have to be diverted from counterterrorism.”

The NYT off-leads Cheney’s comments that it “would be a mistake” to give Congress the full text of last summer’s intel briefing that mentioned that Osama Bin Laden might want to highjack planes. The Times emphasizes that the move looks to be a continuation of the Bush administration’s habit of wanting to duke it out with Congress over executive powers.

Everybody notes that a London-based Islamic news agency released a previously unseen Bin Laden tape yesterday, but it’s unclear whether the footage is recent.

The NYT’s Cuba article downplays Bush’s proposal. (While the LAT headlines, “BUSH EXTENDS HAND TO CUBA,” the NYT says, “Bush is personally and politically committed to a hard-line policy toward Cuba.”) Instead the NYT emphasizes that lots of legislators, including Republicans, are calling for the White House to phase out the embargo. “We’re butting heads with the administration on this,” said one Republican rep.

The papers all report that a suicide bomber disguised as an Israeli soldier blew himself up yesterday in the town of Netanya, killing three and injuring more than 50.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist group, claimed responsibility. (Somebody claiming to be from Hamas called a radio station and said his group was responsible, but Israel dismissed that claim.) The Palestinian Authority issued a strong statement declaring “full condemnation for the terror attack that targeted Israeli civilians.” Meanwhile, the papers mention late-breaking news that another suicide bomber blew himself up after being stopped at an Israeli checkpoint. Nobody else was injured.

Everybody notes that the White House suggested that Arafat should not necessarily be blamed for the latest attack. “No one ever asked Yasser Arafat to get 100 percent results. What has been asked of him is 100 percent effort,” said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on a news show.

It was widely expected that after the next terror act Israel would send tanks into the Gaza Strip. But it might not happen this time because, as the papers note, the suicide bomber who struck Netanya appears to have come from a town in the West Bank.

Everybody reports that an American special ops soldier was killed yesterday in eastern Afghanistan after his unit came under attack. No other Americans were injured and it’s not clear whether the attackers suffered any causalities. Meanwhile, in the same area (near Khost), 1,000 British troops are patrolling after an Australian unit allegedly came under attack a few days ago.In that incident, the Aussies guided in American airstrikes to hit the supposed attackers. But local Afghans have complained that the airstrikes targeted—and killed—a number of villagers who had been firing at each other in a feud. (The NYT also stuffs a report quoting Afghans who claim that another U.S. raid earlier this month killed five civilians.)

Everybody notes that East Timor declared its independence today (at midnight), becoming one of the world’s newest, and poorest, countries.

The papers all notice that President Clinton attended the ceremony. The NYT describes the former president as having “urged the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to East Timor after the Indonesian Army backed rampaging militia members in September 1999.” As Today’s Papers has noted previously, that’s a bit off: Australia led the call for peacekeepers; the U.S hesitated.

According to a front-page piece in the WP, the Bush administration gets taxpayers to pay for a good portion of presidential fund-raising trips by adding “a patina of government officialdom” to the itinerary. Not that there’s anything new about that. The paper explains that the law governing presidential expense reports say it’s kosher to let taxpayers foot most of the bill: “The accounting guidelines used by the White House were set in 1982, and Democrats benefited mightily from them during President Bill Clinton’s marathon fundraising swings. Now it’s the GOP’s turn.”