Today's Papers

CYA: Cover Your Agency

The Los Angeles Times leads with what it calls “a war of words” between the leaders of India and Pakistan, who are both attending a regional security conference in Kazakhstan. India’s prime minister has so far ruled out any one-on-one meetings between the two leaders. Meanwhile, the NYT says India, responding to “blunt American pressure,” has “pulled back a bit from the brink of war.” The Washington Post leads with, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with, the CIA’s assertion that it sent the FBI an e-mail about Khalid al-Midhar, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, in early 2000, soon after it learned that he had been at an al-Qaida meeting in Malaysia. That conflicts with the FBI’s contention that the CIA didn’t send any warnings about al-Midhar until August 2001. USA Today leads with word from unnamed “U.S. officials” that the U.S. “had agents inside” al-Qaida. The piece doesn’t have any more details about that but says it’s merely one of the disclosures that “lie buried in 350,000 pages of documents turned over by the CIA for the [congressional] hearings” on 9/11-related intelligence failures. The New York Times leads with the paper’s interview of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who said that Egypt warned the U.S. a week before Sept. 11 that al-Qaida was about to launch a big attack in the U.S. Mubarak acknowledged that Egypt didn’t know specifics: “We thought it was an embassy, an airplane, something, the usual thing.”

Mubarak said Egypt got the attack tip from a secret agent who, as the NYT puts it, “was in close contact with the Bin Laden organization.” The Times points out that Mubarak might be pushing this story as a way to emphasize how useful Egypt has been, and can be, to the U.S.

The NYT emphasizes that “officials” (the paper doesn’t say from which agency) said that while the CIA did hand over some info prior to 9/11 about one hijacker, overall it still didn’t keep other agencies in the loop.

For example, as the WSJ points out, “CIA officials acknowledge that they should have put [two of the hijackers’] names on a watch list earlier in the year.”

Meanwhile, the Journal says that an FBI agent working on a joint CIA-FBI terrorism task force wrote a memo in January 2001 identifying al-Midhar and another Sept. 11 hijacker as connected to al-Qaida. The paper says, “Although drafted by an FBI agent, it wasn’t clear whether the memo was sent to FBI headquarters.” (At about the time the memo was sent, al-Midhar was training for Sept. 11 and living openly in San Diego.)

The NYT folds the CIA’s disclosure into a piece that’s essentially a pre-game show profiling some of the major players in the coming congressional hearings: On one side are senators like Bob Graham, D-Fl., who doesn’t want a “highly confrontational” probe. On the other side are legislators, led by Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who want a “more freewheeling and aggressive investigation.”

The papers go high with President Bush’s contention that the FBI is improving, though he added, “We’ve still got some work to do.” 

The papers note inside that a Palestinian court ordered the immediate release of a top Palestinian militant, Ahmed Saadat, who has been held as part of the American-brokered deal to lift the siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound. Saadat is the leader of the radical PFLP, which claimed credit for the murder last year of Israel’s tourism minister. The court said that there’s no evidence that Saadat committed a crime. Palestinian Authority officials said they will ignore the court order and won’t release Saadat, explaining that they’re worried that Israel will kill him if they let him go. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that Israel will take “all the necessary steps” to make sure Saadat doesn’t go free.

In a fascinating audio interview on the NYT’s Web site, the paper’s James Bennet offers a useful bit of context about the court’s decision: Saadat was never actually charged with a crime. Says Bennet, “There hasn’t been anything like due process in this case.” He also points out that Israel insists it has evidence that Saadat ordered the killing.

Everybody notes that CIA Director George Tenet arrived in Israel yesterday to push Arafat to revamp the Palestinian security forces.

In a second piece the NYT gets out of its interview with Egyptian President Mubarak, the paper emphasizes Mubarak’s contention that he’ll press President Bush to support a peace plan that includes the declaration of a Palestinian state early next year.

The Post goes inside with a report that the Philippines has agreed to let U.S. advisers accompany Filipino soldiers into the field. As it stands now, American soldiers are largely confined to military bases. The NYT also stuffs a report on this but says it’s not a done deal yet. (The LAT mentioned last week that U.S. troops would be pulling out by July 31, but both of today’s pieces suggest that isn’t likely to happen.)

Everybody notes that the stock market tumbled a few percent yesterday, “as mounting distrust of corporate America outweighed strong economic reports.” (WSJ) Among the triggers: The CEO of conglomerate Tyco International resigned, after telling board members that he was being investigated for tax evasion.

The papers all note that Hollywood movie mogulLew Wasserman died yesterday. Wasserman, who headed MCA, was 89.

The WP’s “Style” section takes note of the latest magazine named after, and dedicated to, a celebrity: Gene Simmons Tongue.