The Los Angeles Times leads with news that the U.S. agreed to a 12-day extension of the mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, even though U.S. peacekeepers have not been given immunity from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court. The paper says that the U.S.’s pro-immunity position is not gaining support with allies. The New York Times leads with word that President Bush is “expected to approve” the resumption of a program to force down or shoot down suspected drug planes in Latin America. The program, which involves U.S. forces providing intelligence to a few Latin American governments who then are responsible for interdicting the planes, was suspended last year after Peruvian air force jets mistakenly shot down a plane carrying American missionaries. The Washington Post leads with word that a collision-avoidance system at a Zurich air traffic control center was undergoing maintenance and out of service when two planes in the center’s sector collided Tuesday, killing 71 people. Also, in violation of Swiss regulations, only one air traffic controller was on duty while the anti-collision system was down.
The papers notes that the U.S. agreed to extend the Bosnian mission after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent the U.S. what the LAT calls “an unexpectedly caustic letter” urging the U.S. to back down.
The NYT’s lead piece notes that the revived drug interdiction program will be run by the State Department. Previously, says the paper, it was overseen by the CIA, which supposedly contracted it out to a company named Aviation Development Corp. The Times, citing “officials”explains, “Aviation Development was actually a C.I.A. front.” (Judging by a Nexis database search, it doesn’t look like anybody has reported this before.)
A bit of legal and historical context not mentioned by the NYT’slead: According to a WP article filed last year (shortly after the missionary’s plane was shot down), the Clinton-era Justice Department ruled in 1994 that the U.S. should not participate in such programs because “shooting at civilian planes, even ones suspected of drug smuggling, is a violation of international law.” The Post explained that President Clinton, “under strong pressure” to crack down on drug smuggling, essentially overruled that decision.
The LAT and WP both front reports saying that the White House gave a new explanation for why President Bush in 1990 was eight months late filing forms disclosing that he sold $850,000 worth of a stock (shortly before it plummeted). According to a White House spokesman, the forms were delayed because of a “mix-up” with attorneys for Bush and lawyers for the company whose stock he got rid of. Both papers say that that explanation differs from the one that Bush gave in years past. Back then he blamed the SEC for the holdup, saying the agency lost his paperwork.
The LAT paraphrases several former SEC officials who said that whatever the reason for the delay it was “a relatively insignificant” infraction.
As the papers note, the SEC in the early ‘90s launched a probe of the stock sales but concluded in a memo, “It appears that Bush did not engage in illegal insider trading.” (The Post notes that it got the memo via the White House.) As everybody mentions, the probe has been covered before, but it’s back in the news now since NYT columnist Paul Krugman wrote about it on Tuesday.
The WP and NYT go inside with follow-up on Monday’s U.S. air attack in Afghanistan that appears to have killed 44 people at a wedding party. Both articles report that the Pentagon said U.S. soldiers operating in the province where the strike occurred have been fired at repeatedly in the last few weeks. A Pentagon spokesman also insisted that “an antiaircraft gun was firing from the compound” where the wedding took place, though he acknowledged that investigators have arrived there and haven’t found any such gun. (By the way, the Post’s piece, filed from Afghanistan, has a lot more detail than the NYT’s report, which is datelined “Washington.”)
The NYT fronts word that German police detained six men yesterday, including the former roommate of Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, on suspicions that they were planning some sort of new attacks.
A piece inside the NYT emphasizes that top Palestinian security chiefs who were reportedly fired by Yasser Arafat Tuesday denied that Arafat has sacked them. The Post, though, is confident that the guys are on their way out. It quotes a Palestinian Authority spokesman saying so and headlines “ARAFAT TO DISMISS 3 TOP SECURITY OFFICIALS.”
The LAT goes inside with news that U.S. authorities have arrested the stepson of Saddam Hussein for trying to attend flight school in the U.S. without a proper visa.
The WP notes that the Tennessee state government shut down on Monday because of a budget impasse but is now set to re-open after state legislators agreed to increase the sales tax. As the Post points out, Tennessee is only one of nine states that doesn’t have an income tax, which is considered a more progressive tax, and many lawmakers were angry that one wasn’t instituted. “First we had the voodoo budget,” said one state rep. “Then we had the hoo-doo budget. And the budget we’ve got now smells, so I call it the doo-doo budget.”