Today's Papers

Code-Work Orange

The New York Times and USA Today go with a mixed lead, highlighting the anniversary of 9/11 and also emphasizing the Bush administration’s decision to up the threat terror index from yellow (medium threat) to orange (high risk). Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced the alert, said, “It is based on specific intelligence of possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas.” He added that there were no specific threats against targets in the U.S. itself. The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post both have front-page photos commemorating 9/11, but lead with stories on the alert. The move to orange also gets top play from the  Wall Street Journal.

As a result of the terror warning, the U.S. indefinitely shut down its embassy in Indonesia. Also, Vice President Dick Cheney was hustled to, yes, a secure, undisclosed location. Most of the papers say that the new alert is based on intel gleaned in just the past few days from a captured al-Qaida operative.

The NYT has, by far, the most informed article about the genesis of the warning. The piece, by investigative reporter Raymond Bonner, says that the alert upgrade was ordered after the intel source revealed plans to attack various U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia. Unlike the other papers, the Times actually names the detainee who seems to have squealed: Omar al-Faruq, who was arrested in Indonesia in June and turned over to U.S. authorities and is now being held in some unidentified third country. (The final version of the Post also picks this up and credits the NYT for the info.) Moreover, according to the unnamed American officials who gave al-Faruq’s name to Bonner, al-Qaida is not really behind the plot, an Indonesian group named Jemaah Islamiyah is. The Times says that officials stressed that while Jemaah Islamiyah has some connections to al-Qaida, “it has its own regional agenda and acts on its own.” Indeed, the NYT, citing the same officials, says, “There is no evidence that Bin Laden is behind the plot.” (Read a background report about Jemaah Islamiyah. Oh, and according to an unrelated editorial in yesterday’s Journal, Indonesia’s vice president recently invited the head of the group over to dinner.)

Though the Times doesn’t say so, Bonner’s info doesn’t exactly jibe with Ashcroft’s press conference yesterday, during which the AG said, “Information indicates that al-Qaida cells have been established in several South Asian countries in order to conduct car bomb and other attacks on U.S. facilities.”

(By the way, in the age of foreign correspondence lite, it’s worth noting that unlike most folks on the terror beat yesterday, Bonner didn’t file from Washington. His story is datelined “Jakarta.”)

Everybody notes up high that the White House said it’s planning on pushing the U.N. to adopt a resolution giving Saddam about three weeks to submit to weapons inspectors. France, Russia, and China, each of which is a permanent member of the Security Council, all say they oppose such a do-or-die approach.

USAT and the NYT both note inside that the White House has not asked the CIA to write a formal intelligence estimate that would compile and cross-reference all the known data about the threat Iraq poses. USAT, citing an intel official, explains that the “White House doesn’t want to detail the uncertainties that persist about Iraq’s arsenal and Saddam’s intentions.”

Everybody goes high with news that Florida, scene of the last big ballot debacle, had so many glitches during its elections yesterday that the governor kept polling places open for an extra two hours. As of Today’s Papers’ bedtime, the race between former Attorney General Janet Reno and her opponent for the Democratic nomination for governor was still undecided. Meanwhile, in other primaries news, New Hampshire’s Republican Sen. Bob Smith lost to Rep. John Sununu. That’s the first time in 10 years that a sitting senator has lost a primary. Also, in North Carolina, former Republican Cabinet secretary Elizabeth Dole and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles both won their respective party’s primaries.

Everybody’s business section notes that the congressional committee investigating Martha Stewart’s questionable stock trade wrote a letter to the Justice Department saying that Stewart may have caused “materially false representations.”

News Flash! According to a front-pager in the NYT, “THREAT OF TERROR IS SHAPING THE FOCUS OF BUSH PRESIDENCY.”

The WP, in a nice move, removes ads from the front page of its Web site and instead runs a 9/11 message linking to a list of the people killed in the attacks.

Amid the various editorials and op-eds about 9/11, the NYT has a surprising contributor: President George W. Bush. He says, “With our allies, we must confront the growing threat of regimes that support terror, seek chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and build ballistic missiles. On this issue, the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic. We must deny terrorists and their allies the destructive means to match their hatred.”