The New York Times leads with a draft report from the congressional committee investigating Sept. 11 that charges that the FBI and the CIA failed to aggressively pursue important leads linking the terrorists to Saudi Arabia. The Los Angeles Times fronts the report, but it and the Washington Post go with Vladimir Putin’s meeting with—and baiting of—President Bush in St. Petersburg.
The 9/11 report, still in draft form, accuses the FBI and CIA of failing to investigate the possibility that two of the hijackers, both Saudis, received Saudi money from two men in California the year before the attacks, according to the NYT lead. Interim reports have already found fault with both agencies, but the bureau and the CIA again defended their work. The connections to Saudi Arabia, stated publicly for the first time, complicate things for the U.S. “The Bush administration has sought to maintain close ties with Riyadh even as investigators examining the backgrounds of the hijackers have complained that they have received little cooperation from the Saudi government,” the Times reports.
“Now, where has Osama bin Laden taken refuge?” Putin pointedly and publicly asked Bush during a news conference in St. Petersburg on Friday, the LAT reports in its lead. Bush did not respond to the question, but he did end the news conference. “We have a plane to catch,” he said. During their 90-minute private meeting, Putin and Bush discussed, in the former’s words, “practically everything between the sky and the Earth,” including the roles of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in supporting terrorists. They jointly demanded that Iraq comply with the recent U.N. resolution, though Putin warned Bush to remain within the “parameters of the U.N. mandate,” in the LAT’s words. The Post chooses to accentuate the positive, choosing “Bush, Putin, United on Iraq” for a headline but then getting some mileage out of the Russian president’s impudence in its opening graph.
The LAT fronts the relative ease with which Iraq circumnavigates U.N. sanctions and manages to import weaponry and technology from around the world. Armed with “30-page shopping lists” and buckets of cash, Iraqi smugglers bring in prohibited goods by the truckload. “They are forbidden from even negotiating,” says a member of an opposition group. “They are told: ‘Just get the items. Whatever it costs.’ ” Some items—tires for armored personnel carriers, say—are obviously verboten, but many are considered “dual-use,” meaning that they could be used to make weapons of mass destruction but also have applications in hospitals and factories—and that makes them difficult to track.
The NYT fronts Turkey’s plans to send troops into northern Iraq to prevent Kurds from entering Turkey in the event of war. Refugee camps will be set up for the Kurds in both Iraq and Turkey, but the majority of the refugees will remain in Iraq. After the Persian Gulf war in 1991, more than a million Iraqi Kurds, fleeing from the Iraqi army, entered Turkey, fueling (the Turks say) a long-standing Kurdish insurgency there. Critics of the plan say the Turks intend to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state along the border should Saddam Hussein fall from power. The Times reminds us that Iran set up refugee camps in Afghanistan last year to prevent an influx of refugees. The paper does not tell us how Saddam will respond to Turkish troops crossing his borders.
The NYT and the LAT go above the fold with an otherwise hushed announcement from the EPA that it will soften the rules governing industrial air pollution. The proposed changes drew criticism from environmentalists and Democrats, mostly, including the attorneys general from Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and the New England states, who said they would sue. Among other things, the new rules do away with a provision that requires companies to install state-of-the-art pollution-control devices if they modernize their plants. “The changes reflect the Bush administration philosophy that if industry is allowed more flexibility,” the LAT writes, “it will voluntarily reduce pollution.” The announcement was made, with no cameras allowed, the NYT notes, by an assistant EPA administrator, rather than chief Christie Todd Whitman, and while Bush is away in Russia.
Finally, the LAT fronts a scrap over a strip of land in Salt Lake City. The trouble started in 1999, when the city sold the block of Main Street that sits in front of their temple to the Mormon church for $8.1 million. The Mormons built an “oasis”—brick paths, fountains, reflecting pools, etc.—with public walkways running through it. They then tried to regulate behavior on those walkways—removing offensive individuals and groups, including women in halter tops, a Baptist minister trying to “save” Mormons, and a man wearing a shirt that read “We support 3.2% tithing and 10% beer.” The ACLU joined the fray, and now the case is headed to the Supreme Court, which will decide if the halter tops and beer shirts constitute speech that must be protected.