The New York Times leads with word that the Bush administration has started tracking Iraqis in the U.S. who might pose a domestic terrorist threat in the event of a war. The Washington Post, with a banner headline, leads with a lengthy Bob Woodward piece on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s behind-the-scenes struggles with the administration over Iraq-related policy. The Los Angeles Times leads with results of a poll the paper conducted among members of the Democratic National Committee that found nearly half of those surveyed want Al Gore to sit out the 2004 presidential race.
According to the NYT, the surveillance program will track Iraqi citizens and Iraqi-Americans with dual citizenship who work or go to school in the U.S. and who might be sympathetic to Saddam Hussein. Some are already being electronically monitored under national security warrants, the paper says, while others are being recruited as informants.
None of these efforts are dramatically new. A comparable operation was conducted before and during the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Furthermore, the program doesn’t sound much different than post-9/11 efforts to track individuals from the Middle East who are here in the U.S. and might pose a threat.
However, an unnamed senior government official tells the NYT that this will be the “largest and most aggressive” surveillance program yet. All the key agencies—including the Pentagon, FBI, and CIA—are involved, and next week, federal authorities will begin asking Arab-Americans to voluntarily submit to new interrogations—efforts that have long been criticized by Arab-American groups. All this comes on the heels of yesterday’s news that the Bush administration has been tossing around the idea of creating a new spy agency to oversee just domestic threats.
Woodward’s piece—the first story in a three-part series examining Bush as a wartime president—gets major play in the WP. Yet there are very few new details when it comes to the essential gist of the story, which is that Powell overcame a distant relationship with President Bush and critics like Vice President Dick Cheney in order to successfully argue against the U.S. going it alone in Iraq. There’s lots of color here—expletive-laden quotes that have been cleaned up for WP readers, “blistering arguments” between Powell and Cheney and so on—and in a lengthy aside, the paper credits most of it to internal transcripts and notes taken at National Security Council meetings and interviews with more than 100 people, including Bush.
A piece fronted by the LAT says Saddam might be concealing an arsenal of biological weapons in a fleet of nondescript trucks that are constantly on the move throughout Iraq. Investigators have dubbed the vehicles “Winnebagos of Death” because they are fitted to look like everyday trucks in order to elude weapons inspectors. Finding and dismantling the mobile war machines safely is the biggest challenge facing U.N. weapons inspectors, the paper says.
The NYT fronts a mention but stuffs a longer piece on news that a senior al-Qaida member arrested earlier this month in Kuwait has confessed to planning last month’s attack against a French oil tanker in Yemen. The operative also told authorities that he had been planning a car bomb attack in Yemen, but he was arrested before it took place. The story briefly mentions news of another message from al-Qaida revealed yesterday. An Al Jazeera TV reporter received a six-page letter from the group last Wednesday that mentioned new threats against New York and Washington until the U.S. drops support of Israel and converts to Islam.
The Democratic race for the White House is wide open, suggests the LAT in the write-up of its DNC poll. The paper talked to more than three-quarters of the group’s 450 members, including state, local, and national party leaders, and asked respondents to choose who they would support in 2004 from a field of 10 potential candidates. Nineteen percent named Gore as their favorite, while Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry got 18 percent of the mock vote. Why is this important? “The first primary is among the insiders. It’s organizers, it’s fund-raisers, it’s these players,” political analyst Charlie Cook tells the paper.
The NYT fronts its own story about disarray in the Dem ranks, noting that to many party insiders, Gore is a symbol of Democratic defeat. Smelling blood, a good number of White House wannabes—including Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina—have stepped up their efforts in the last week to be the fresh face their party needs. But the WP, in its version of the same story, notes that they face an uphill battle to get the name recognition necessary to take on Bush in 2004. Meanwhile, the party faces a dilemma: Should it assume that the only real energy among Democrats is on the left? Can it afford to ignore moderates and swing voters in 2004?
A “Week in Review” piece in the NYT notes there’s at least one place where moderation doesn’t rule: the U.S. House. The ascension of liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and conservative Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, to party leadership bucks the Washington trend of appealing to the middle. And that might make life difficult for Bush heading into the 2004 presidential race, the LAT notes. DeLay and other hardcore conservatives are already butting heads with the administration over defense issues, abortion, and what to do about the struggling economy. In 1992, Bush’s father alienated the party’s right wing and lost his bid for re-election—something his son hasn’t forgotten, the paper reports.
Finally, the LAT profiles the latest cultural addition to the Lone Star State: the Texas Prison Museum. Based in Huntsville—about 80 miles north of Houston—the museum includes artifacts culled from the town’s state prison complex, which is home to the busiest execution chamber in the country. While exhibits include profiles of inmate life and prison contraband, visitors flock to the capital punishment installation, which includes syringes used in actual lethal injections, a last meal request dating back to the 1950s, and “Old Sparky,” the electric chair that was retired in 1964 after 361 executions.