Today's Papers

Duct and Cover

Everybody has terror-related leads. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with a new audio tape apparently from Bin Laden. Analysts are trying to confirm its authenticity, but they think it’s the real deal. In the tape, which was broadcast by Arab network Al Jazeera, Osama—or a really good voice-double—urges Iraqis and all Muslims to fight the U.S. He also had a few tips: “Dig large numbers of trenches and camouflage them.” That’s how he says he survived Tora Bora. The New York Times’ lead plays up CIA honcho George Tenet’s contention that al-Qaida and Saddam are linked. “Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al-Qaida,” said Tenet, whose agency has typically been skeptical of attempts to link the two. USA Today leads with terror-warnings from Tenet and FBI Director Robert Muller, who both testified before Congress yesterday. “The intelligence is not idle chatter,” said Tenet. “It is the most specific we have seen.” USAT also says there’s been a run on duct-tape the last two days.

Everybody mentions that Secretary of State Powell broke news of the audio tape, saying it’s just one more sign that AQ and Saddam are tight. But as most of the papers mention, the tape’s evidence of that is skimpy. Osama calls Saddam and his supporters “infidels.” “Actually, it’s quite derogatory to Saddam,” one analyst told the LAT. Osama does, though, cite a “collusion of interests.” (Slate’s William Saletan says Powell’s claims are hypocritical.)

None of the papers seem to spend much time on another bit of potentially important info in the tapes: Osama spoke for 16 minutes and was more lively than on the last tape that was put out, leading some—well, at least the terrorist expert TP saw on CNN—to speculate that OBL is in better shape nowadays.

The LAT, alone among the papers, does a separate front-page piece on Robert Muller’s warning that there are “several hundred members” of al-Qaida (LAT’s words) roaming around the U.S. The WP plays that down, noting that Muller said that he thinks most of them are actually second-stringers, working on fund-raising and recruitment.

A front-page Post piecefocuses on Tenet’s warning that various nations—including Iran and Libya—are now racing to develop nukes. “More has changed on proliferation over the past year than any other issue,” he said.

While Tenet and Muller get most of the attention today, the Post stuffs testimony from another intel chief: the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who called the current crisis with North Korea“the most serious challenge to U.S. regional interests in a generation,” especially since, he explained, Pyongyang has demonstrated that it’s willing to sell its weapons to anybody. The NY Times and others mention inside that the U.S. is now pushing the U.N. to up the pressure on North Korea and declare the country in violation of international nuke agreements.

A NYT editorial says, among other things, that the federal government has yet to deliver the dough it promised states and local authorities for anti-terror equipment.

The Post fronts Iraqi exile groups who say they’re bummed about the White House’s post-war plans. According to the groups, which were briefed on the plans yesterday, the U.S. military will be in charge for at least a year and will keep in place current mid-level Iraqi officials. As the WP explains, the groups have been angling to form a shadow government to take power as soon as Saddam gets the boot.

Everybody says the rift between the U.S. and Germany and France hasn’t gotten any better. The NYT notices that while Bush called Angola’s president to try to get his support on Iraq, Berlin or Paris were kept out of contact because as one senior administration put it, “they deserve to be embarrassed.”

The WP and NYT both off-lead Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s suggestions yesterday that he’s not into Bush’s proposed tax cuts. Greenspan said it would be “premature” to introduce the cuts now, because much of what’s dragging on the economy is uncertainty over Iraq. He also said that while he supports the notion of ending the dividend tax, it should be offset by either higher taxes elsewhere or budget cuts. Finally, he said that the surging deficit, economically speaking, stinks: “Contrary to what some have said, it does affect long-term interest rates and it does have an impact on the economy.”

The NYT notes inside—and others seem to skip—news that a car full of American special-ops guys in Afghanistan was ambushed yesterday by unknown gunmen. The Americans got away uninjured, then called in airstrikes.

A front-page NYT piece says that Congress appears to have placed a stop-order on the Pentagon’s much-derided Total Information Awareness program, which was meant to scour commercial and public databases looking for terrorist patterns. House and Senate negotiators put a provision into one of the new spending bills barring the TIA project from spying on Americans. The Times says President Bush can invoke national security concerns and overrule the decision.

The NYT fronts an art exhibition by former South African President Nelson Mandela of some drawings he’s recently etched illustrating his time in prison. Mandela worked with pastels, the better to show his optimism even in the dreary prison. Viewers loved them. “He takes these desperate, desperate scenes and yet every one is like a beacon of hope,” said one attendee. Or as one art dealer put it, “These are absolutely now.”