Today's Papers

Missile Missives Miss

The New York Times leads with yesterday’s two suicide bombings in Israel that left two Israelis dead. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas each claimed responsibility for one of the attacks. Israel said the bombings, though less than hour apart, didn’t appear to be coordinated. USA Today leads with, and most others front, word from unnamed feds that they’ve caught an arms dealer trying to buy and then resell advanced, portable anti-aircraft missiles. The Washington Post leads with a worm that’s racing around the Net, infecting Windows computers. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that U.S. officials in Iraq, citing last week’s bombing of the Jordanian Embassy and increased threats, have stepped up security for American officials there and are looking to train Iraqi bodyguards for the Iraqi Governing Council. The paper says reporters visiting proconsul Paul Bremer yesterday had to go through two body-searches and a sniffing by dogs, “a more intensive procedure than the White House demanded after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.” As the LAT notes, one U.S. soldier was killed yesterday and one wounded when a series of bombs hit an American convoy. Two GIs were also wounded in other attacks. 

Hamas said its attack was in response to Israel’s killing of two Hamas militants last weekend, which happened during a firefight in which one Israeli soldier and two Palestinian civilians were also killed. The papers don’t clarify whether the claims of responsibility came from the groups’ central commands or from local cells. As the NYT notes up high, the Israeli military has yet to retaliate; although after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon heard about the attacks, he ordered buses carrying 76 about-to-be-released Palestinian prisoners to turn around.

Everybody, of course, sees the bombings as a sign that the peace process isn’t doing well.“The game here is very, very transparent—the whole world is watching two parties who committed to a road map they weren’t planning to implement,” one liberal Israeli analyst told the LAT. “I don’t see any serious peace process here. I see a [cease-fire] in the background which was creating the artificial feeling of a much better situation.”

The worm rooting around the Internet causes computer to reboot and slow down. It’s also designed to cripple Microsoft’s Web site. Here’s how to tell if you have it and how to get rid of it. Some analysts told the WP that the worm is evidence that Microsoft (which generously pays TP’s bills) has done a B-list job of protecting consumers. “They don’t cover all systems,” said one analyst. “They are desperately trying to avoid responsibility, and any legal liability that comes with that responsibility.”

According to USAT’s lead headline, “MISSILE INTENDED TO SHOOT DOWN JET; Briton Allegedly Tried To Aid Terror in USA.” But read deeper into the papers’ coverage (except the LAT, whose story is cloudy) and it’s clear that this barely qualifies as a plot and doesn’t appear to be a significant development—despite the story-hyping leak from the feds.

As the NYT and Wall Street Journal explain up high, the key figure in the plot never got his hands on a live missile. Instead, undercover police posed as both sellers of the missiles and as the intended final buyers: After the FBI heard from an informant that an aspiring arms dealer was trying to get ahold of Russian missiles and sell them to AQ, the feds arranged to have Russian police sell the guy a disarmed missile. The missile was then shipped to the U.S, “with help from the federal authorities” (WSJ). At that point, feds posing as AQ operatives bought the dummy missile from the guy then cuffed him.

As everybody notes, the anonymous fed leakers said the dealer didn’t appear to be motivated by ideology. “He just wanted to make some money,” said one official. As the papers all suggest and the NYT flatly states, “No real terrorists were ever connected to the plot.” In other words, this wannabe Adnan Khashoggi likely had no connections to actual missiles nor to actual terrorists.

And why again is this a Page One story? The WP, alone among the papers, keeps its cool. It puts the story on A28.

The NYT goes inside with a press conference Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer had yesterday in which he mentioned that it will take “staggering” sums to rebuild Iraq. He said it will cost $16 billion to rebuild water systems and $13 billion to bring power stations and delivery up to snuff. The Times doesn’t emphasize the numbers: “U.S. OVERSEER DEFENDS OCCUPATION OF IRAQ.”

The WP off-leads a poll noting that President Bush’s approval ratings, which had been dropping, have stabilized. For the past month, he’s held steady at 59 percent.

The NYT fronts word from “administration officials” that the White House is considering offering North Korea some concessions, including easing the economic sanctions, if Pyongyang dismantles its nukes program. The piece feels like a trial balloon: It goes on to note that the administration is still deeply divided, calling questions about how to deal with North Korea “one of the most internally contentious issues” the White House faces. The piece also says there’s not much hope that the coming talks with Pyongyang will result in progress.

The Post, pondering our supposed fascination with flops, notices that Gigli has continued its climb in the flopdom Hall of Fame: Last weekend the movie ran in 2,215 theaters and pulled in $678,640: That’s roughly three people per showing.