The Washington Post leads with a sobering critique of prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq. In a letter to CIA Director George Tenet, leaders of the House intelligence committee charge that unreliable and outdated information was used in concluding that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida. The New York Times leads with an “aside” from Vladamir Putin, who says Russia will not back away from its plan to help Iran build a nuclear reactor. The Los Angeles Times fronts the Putin/Bush press conference but leads with U.S. attempts to stanch the flow of money to terrorists. “Al-Qaida’s re-emerging network—including Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia—are, at best, years away from establishing the financial and legal infrastructures needed to freeze terrorist assets or gain intelligence on how cells are raising, moving and spending money,” the LAT reports.
The letter (which the Post acquired “over the weekend”) from the leaders of the House intelligence committee to Tenet, is especially damning because Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., is one of the authors. Goss is not only a Republican, he’s also a former CIA agent and a Tenet booster. He and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Cal., claim that the intelligence community relied on “past assessments” going back to when inspectors left Iraq in 1998 and on new “piecemeal” information, both of which “were not challenged as a routine matter.” As for the classified information the administration has said it possesses but cannot disclose, Goss and Harman write, “We have not found any information in the assessments that are still classified that was any more definitive.”
“The tradecraft of intelligence rarely has the luxury of having black-and-white facts,” a CIA spokesman fires back, as quoted in the WP. “The judgments reached, and the tradecraft used, were honest and professional—based on many years of effort and experience.”
The press conference at Camp David was uneventful, it seems, except for Putin’s “brief, and almost cryptic, aside,” as reported by the NYT’s David Sanger. The other papers seem to have dismissed the remark—if they caught it in the first place. According to Sanger, Putin told Bush that “Russia would go forward with its plans to help Iran build a nuclear reactor” as a part of its civilian energy program. The Russian president joined with Bush, however, in demanding that Iran comply with international inspections of its suspected nuclear weapons program.
The two glossed over other, long-standing points of contention regarding the occupation of Iraq and nuclear proliferation in North Korea. “[A]t every turn,” Sanger writes in the Times, “Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin said they shared the same goals: assuring that unconventional weapons do not fall into the hands of terrorists, that neither Iran nor North Korea develops nuclear weapons, and that democracy flourishes in Iraq. They cast their differences as tactical, and Mr. Bush said they shared what he termed ‘a trustworthy relationship.’”
“Plus, I like him, he’s a good fellow to spend quality time with,” Bush says.
The NYT takes aim at John Ashcroft in three different sections. A fronter exposes Justice’s ready application of the Patriot Act—the antiterror law that comes in handy when fighting ordinary crime as well. “What the Justice Department has really done is to get things put into law that have been on prosecutors’ wish lists for years,” says the legal director for People for the American Way.
On the NYT’s op-ed page, George Fisher, a Stanford law professor, takes a cynical stab at a soft target: Ashcroft’s new plea-bargaining rules. Fisher implies that even if the A.G. were serious about limiting pleas—and that’s not obvious—the system would still rumble on as before. Ninety-five percent of criminal cases adjudicated in federal courts end with guilty or no contest pleas. “To try even one-quarter of all cases would mean five times as many trials, with a comparable increase in expense. … To many, less plea bargaining sounds like more justice. But don’t be fooled. Once everyone finds the loopholes, plea bargaining will march on the same as before.”
In the “Metro” section, the NYT reports that even as Ashcroft demands harsher sentences, cash-strapped state legislatures are busy finding ways to keep the bad guys (and gals) out of prison. “The states and the federal government are moving in quite different directions,” says an Indiana law professor. While the feds exert an “almost religious zeal to see that people get sentenced to prison for a long time,” the states are “scratching their heads and saying, ‘You know, incarcerating people for that long doesn’t work.’ ”
With the NFL entering Week 4, the NYT fronts a full-color photo of kids lining up for drills—but in Baghdad, not Buffalo. Some 70 Iraqi orphans (shown in Colts T-shirts and Packers caps) are being taught football by American troops, according to the caption.
Finally, the LAT fronts China’s secret plans to become the third nation to put humans, i.e., “taikonauts,” in space. The Shenzhou 5—the name means “divine vessel”—is expected to launch as early as next month with at least one man aboard. Mission: unknown. “While one of the strongest immediate motivations for this program appears to be political prestige, China’s manned space efforts almost certainly will contribute to improved military space systems in the 2010-2020 time frame,” a Pentagon report reads. Or, from the China Aerospace & Technology Corp. Web site: “We are soon to use our Shenzhou manned spaceships to explore the mysterious space frontiers, realizing the nation’s dream of spaceflight. … We are already using our powerful rockets to build a reliable ‘Great Wall in the Sky’ for the People’s Republic.”