Today's Papers

Pakking Heat

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Today all lead with the government raising the terror alert status to high, or “orange.” Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge said the threat of a terror attack is “perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11, 2001.” The New York Times’ lead says that European and American intel officials have presented Pakistan’s government with evidence that Pakistani scientists gave nuke secrets to North Korea, Iran, and maybe others.

As the papers note, officials were hesitant to knock the alert level up since they’ve been criticized for being too quick to do so. They decided to do it anyway after intel intercepted conversations about what the NYT dubs “some unspecified but spectacular attack.”

Though there’s very little solid info about what exactly prompted the alerts, it appears to be based on a general uptick in AQ intercepts. “The real concern is the volume of the threat information, all the chatter,” one unnamed official told the LAT. (Here’s a Slate Explainer on “chatter.”)

According to the NY Times, Pakistan’s government is now questioning most of its suspect scientists—though it hasn’t questioned the key scientist thought involved in transferring secrets. He’s the father of Pakistan’s A-bomb, and European and American intel officials say Gen. Pervez Musharraf is scared to confront him because the guy’s a national hero and has what the Times calls “deep ties to the country’s military and intelligence services.”

Pakistani officials insist that any nuke skills or equipment transfer wasn’t condoned by the government and certainly hasn’t happened since Gen. Musharraf’s coup in 1999. But as the NYT mentions  down in the 27th paragraph, a Pakistani military plane was spotted in North Korea in 2002 picking up missile parts, presumably as part of a barter deal. Libya also somehow seems to have gotten its hands on some Pakistani-designed centrifuges. “It looks like an indirect transfer,” said one unnamed official

As the Times nicely notes up high, there have been other stories about Pakistan spreading its nukes technology. For instance, yesterday’s Post looked at the Iranian connection.

In a solid piece of enterprising journalism, a NYT investigation says that over the past 20 years OSHA has been loath to try to prosecute employers whose “willful” neglect of safety rules has resulted in the death of an employee. Of1,242 such deaths recorded between 1982 and 2002, OSHA declined to seek prosecution in 93 percent of the cases. The Times also found that employers who break safety violations typically face lighter punishment than do those who break environmental or financial laws. “A simple lack of guts and political will,” said one former OSHA administrator.

The OSHA article is the second installment of a three-part series and has a nice multimedia page, with audio and photos. But the Times could have gone further. The article says the paper did “a computer analysis of two decades of OSHA inspection data.” Why not put the database online and allow readers to make their own connections and assessments?

The Journal says the Bush administration is about to propose revamping the country’s fuel-economy standards. The plan calls for closing loopholes that define vehicles such as Chrysler’s PT Cruiser as light trucks, which aren’t required to be as fuel-efficient as cars. The administration is also going to propose making fuel-economy requirements dependent on a vehicle’s weight, a move that environmentalists oppose but that was devised by the non-partisan National Academy of Sciences.

USAT fronts an in-depth piece concluding that sports stars charged with sexual assault have a much lower conviction rate (about 30 percent) than do other sexual-assault defendants, about 70 percent of whom are convicted. The paper attributes the difference to athletes’ celebrity status. And that’s probably true. But isn’t there also another factor: Sports figures are typically wealthier.

The Post’s Al Kamen picks up a Christmas ditty sent around by the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control and International Security. First, a backgrounder: Natanz is an Iranian nuclear plant that may be making highly enriched uranium, or HEU. DPRK is North Korea. Now, sing to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”:

In Natanz, they’re enriching,
As their story keeps switching,
Each day something new,
Like lost HEU,
Coping with a nuclear Iran.
Do they need centrifuges?
Do they think we’re just stooges?
They’re going the way
Coping with a nuclear Iran.