The Washington Post leads with word that despite opposition from privacy advocates and airlines, the government is pushing ahead with a new airline passenger tracking system—to be known as CAPPS 2—that will flag “high risk” travelers and will compare passenger lists with names in criminal and terrorist suspect databases. The Post says the system might be started as soon as next month. The Los Angeles Times leads with news that about 70 Iranian reformist politicians staged a sit-in in parliament and threatened to boycott parliamentary elections after clerics banned thousands of liberal candidates from running. “The situation is like a football match in which the referee sends off one team and invites the other side to score,” said Iran’s vice president. The New York Times leads with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, reiterating his demand that Iraq have direct elections, rather than the partially closed caucuses the U.S. endorses. USA Today’s lead says the U.S. upped the terror alert level after a new “intelligence source” gave the U.S. its most detailed information yet about a planned al-Qaida attack. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online) with a pollsuggesting that the Democratic caucus in Iowa is going to be close: Howard Dean has 25 percent support and Rep. Richard Gephardt has 23 percent. A recent LAT poll put the spread at seven percent.
A Governing Council delegation visited al-Sistani over the weekend, pushing the U.S.-supported plan. Sistani has criticized the proposal before and didn’t budge during the meeting. The Post, which goes inside with al-Sistani’s comments, notes that the Kurds, about 15 percent of the population, oppose direct elections. “We could lose everything,” said one Kurdish official, referring to the unofficial state they’ve created. “Autonomy is not an issue we can afford to let slip beyond elections. We have to lock it in now.”
Officials guess that the new airline travel system will flag about 5 percent of passengers as high risk, some of whom will face extra security while others will be barred from traveling. Officials said the current, more rudimentary system flags about 15 percent of passengers. USAT’s lead story on the intel behind the orange alert doesn’t mention CAPPS but it does have its own numbers. The article says that when counter-terrorism officials were freaking out last month about the Air France flights, they ran 14,000 passenger names through counter-terrorism databases and came up with 300 “hits.” As USAT reminds, “none turned out to be a terrorist.”
According to four unnamed “top government officials,” intel folks heard via a mysterious “source” that al-Qaida was planning to use explosives on two Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles. The paper notes that the officials declined to describe the “source” as human and the paper figures it’s some sort of new electronic intercept technique. Whatever it is, as a result of it officials “believe they now are getting specific information about possible targets, not just general, ‘strategic’ information about al-Qaeda’s desire to hit symbols of American political and economic power.” Question: If this new source is so valuable, why would officials risk blowing its cover by bragging about it to USAT?
The Post’s lead also says the government is about to start testing a system that would allow frequent fliers to use express security lines so long as they submit to a background search.
A frontpage USAT piece says attacks against coalition forces in Iraq have dropped 22 percent since last month, when Saddam was captured and the U.S. launched its heightened counter-insurgency campaign. The article doesn’t mention attacks against Iraqi civilians and police forces.
The LAT and WP stuff a report from the Army’s War College concluding that the “war on terror as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly its parameters should be readjusted.” The report calls the invasion of Iraq a “war-of-choice distraction,” and says focusing on terrorism writ-large risks setting the U.S. “on a course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and non-state entities that pose no serious threat to the United States.” The report, written by a professor, isn’t officially endorsed by the college, which the Post calls “the Army’s premier academic institution.” But the director of the in-college institute that published it didn’t shy away from it: “The article really, really needs to be considered.”