Today's Papers

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post lead with a proposal, floated by the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to reorganize the United States’ intelligence agencies even more radically than recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. Supported by eight other committee Republicans, chairman Pat Roberts wants to break up the CIA into three pieces that, along with agencies like the Pentagon’s NSA, would be placed under the complete control of a new national intelligence director. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide news box with an Iraq roundup, and USA Todayleads with an analysis of Iraqi insurgent attacks against U.S. forces, finding that they have not diminished significantly since the U.S. relinquished sovereignty at the end of June. What’s more striking, however, is the sheer number of such attacks—some 49 a day—and their geographic diversity. While 30 percent take place in Baghdad, they’re common across the country, the paper says.

Roberts’ intelligence reorganization bill won the papers’ lead slots because of its laudable reach, which is also the reason there’s little chance anything like it will actually be implemented as is. The papers say the Pentagon is likely to guard its intelligence budget with an unholy arsenal of bureaucratic weaponry, and the Armed Services Committee probably won’t be too keen on losing oversight of that budget, either. While the CIA refused to comment and the White House said only that it would study the proposal, an unnamed “senior intelligence official” planted versions of the same quote in both the WP and NYT. “Rather than bringing intelligence disciplines together, it smashes them apart,” the official said. “This proposal is unworkable and would hamper rather than enhance the nation’s intelligence operations.”

Fighting intensified in Najaf overnight, after the most recent round of on-and-off talks between the interim Iraqi government and Muqtada Sadr’s militia apparently broke down. (Oddly, Sadr himself is still nowhere to be found, and none of his reps would confirm his location. When asked, the NYT says an aide told reporters only that “He is in our hearts.”) As a nearby fire illuminated the dome of the Imam Ali shrine, U.S. forces pushed to within a few hundred yards of it, launching a fusillade at a nearby garage, among other targets. One of Sadr’s aides told the NYT in a phone conversation from the shrine early this morning that part of its western entrance, the Amarra Door, had been damaged, but that report could not be confirmed.

Even as Sadr’s forces fought with American troops, the papers note that he was able to convince kidnappers to free American journalist Micah Garen and his Iraqi translator, both of whom had been held since Aug. 13. They are now in U.S. custody and were unharmed.

An odd item from the Najaf pieces in the WP and LAT: As heavy fighting continued late yesterday, Iraqi police cars drove around the city broadcasting an announcement that militia leaders, including Sadr, had fled and that all people should return to the old city, where much of the fighting was happening. The LAT’s Najaf story speculates that the announcement might be a gambit to persuade the insurgents to surrender.

Four suspected terrorists will face the first arraignments in military tribunals at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay this week, according to the WP, which talks to some of the harshest critics of the process—military lawyers assigned to defend the accused. “These commissions are a lie behind the claim that all men are created equal, that we are innocent until proven guilty, that we as a society believe in the rule of law above all else,” a Navy lieutenant commander said. Along with the lack of an independent appeals process and the admissibility of hearsay, one of the lawyers’ major complaints is that coerced confessions might be introduced as evidence without any description of how they were obtained.

Meanwhile, on page A-12, the Post reports a new twist in the Abu Ghraib investigations: the appearance of an Army memo asking for ideas on how to break prisoners in Iraq, apparently issued by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s intelligence staff last summer. “The gloves are coming off gentleman regarding these detainees,” it reads. While that’s pretty sexy copy, TP’s hoping for some follow-up: The memo comes from an entirely blind source—possibly military, likely in Germany, where the story is datelined—and the paper tells us it could not be independently verified.

The papers go high with Sen. John Kerry’s new battleground-state TV commercial blasting President Bush for allegedly supporting ads from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that has been assaulting Kerry’s war record with charges of questionable credibility. The Kerry campaign also filed an FEC complaint Friday alleging illegal cooperation between the Bush campaign and the group. Compared to the other papers, the NYT’s off-lead paints these moves as particularly desperate, saying some Kerry aides fear that the controversy is “now threatening to undermine his candidacy.” According to a Dem “close to the campaign,” “[w]hen you’re basically running on your biography and there are ongoing attacks that are undermining the credibility of your biography, you have a really big problem.” (For those not lucky enough to be in Ohio, West Virginia, or Wisconsin, you, too, can watch the ad on Kerry’s site.)

Meanwhile, the papers note that Bob Dole came out swinging at Kerry on CNN yesterday. “He’s got himself into this wicket now where he can’t extricate himself because not every one of these people can be Republican liars,” Dole said of the allegations, adding that he doesn’t believe Kerry deserves his Purple Hearts because they were for “superficial wounds,” although the papers point out that Kerry still does carry shrapnel from one in his leg. (Memo to the Kerry campaign war room: According to blogger Josh Marshall, Dole said in 1988 that one of his own Purple Hearts was awarded for only a relatively minor injury.)

The papers all front or reefer news that armed thieves in black masks burst into an Oslo museum yesterday morning and made off with Edvard Munch’s iconic painting The Scream. The Expressionist masterpiece—painted in tempera on cardboard and reproduced on countless dorm-room posters, mouse pads, and shower curtains—is actually one of four separate versions Munch painted, one of which was stolen (and later recovered) from another Oslo museum in 1994. Each is valued at more than $70 million.