The Washington Postleads with the federal government’s counterterrorism ramp-up in the weeks before the election. The FBI is adding hundreds of agents to the case to conduct “aggressive and often overt surveillance,” which they hope will lead to more interrogations and arrests. The New York Times leads with the Army’s musings about reducing the current 12-month tour of duty to between six and nine months, a move they hope would bolster enlistment and retention rates. The Wall Street Journal tops its news box with the surprising popularity of early voting, noting that up to a third of voters nationwide may cast ballots before Election Day. John Harwood files his anecdotal piece from Des Moines, Iowa, where he followed ‘ballot-chasers’ around town as they collected votes. The Los Angeles Timesand USA Todaylead with the havoc wrought yesterday by Hurricane Jeanne, Florida’s fourth this season (tying the record set by Texas in 1886).
As the election nears, train tracks and cargo ships will be subject to increased scrutiny. Hazmat suits and bomb-sniffing dogs will be de rigueur, and local law enforcement officials will be asked to run the names of suspicious perps through the federal terrorism watch list, “even during traffic stops.” Though there’s still “no intelligence detailing the timing, status or targets of any plot,” officials remain worried that al-Qaida may try to disrupt the elections, in a move that might mirror the recent elections in Spain. The law-enforcement community will therefore press its pre-emptive counteroffensive until at least the January inauguration, though according to James M. Loy, deputy secretary of Homeland Security, “We must find a way to hold onto the sense of urgency, and hold it potentially for decades.” [For a competing view, check out this Harper’s article on terror.]
Jeanne knocked out power to 2.5 million homes and added at least six to her staggering list of victims, 1,500 of whom were Haitians who drowned in floods last week. The storm followed the path cut by Frances on Sept. 16, but weakened significantly as it headed to Georgia and the Carolinas. The hurricane parade—Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne—has killed at least 113 Americans and caused upwards of $20 billion in damage.
The LAT fronts a telling article about the Bush administration’s outlook downgrade on all matters Iraqi. This excerpt says it best: “Gone—at least for now—is the lofty ideal of Iraq serving as a free-market democratic model that would ignite the forces of change throughout the Middle East and lay the seeds of a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Plans for January elections in Iraq appear to be near collapse despite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s sunny assurances last week to Congress. And no one is buying the state-owned businesses the administration is trying to auction off—not only are they debt-ridden, overstaffed, and dependent on obsolete equipment, but there are also major legal questions about whether an occupying force can even sell state assets. In addition, Iraq’s besieged oil industry is not the asset officials had expected. Pipeline attacks and popular resistance to privatization have pumped out $1 billion in losses so far this year.
The WP fronts an in-depth look at Abu Musab Zarqawi, the notorious Islamist leader in Iraq believed to be responsible for the current wave of beheadings. The 38-year-old Jordanian has moved between Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq and has had close ties with al-Qaida since 2000. However, the article makes clear that he is not a member per se of al-Qaida, and that his agenda diverges from theirs in important ways. His group, Monotheism and Jihad, has used the beheadings to become the most visible and influential insurgency group in Iraq. But since 1999 he’s done much more than that, including running training camps, planning attacks and assassinations, establishing terrorist cells in Europe, and fighting U.S. troops alongside the Taliban.
USAT and the NYT front the arrest of a senior commander of the Iraqi National Guard (the official Iraq security force), a development that called into doubt the “loyalty and reliability” of the forces, especially since the elections are ‘coming up.’
The NYT also fronts a wind-up to the first presidential debate on Thursday evening. Both campaigns have been increasing the ferocity of their attacks lately, and the article speculates that we may see a continuation of this rhetorical fang-baring when the candidates take the podium.
Some new kinds of political advocacy groups and charities are operating in confusingly shady territory, reports the WP. The groups are creatively interpreting McCain-Feingold strictures on campaign spending and electioneering (which are weakly enforced anyway), and laying out vast sums for television ads, voter turnout efforts, and various types of political advocacy when maybe they shouldn’t be—and get this: because they’re 501c (4) (5) or (6) groups and not 527s or 501c (3)s—well, they don’t even need to disclose where they get their money from.
This week’s Monday fun fact is courtesy the WP: Scientists have found a massively large cloud made of pure sugar. The only problem is, it’s frozen in interstellar space. The sugar is called glycolaldehyde and is only a couple of carbon atoms from being ribose, of RNA-component fame. The question then becomes, was this space sugar an ingredient in the primordial ooze we all evolved from, perhaps brought to earth on a comet or meteorite? It is tempting to think so, say experts. Very tempting.