Today's Papers

Steal This Centrifuge

The New York Times leads with a senior Iraqi official’s disclosure that after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, loads of machinery and equipment were looted from dozens of major weapons sites across Iraq, including “equipment that could be used to make missile parts, chemical weapons or centrifuges essential for enriching uranium for atom bombs.” Most of the stolen items appear to have left the country, likely headed into the possession of foreign governments (Syria and Iran are mentioned), or onto the black market. The Washington Post leads with Syria’s commitment Saturday to at last remove its military and intelligence personnel from Lebanon, where they have been stationed since 1976. One-third of the forces are to evacuate by the end of March, though Syria would not specify a date for the final withdrawal. The Los Angeles Times leads with the latest on the capture of Brian Nichols, the man who escaped authorities Friday after allegedly killing three people in an Atlanta courthouse. After receiving a 911 call from the woman whose apartment Nichols was hiding in, police surrounded the complex until the suspect literally waved a white-flag. Nichols is thought to have killed a fourth person while he was on the run: Federal immigration agent David Wilhelm was found dead in his home on Saturday morning.

Both U.S. and U.N. officials have long known about the looting in Iraq—just a week ago the U.N. reported that 90 sites had been plundered—but yesterday’s information highlighted the sweeping extent of the thefts and the precision with which they were carried out. According to witnesses, teams of men in pickup trucks moved deliberately from site to site, carting off the most sophisticated machinery first. U.S. military officials couldn’t be reached for comment, but, notes the NYT, in the past the military has claimed it simply didn’t have enough troops to guard the sites.

In a strange turn of events, Nichols allegedly carjacked Atlanta Journal-Constitution employee Almeta Kilgo, who gives a chilling first-person account of the incident here (free registration required; the AJC has the best coverage). Nichols apparently drove Kilgo’s car a short distance, then carjacked anotherAJC employee, reporter Don O’Briant. Soon after, Nichols took advantage of a frayed dragnet by getting on the subway, where no checkpoint had been set up. After several more assaults, Nichols appears to have arrived at the home of U.S. Immigration and Customs agent Wilhelm, where he murdered the man and took his gun, badge, and truck. He then drove to a nearby city where he accosted a woman, tied her up in her apartment, and watched the manhunt on TV. According to reports, Nichols let the woman go after she spoke to him for hours about family and religion.  She then called 911.

An excellent NYT report takes an in-depth look at the Bush administration’s Orwellian practice of flooding the airwaves with propaganda that looks like news. Under Bush, at least 20 federal agencies have released hundreds of phony news segments, many of which are broadcast without acknowledging their governmental origin. (Check out the airplane safety video the article links to.) The segments are designed specifically to showcase Bush policies and are often introduced by evening news anchors who’ve been given prewritten lead-ins. Among the many interesting facts in the article: “The Bush administration spent $254 million in its first term on public relations contracts, nearly double what the last Clinton administration spent.”

European law enforcement officials are investigating several instances in which the CIA may have illegally detained terror suspects on European soil and then flown them to other countries for interrogation. This WP front documents cases in Italy, Germany, and Sweden, where Arab men appear to have been seized by CIA agents, then “rendered” to secret locations and brutally interrogated (read: tortured). Parts of the claims appear to be corroborated by available evidence.

Iraqis are getting impatient with the lack of visible results in the wake of the January election, reports an LAT front. Six weeks later, the winning slates—mainly the United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite) and the Kurds—have still not settled on key issues, such as who will control the ministries, who will govern specific regions, and whether the Kurds have veto power over governmental policy, a provision which would allow them to prevent the Shiites from establishing a theocracy.

The NYT is the only paper to front the Saturday shooting spree at a church group meeting in Milwaukee that left eight people dead, including the gunman, who may have been a member of the congregation. No motive was discovered by time of press.

The LAT looks back to 2003, and at the successful joint effort by England and the U.S. to force Libya to give up its WMD programs. Soon after the deal was completed, a team of arms experts from the U.S. and U.K. found a trove of information, including hundreds of pages of nuclear warhead blueprints, as well as 55,000 pounds of nuclear weapons-related equipment.

Inside the WP, Condoleezza Rice can be seen opening the door to a presidential bid in 2008. Rice noted that she is “mildly pro-choice,” although the precise locus of  the mildness was not specified.

Sunday Self-Explainer: “A woman called animal control about a large cat sitting atop a fence with a ravioli can stuck on its head. An officer removed the can, and the cat looked at the officer, hissed loudly and ran away.” (WP)