Today's Papers

Spy Gains?

The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with the White House handing more power to the government’s intel czar, currently John Negroponte. The FBI’s various intel efforts will be consolidated into one branch—the National Security Service—that will ultimately report to Negroponte. The Washington Postgoes above the fold with the intel changes but across the top with a government audit concluding that the feds wasted a few hundred million dollars as they hired airport screeners after 9/11. USA Todayleads with new census figures showing growth in many big cities hit the skids after the boom-boom ‘90s.

The intel consolidation is intended to help break down the walls between the FBI and CIA—which, as the WP emphasizes, is why civil-liberties types aren’t thrilled. “Spies and cops play different roles and operate under different rules for a reason,” said an ACLU lawyer. In any case, the change is among 70 of the 74 recommendations made by the recent WMD commission that the White House endorsed yesterday. The others were mostly small bore or just vague. Among them: a pledge to formalize ways for dissenting analyses to make their way up the chain of command. The NYT flags one of the four recommendations that wasn’t endorsed: a call to detail “accountability of individual intelligence units” in pre-war Iraq assessments.

The WP fronts a few former and current CIA spooks saying their Italian counterparts were indeed kept in the loop about the agency’s plan to “snatch” a suspected al-Qaida man. The suspect was shipped to Egypt, where he was reportedly tortured. His case has been taken up by an Italian judge who has ordered the arrest of 13 CIA agents. The Post’s agency sources said the Italian spooks agreed beforehand not to confirm anything if, as happened, the incident became public.

What the above Post piece doesn’t address is previous reportsthat Italian secret policewere about to arrest the suspect and perhaps some of his compatriots. “We do feel quite betrayed that this operation was carried out in our city,” one investigator told the NYT. “We supplied them information about Abu Omar, and then they used that information against us, undermining an entire operation against his terrorist network.”

The Wall Street Journal goes high with military officials saying that the downed transport chopper in Afghanistan appears to have been hit by a rocket, with all 17 soldiers—mostly special forces—likely killed. The Post and LAT explain why none of that is confirmed: The helicopter went down in a particularly remote area and fell into a deep ravine; there’s bad weather; and the worst part, as a military spokesman said, “We are fighting our way to that helicopter.”

The NYT off-leads a wide-angle piece on increasing instability in Afghanistan, where, the Times says, people are increasingly disenchanted with the U.S.’s presence. USAT paints a far less dire picture. “The fear we might withdraw or lessen our support is much greater than any feelings that the presence of the United States is not desirable,” one Afghanistan analyst told the paper.

Everybody mentions that President Bush was briefly “relocated” last evening when (another) plane strayed into D.C.’s restricted airspace. The breach also prompted a short-lived larger evacuation order but not the panic of the last time it happened.

The NYT fronts the redesign of the proposed hardened Freedom Tower, which now features a 200-ft., NYPD-blessed, base of concrete and steel.

The NYT reefers a judge ruling that Time’s Matthew Cooper and the NYT’s Judith Miller now have a week to squeal—about their sources in the outing of a CIA  agent—or face prison. Cooper’s corporate bosses have suggested they might hand over his notes, which Cooper says he doesn’t want but would save him from the slammer.

A front-page Post piece says the president based his speech partly on the advice of two political scientists who’ve concluded that what Americans really care about is … winning—the rest is white noise. “The most important single factor in determining public support for a war is the perception that the mission will succeed,” said one of the profs. But the other academic—the one who wasn’t recently hired by the White House—said that the president didn’t do a good job last night and should have offered some benchmarks. “He may have stemmed the flow for a little bit, but I don’t think he’s given the public a framework for showing how we’re making progress.”

The above Post piece also includes this:

“We want people to understand the difficult work that’s ahead,” said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to speak more freely. “We want them to understand there’s a political process to which the Iraqis are committed and there’s a military process, a security process, to which we, our coalition partners and the Iraqis are committed. And that there is progress being made but progress in a time of war is tough.” [Emphasis added]

Good to know the SAO was speaking freely and that the Post, in return for granting anonymity,demanded such straight talk.