Today's Papers

Dialing for Data

The New York Timesleads with an exclusive report that the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities might be broader than President Bush has described in public. According to anonymous officials, the NSA has been analyzing huge databases of phone calls and e-mails to look for patterns that could suggest terrorist activity, like frequently communicating with someone in Afghanistan. The Washington Post leads with Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito’s 1986 White House memo arguing that the attorney general should be immune from prosecution for illegal wiretapping in the name of national security. The Los Angeles Times leads with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s announcement of a drawdown of two U.S. brigades leaving for Iraq, by 3,500 soldiers each, because of the recent successes of Iraqi troops. The Wall Street Journal’s top box also leads with the drawdown, but highlights yesterday’s agreement between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites to discuss the Sunnis’ complaints about the Dec. 15 election.

According to the NYT’s sources, the NSA contacted U.S. telecom companies and secured “backdoor access” to their networks. It’s unclear what’s done with the information culled from such data mining, but Congress is expected to ask for those details when it reconvenes next year. Read the whole story, as there’s interesting stuff at the bottom, like this:

One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the NSA said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches.

Meaning that lots of international calls get routed on U.S. soil—which, the story suggests, could change the way that all snooping is reviewed, since any snooping in the U.S. requires a warrant.

The LAT focuses on Iraqi reactions to the drawdown, about 4 percent of the total U.S. presence of about 160,000. “There’s not going to be dancing in the streets,” says a retired Marine colonel. Other analysts agree that the withdrawal is too small to convince skeptics that the U.S. will eventually leave. The story gets inside treatment in other papers—the WP notes that  the plan had already been reported, just not announced publicly by U.S. officials, as Rumsfeld did Friday to a group of Marines. The LAT also goes off-lead with a story about the warm reception that American soldiers are getting—pats on the back from strangers, free milkshakes—as they return from Iraq.

The WP does front a big story on U.S. air strikes in Iraq killing many civilians in the Anbar province. And inside, the WP reports that U.S. air strikes have overall increased five-fold in the past few months—which might be evidence that Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article was on target.

The NYT goes off-lead with the resignation of discredited South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, who claimed to have cloned human embryos, after a panel at his university determined that some of his errors were an “intentional fabrication.” The WP and WSJ report that the Hwang controversy has spurred worries about the future of cloning research in the U.S. The WSJ says some scientists think that science journals competing for scoops increases their susceptibility to fakes, and the NYT says others blame big prizes.

The Chinese government’s indictment of a Chinese researcher working for the NYT’s Beijing bureau gets fronted in the NYT. The researcher is accused of disclosing state secrets. His indictment is tantamount to a conviction, according to the article. The NYT denies that the researcher was a source for a story on Communist Party politics. Inside, the WP paints the indictment as a pointed rebuff to President Bush’s demand that China stop harassing foreign journalists, made when he visited last month.

The LAT goes below-the-fold with news of an FBI investigation into the Mashpee Indian tribe—a former Jack Abramoff client—looking for evidence of monetary and political links to lawmakers.

Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, the national face of a dissident Republican anti-immigration movement, gets a front-page profile in the NYT. Tancredo says he might run for president if he can’t defeat Bush’s temporary work permit proposal in Congress.

Inside, the papers recycle—but add little to— U.S. News & World Report’s scoop that the FBI was monitoring radiation levels at mosques and public places like ports and subway stations in the U.S. to see whether nuclear or chemical bombs were being assembled. The NYT reports that the FBI confirmed the existence of such a program.

The NYT sheds a brighter light on Alito’s personal opinions—which may not be represented in memos written for a client, the White House—by reaching back to a document he wrote as a student at Princeton in 1972 arguing against blanket executive authority and in favor of court supervision.

The WSJ reports that New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has subpoenaed at least three global record companies in an investigation of collusion on the price of music downloads.

Home for Christmas? The NYT reports that the holidays in New Orleans will be cheerier now that Congress has approved $29 billion more for reconstruction assistance, most of it for community block grants. But the bill did not include a plan to compensate 205,000-plus homeowners on the Gulf Coast for homes that were damaged or destroyed (some lawmakers balked at the estimated $80 billion price tag). Gulf Coast lawmakers say that might make it a not-so-happy holiday in hard-hit spots like St. Bernard Parish, where all but 10 of 25,000 homes could be bulldozed in the coming months, according to the WP.