Today's Papers

Plot Device

The Washington Postleads with a handful of once-recalcitrant Republicans senators and a couple of Democrats signing on to a White House proposal, billed as a compromise, to extend the Patriot Act. A few civil liberties protections were added—and derided by most Democrats as merely cosmetic. Among the changes: Gag orders from secret subpoenas could be challenged after one year; also it would become harder for the feds to get library records. It’s still not certain that the White House has enough votes to get the deal. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, and the Los Angeles Times off-leads, President Bush offering a few details about an apparently thwarted plot by al-Qaida in 2002 to fly a hijacked plane into L.A.’s tallest building. As happened when Bush made more general reference to the plot last fall, a few counter-terrorism officials were quick to cough and mutter, “bullsh*t.”

The New York Timesleads with memos and e-mails—given to congressional investigators—detailing just how overwhelmed and unresponsive government agencies were right after Katrina.  USA Todayleads with yet another piece highlighting the puny fines mine operators face for safety violations. The individual fines top out at $60,000 and can be as low as $5,000 for knowingly endangering miners. The LAT leads with the head of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the nation’s third-largest foundation, resigning amid evidence he bilked the organization. 

According to the president and then a proxy briefer, al-Qaida recruited a handful of handful of Southeast Asian jihadi-types who trained to use a “shoe bomb” to get into a plane’s cockpit. “As the West Coast plot shows, in the war on terror, we face a relentless and determined enemy,” said Bush.

The NYT doesn’t give the impression that the claims are questionable. But the WP says there’s “deep disagreement within the intelligence community” over whether the plot was “ever much more than talk.” The LAT takes an even dimmer view of the picture the president drew. Speaking about the purported plot, a U.S. counterterrorism “official” told the paper, “It didn’t go. It didn’t happen.”

That would jibe with what some insiders said after Bush alluded last fall to the plot. A counterterrorism official told the Post back then, “It’s safe to say that most of the [intel] community doesn’t think it’s worth very much.” And the LAT cited “senior law enforcement officials” who “said authorities have not disrupted any operational terrorist plot within the United States” since 9/11.”

The sole FEMA man in New Orleans during Katrina wrote an e-mail to Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff Monday night at 9:27 after the hurricane had blown through: “Conditions are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought—also a number of fires.” (Here’s a Katrina timeline.) The White House has previously said it didn’t know about the breaches until Tuesday morning, and the Times makes a big stink out of the time difference, which seems unsportsmanlike. The e-mails show the White House was told of the breaks at 12 a.m.; that’s pretty darn close to “Tuesday morning.” And the FEMA guy-on-the-ground’s warnings have already been well-reported. Still, the Times deserves plenty of credit, not so much for the story itself but for posting loads of the memos and e-mails.

The WP off-leads the CIA official who until recently was in charge of Mideast intel accusing the White House of “cherry-picking” intel on Iraq and being hell-bent on invading. The official, Paul R. Pillar, makes the charges in an upcoming article in Foreign Affairs (which was, whadayaknow, posted just a few hours ago).“It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions,” he wrote. “Intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made … and the intelligence community’s own work was politicized.”

Everybody fronts an FDA panel voting 8-to-7 for strong “black box” warning labels for Ritalin and other A.D.D.-related drugs. The NYT focuses on some panelists’ concerns that the drugs might be linked to increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. Twenty-five people are known have died suddenly while taking the pills, but there are no known links—and no studies on it yet. The Post emphasizes panelists worried that the drugs are simply being overprescribed.

The NYT alone fronts unofficial results in Haiti’s vote showing a big lead for populist René Préval, a protégé of Haiti’s ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In a NYT op-ed, CIA Director Porter Goss inveighs against leaks. “The terrorists gain an edge when they keep their secrets and we don’t keep ours.” He might want to e-mail the piece to his bosses …

 … because as the LAT fronts, and everybody else reports, former vice presidential aide Scooter Libby has testified he was “authorized by his superiors” to leak a classified intel report about Iraq. The revelation, which was first reported by the National Journal, came via a letter from the special prosecutor to Libby’s lawyers, which apparently doesn’t allege that the authorization included the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The NYT, in a cheap shot or, to be kind, a fit of stunning sloppiness, implies otherwise: “EX-CHENEY AIDE TESTIFIED LEAK WAS ORDERED, PROSECUTOR SAYS.”

And in the spirit of cultural understanding,the NYT offers this slight correction:

A Critic’s Notebook article on Wednesday about the Danish cartoons that satirize the Prophet Muhammad referred incorrectly to the reaction in Auckland, New Zealand. While there were protests after the cartoons were published, imams there have not demanded executions or amputations for the cartoonists and their publishers.