Today's Papers

Under Suspicion

The New York Timesleads with news that the U.S. military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including some who were described as senior military officials. The Iranians were captured in raids carried out last week that targeted those responsible for attacks against Iraqi security forces. The Washington Postleads with inspector general audits that show the Defense Department ended up wasting millions of dollars when it paid the Department of the Interior to arrange some of its contracts. The purchases totaled $1.7 billion, and procurement officers failed to meet some of the most basic contracting rules.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with another installment in its “Altered Oceans” series that looks into how some communities are trying to prevent their pollution from getting into the oceans. There are some impressive techniques at trying to prevent such things as “urban-runoff” and cow manure from reaching the oceans, but, even in the most progressive communities, adapting to the new methods is a slow process. 

The NYT mentions the White House didn’t announce the seizure of Iranians, but it did confirm the information after the paper asked specific questions. Two Iranian diplomats were among those initially held, but they were soon turned over to the Iraqi authorities and released. The actual significance of these seizures is unclear as no one tells the paper what kind of proof exists that these Iranians carried out, or were planning on carrying out, attacks.

What does seem clear though, is that Iraqi government officials aren’t too happy with the situation, especially at a time when they’re trying to talk with Iran regarding security matters. Some contend that it could all be related to the U.S. trying to make a point of how direct talks with Iran would be ineffective. Naturally, U.S. officials deny there is any relation. Regardless, it appears to be the first time Iranian citizens are being held under these suspicions, and some U.S. officials admit this could finally help prove their long-held assertions that Iran is somehow involved with the violence in Iraq.

The Department of the Interior is one of the government agencies allowed to manage contracts from other parts of the government for a fee. But, according to an audit, this arrangement with the Department of Defense “routinely violated rules designed to protect U.S. government interests.” The majority of the contracts were not put up for competition, and almost all of them suffered from a lack of oversight. Among 49 deals examined, auditors found 61 percent presented evidence of “illegal contracts, ill advised contracts, and various failings of contract administration procedures.” And for all this work, which included such exemplary efforts as contracting with a software maker to provide armor, Interior received $22.8 million in fees from the Pentagon. 

The LAT fronts word of an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee that concluded a group of military analysts had not identified Mohamed Atta or other hijackers before Sept. 11. Last year, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., made the claim that a military effort known as Able Danger had identified Atta and put his picture in a chart that the group shared with the White House. But after investigating the issue, the Intelligence Committee determined the assertions were untrue. As the LAT is quick to remind its readers, the CIA did know about two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The NYT is alone in fronting news that Ethiopian troops bombed several targets in Somalia and moved ground troops deep within the country as part of its efforts to push back Islamist forces and protect the interim government. By acknowledging the attacks, it was the first time the Ethiopian government publicly admitted to having combat troops in Somalia. The latest escalation came a day after the Islamist leaders announced that Muslim fighters from around the world should go to Somalia to fight against Ethiopian troops. The LAT, which is the only paper that has a story datelined from Somalia,catches word that Ethiopian planes bombed the Mogadishu International Airport early this morning. 

The WP off-leads a look at how a non-profit group started by an aide to Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., “has become a gathering point for defense contractors and lobbyists” as well as businesses and universities from Pennsylvania that have benefited from Murtha’s position. The group has helped disabled people find work, but on its board sit many who have something to gain from Murtha. The WP says some of the lobbyists on the board “served as intermediaries between the defense contractors and businessmen on the board, and Murtha and his aides.” As shouldn’t be surprising, these same lobbyists and businesses have also contributed lots of money to Murtha’s campaigns. Murtha’s aide highlighted the group’s good work, and denied there was anything political about it. Watchdog groups, on the other hand, point out that this is an example of the close relationship between lawmakers, lobbyists, and businesses. 

The WP reefers the death of four U.S. troops in Iraq on Saturday. So far in December, 77 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq, making it the second-deadliest month of the year after October. On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed seven Iraqi policemen.

The NYT and WP go inside with Iranian officials promising to go ahead with their country’s uranium enrichment program regardless of any sanctions imposed by the United Nations. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran has a right to pursue nuclear technology.

The NYT reefers word that hackers and security companies have already begun to find potentially serious problems in Windows Vista. The new operating system, which Microsoft has billed as the most secure product it has produced, was released to corporate customers last month.

The ultra luxury goods market is feeling the impact of the multimillion-dollar bonuses awarded to many Wall Street employees this year, says the NYT on Page One. The real estate market, for example, which suffered a decrease in recent months, is seeing somewhat of a comeback with the help of these high rollers that have plenty of money to burn. But it’s not all fun and games, as there simply are not enough $250,000 Ferraris or $20 million Manhattan properties to meet demand.

The LAT manages to include a wire story on the late-breaking news that James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” died early this morning. Brown, one of the most influential musicians of the past 50 years, was hospitalized with pneumonia on Sunday. His agent said the cause of death was still unknown. Brown was 73.