Today's Papers

 Lowering the Boom

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the arrest of three suspects in Germany in connection with an alleged plot to bomb targets associated with the United States. The story also tops the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox. USA Today reefers the terror plot and goes instead with an FAA plan to alter some flight routes into airports in Philadelphia and the New York area, in an attempt to ease chronic delays.

All of the papers have plenty of cloak-and-dagger details about the investigation into the terror plot. The alleged leader of the cell—identified as Fritz Gelowicz, a 28-year-old German-born Muslim convert—first came to the authorities’ attention during a raid in 2005, and again when he was seen skulking around a U.S. military barracks in the town of Hanau, the NYT reports. He and the other suspects allegedly traveled to Pakistan, where the WP reports they trained with a Uzbek militant group affiliated with al-Qaida, and it was there that they came to the attention of U.S. intelligence, which was reportedly monitoring their cell phone conversations. When the suspects got back to Germany, the three started acquiring 200 gallons of concentrated hydrogen peroxide, enough to make several crude but powerful car bombs. In July, the German police secretly managed to break into the cell’s storage space and switch in canisters of harmless diluted peroxide. According to the LAT, investigators had planned to let the plot play out for a little while longer, but a routine traffic stop spooked the alleged conspirators, and police learned through “undercover methods” that an attack attempt was imminent.

Of the papers, only the NYT voices much skepticism about the seriousness of the threat, pointing out that several averted terrorist plots in Europe “have turned out later to be less than met the eye when announced.” Everyone quotes a German police official saying the apprehended suspects were “planning massive attacks,” although it’s not clear how they could have actually gone through with them, since they were working with useless bomb ingredients under close surveillance. An anonymous law-enforcement official stresses the element of intent to the LAT: “In the suspects’ minds, they were from days to a couple of weeks away from an attack.”

One interesting element sure to be picked up for the Day 2 stories: Two of the suspects were German-born, and the other was one of Germany’s many Turkish residents, suggesting that Islamic extremism is becoming a multicultural phenomenon.

The WP and NYT both off-lead the publication of a report by an independent commission, which says that the Iraqi armed forces will not be ready to take over from the Americans for at least another 12 to 18 months. As the NYT first reported last week, the report also found that the national police force is so fully penetrated by sectarian militias that it should be disbanded. Several competing assessments of the situation in Iraq are leaking through Washington this week, and TP finds it hard to keep them straight, so as a public service, here’s a quick scorecard. This one, headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, was created at the urging of Sens. Robert Byrd and John Warner to offer an independent assessment ahead of next week’s ultra-anticipated report from Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq. Then there’s a third report, from the Government Accountability Office, released on Tuesday, which found that the war effort had failed to meet almost all of its previously set benchmarks for progress in Iraq. Petraeus is expected to cite a more upbeat set of statistics.

As if that isn’t confusing enough, the WP’s Karen DeYoung has an excellent analytical piece today—regrettably pushed off the front page of the final edition by the (admittedly newsworthy) death of Luciano Pavarotti—showing how shaky the Army’s statistics are when it comes to measuring violence in Iraq. “Let’s just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree,” Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday.

According to the NYT, some key Senate Democrats are now saying that there’s been enough ground-level improvement in Iraq that they may drop their push for a measure setting a binding deadline for troop withdrawals.

USAT fronts an exclusive interview with Joshua Bolten, Bush’s chief of staff. Bolten told the paper’s editorial board that no “reasonable observer” would expect all or even most American troops to withdraw from Iraq before the end of Bush’s presidency. Though some have suggested that Bush wants to leave the withdrawal dilemmas to the next guy (or gal), Bolten says the president actually wants to make “it possible for his successor—whichever party that successor is from—to have a sustained presence in the Middle East.” (A more complete transcript is here.)

Everyone stuffs news that an Air Force bomber flew across the country carrying six cruise missiles that were mistakenly armed with nuclear warheads—and no one noticed they were missing for hours.

But the LAT and NYT do find lots of room on their front pages for the latest twist in the story of Norman Hsu, the mysterious Democratic fundraiser who was exposed as a fugitive from the law last week. Hsu, who pleaded no contest to felony fraud charges in California 15 years ago before skipping town, had turned himself in and was free on $2 million cash bail. He was supposed to show up in court again today, but didn’t. He still has his passport and apparently a private jet, and it’s suspected he may be on his way back to Hong Kong.

The WSJ has a great feature on a YouTube singing sensation whose rise to indie fame benefited from a little covert record company AstroTurf.

As everyone reports inside, the Republican contenders met in New Hampshire last night for yet another presidential debate. The big issue of the night was the man who wasn’t there: former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who sitting on a couch in Los Angeles, announcing his intention to run for president to Jay Leno. All of Thompson’s rivals took the opportunity to zing his pokey campaign. “Maybe we’re up past his bedtime,” quipped Thompson’s former buddy John McCain.

Anyone who wants to know more about Thompson must read today’s LAT profile of him, which focuses on his youth in Tennessee. A class clown and a foul-prone center on his high-school basketball team, Thompson got his girlfriend pregnant, got married, and had a child at 17. But his young wife’s family had political connections, and despite their misgivings about “Freddie”—his actual given name—they eventually gave him his start. The most interesting detail (never before reported, so far as TP could tell) was that Thompson’s father, Fletch, served as a county chairman for George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign, and signed a newspaper ad inveighing against those who believed “you should have to bus your child all over the Country to balance the races.” Think Thompson will get asked about that if (or when) he decides to debate?