The New York Times leads with former Sept. 11 commission members’ revelation that they repeatedly requested details from the CIA about the interrogation of al-Qaida operatives. The commission was told that they had been given all available information, despite the CIA. possessing videotapes of interrogation sessions. The Washington Post leads with an FBI plan to build a $1 billion database that will house an unprecedented amount of biometric information about American citizens. These details—physical characteristics like fingerprints, face shapes, and even walking styles—would then be broadly available to assist in identifying criminals and terrorists. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with word that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, concerned over a surge of violence in Afghanistan, might deploy more troops to that country. And the Los Angeles Times leads with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plans to declare a state of fiscal emergency next year in California and to seek immediate, sweeping cuts in state services to reduce the $14.5 billion budget deficit.
The NYT continues its close coverage of the destroyed CIA tapes, reporting on a memorandum prepared by the Sept. 11 commission’s former executive director and obtained by the Times. The seven-page document concludes that more evidence would be required to determine if the CIA violated federal law by withholding the tapes, but former commission chairmen Lee H. Hamilton and Thomas H. Kean say the report “convinced them that the agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry.” The CIA protests that the commission never specifically asked for interrogation videos, but the commission heads say they asked the CIA to provide the panel with any available information, whether or not it was specifically requested. The memo, which notes that federal law penalizes failure to comply with such a request, will be turned over to federal prosecutors and congressional investigators attempting to determine if the CIA’s hide-tape-destroy-tape act was illegal.
“The use of biometric data is increasing throughout the government,” the WP reports from an FBI information facility in Clarksburg, Va., where a proposed new biometrics database—two football fields of it—will be built. The story describes the abundant use of fingerprints, iris scans, and facial images already taking place throughout federal agencies, including the FBI, the Pentagon, and the Department of Homeland Security. FBI officials say they want bigger, better, and faster, while some citizens worry about the prospect of the human body itself becoming a sort of national ID card. One opposition quote has an electronic-privacy advocate voicing concerns about the lack of evidence for the accuracy of biometric techniques, which could mean crucial law enforcement decisions are based on potentially incomplete or inaccurate information.
The WSJ reports on a lesser-known “surge”—the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. should send more troops to combat the erosion of President Hamid Karzai’s government. The LAT also mentions the story, but takes a less analytical approach: The LAT reports the fact that Gates has been pressuring NATO to be more active in combat operations without the WSJ’s note that such efforts have been completely unsuccessful. The WSJ also remarks on Gates’ changes in tone, observing that the secretary recently said that he “understood it would be politically difficult for many allies to significantly expand their presence in Afghanistan or take on additional combat duties.” Deployment would be at least several months away and, Gates said, probably not a very controversial move.
Regional stories get front-page play in the LAT, specifically Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget plans that will, according to an anonymous insider, have interest groups “squealing beyond belief.” Most notably, the plan will repossess $1.4 billion previously budgeted to California schools, and calls for the release of thousands of inmates to slash prison costs. Despite a few obligatory statements of skepticism from Democratic state legislators, the Times’ report is free of the vehement opposition such a drastic plan would seem to incite. But it predicts Schwarzenegger will face an uphill battle, particularly on his cuts to schools, as “school districts are still nursing the wounds of 2004, when the governor deferred pledges to restore education funding that they agreed to surrender.”
The Federal Election Commission—with a majority of its seats unfilled due to political squabbling over President Bush’s appointees to the positions—will go dark at the end of the year, according to a page-one WP story. The FEC will begin 2008 with only two of its six members, too few for the commission to take any official action. “Although the 375 auditors, lawyers and investigators at the FEC will continue to process work already before them, a variety of matters that fall to the commissioners will be placed on hold indefinitely,” the story reports.
A sprawling overview of Mike Huckabee’s political history begins on the NYT’s front page, claiming that the rising presidential contender “produced a legacy like few other Republican governors in the South, surprising even liberal Democrats with his willingness to upend some of Arkansas’s more parochial traditions.” Huckabee’s occasionally drastic and occasionally party-bucking policies transformed Arkansas’ education and health care, rendering him an “unquantifiable presence in the state capital.” Elsewhere on the presidential candidate trail, the LAT fronts a story on three PACs that are pouring last-minute money and resources—such as targeted Google advertising—into Hillary Clinton’s Iowa campaign. These donors have increased Clinton’s army of workers in the state to twice the number claimed by Barack Obama, a fact that is stirring some concern in the Obama camp.
In the midst of some heavy Saturday news, the papers find room on their front pages for some worthwhile (and quite amusing) holiday stories: The WSJ traces the history of the much-reviled fruitcake, and lays down a few ground rules for making a good one; the WP fronts the hilariously heartwarming story of two Severn Avenue neighbors carrying on an epic battle of Christmas lights.