The Los Angeles Timesleads with, and the Wall Street Journal fronts, news that federal prosecutors have charged 11 men in five countries with stealing more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers from U.S. retailers. The Justice Department said it is the largest identity-theft prosecution in history and was the result of a three-year investigation that tied together what were previously thought to be separate attacks that had been reported by retailers in recent years. The New York Timesleads with a new report by the Government Accountability Office that details how the Iraqi government is making a handsome profit out of the rising oil prices but continues to spend only a tiny percentage of that on reconstruction projects. By the end of the year, Iraq could have a budget surplus of as much as $79 billion, but much of it is likely to end up sitting in banks while the United States has appropriated approximately $48 billion for reconstruction projects since the invasion.
The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez issuing a number of decrees to consolidate his power. Significantly, many of the new laws were part of the package of constitutional changes that voters rejected in a December referendum. Among other things, the decrees formalize the creation of a popular militia, increase Chávez’s influence over regional political leaders, and tighten the government’s power over private companies. USA Todayleads with a look at how 25 states don’t require the preservation of DNA evidence despite the fact that many prisoners across the country have used the biological material to prove their innocence. Preserving DNA evidence doesn’t just help prisoners, as prosecutors can also use new technology to find the perpetrators of unsolved crimes. The Washington Postleads with news that the teenager who was arrested last week after police found a stockpile of weapons and more than 50 pounds of bomb-making materials also had a map of Camp David marked with a presidential motorcade route.
The Justice Department said the international identity-theft ring carried out a sophisticated scheme that involved spotting vulnerabilities in the wireless networks of retailers. Some of the cases that were described yesterday were from as early as 2003, and new information shed light on what may have been a reason why investigators took so long to identify the perpetrators. Turns out the man who is accused of being the ringleader, Albert Gonzalez, was a confidential informant for the Secret Service and had tipped off his co-conspirators when investigators were hot on their trail. In what may be the understatement of the day the U.S. attorney in Boston said, “Obviously, we weren’t happy that the person we had working for us as an informant … was double-dealing.” The LAT describes the criminal ring as a “mini-United Nations” that was composed of men from the United States, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, and China.
The new data that reveal just how much Iraqi money is sitting in banks predictably brought complaints from lawmakers who say U.S. taxpayers shouldn’t have to continue paying for reconstruction projects. Between 2005 and 2007, the Iraqi government devoted a mere 1 percent of its expenditures to maintain U.S. and Iraqi-funded investments. That low maintenance figure has raised concerns that the infrastructure projects will be allowed to deteriorate. And in what the NYT calls “an odd financial twist” some of the money that could be used in these projects is sitting far away. The Iraqi government has around $10 billion in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that has earned almost half a billion dollars in interest payments through the end of last year.
The WP fronts a look at how one big-time bundler for John McCain has collected money from seemingly unlikely sources. Harry Sargeant III, who raised money for Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Clinton before he became a key fundraiser for McCain in Florida, has collected thousands of dollars from people who live in modest homes in California and have never expressed an interest in politics. Some aren’t even registered to vote. The Post tried to talk to some of these donors but didn’t get very far. Still, their descriptions are telling. One man who is listed in public records as a Rite Aid manager donated the maximum amount to both Clinton and Giuliani, although neither he nor his wife is registered to vote.
On the other side of the aisle, the NYT fronts a piece that follows a recent trend in stories that highlight how Barack Obama’s campaign isn’t just relying on small donations to fund his war chest. Out of the $340 million Obama has collected so far, half has come from donations of $200 or less and one-third was raised from people who have given $1,000 or more. That means Obama has collected more than McCain in large contributions. To achieve this, Obama has hundreds of bundlers, many of whom work in industries that have “critical interests in Washington.” And (hold on, this is shocking) these bundlers didn’t materialize out of thin air. Rather, Obama has been working for years “to build a network of big-dollar supporters” and he “courted them with the savvy of a veteran politician.” TP has no idea whether people still find these types of stories shocking (the presidential candidate for a major party has more than just a scrappy Internet operation!), and, while these new fundraising numbers are interesting, isn’t it about time journalists stop treating as news the fact that Obama is an effective politician?
In the LAT’s op-ed page, Thomas Schwartz writes that we should stop looking at the vice presidential nomination “as the anointment of an electoral successor.” Despite what many might think, this is actually a relatively new trend that began with President Eisenhower. But the truth is that no one knows who will be the best candidate eight years from now and, regardless, the vice presidency doesn’t prepare someone to be commander in chief as much as being governor, a lawmaker, or a cabinet member. “A better running mate is a distinguished elder statesman eminently qualified to assume the presidency but too old to run in eight years.”