The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with the arrests of nearly 60 airport workers in Miami on charges related to drug and weapons trafficking (the other papers all front this story). USA Today leads with a widening investigation of money laundering in Russia. The amounts involved may top $15 billion, and political insiders including Boris Yeltsin’s daughter could be implicated. The New York Times leads with the FBI’s backing down from their six-year denial that incendiary devices were used during the siege of the Branch Davidian compound, a story that’s fronted by the WP. The LAT, WP, and the Wall Street Journal front the capture of a high-ranking Bosnian Serb military official by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
A two-year sting operation nabbed dozens of American Airlines ramp workers, employees of Sky Chef (a food catering service used by American), and a handful of INS and customs officials. The workers used their security clearance and free flight privileges to smuggle fake cocaine and hand grenades for undercover federal agents in 37 different incidents. The arrests may be related to last weekend’s arrests of 10 Colombians in Cali who were also using American Airlines planes to smuggle drugs. The papers suggest that American has proven particularly prone to smuggling problems because it has the most service to drug-exporting countries such as Colombia. The NYT plays up an interesting safety angle: Not only is smuggling laughably easy, it’s potentially very dangerous. Smugglers often stashed contraband close to sensitive equipment, or among the in-flight food. Authorities were tipped off to the smuggling ring when a pilot complained of weak in-flight coffee--it had been accidentally laced with heroin.
Various organized crime bosses and politicos are being scrutinized by the FBI, the Treasury Department, and other U.S. and British agencies. At least $15 million was filtered through two New York-based banks to a company owned by Semion Mogilevich, an alleged leader of Russia’s largest crime syndicate. Along with Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter and adviser, Yeltsin’s former finance ministers and a former deputy prime minister are under investigation. Interestingly, not all of the money laundered was ill-gotten, as is usually the case. In addition to revenues from prostitution and contract killings, as much as $10 billion of the money in question may have come from IMF loans.
A former senior FBI official told reporters this week that tear gas canisters used on the Branch Davidians could have started the fire that destroyed the group’s compound. Until now, the FBI has insisted that the tear gas fired at the compound had no incendiary potential. Though the FBI director and Attorney General Janet Reno have ordered a renewed inquiry into the events, they still deny that the tear gas canisters could have caused the blaze--they were fired, apparently to no effect, hours before the fire began. The WP explains why all this is coming to light now: further investigation by a documentary filmmaker and attorneys for siege victims. The filmmaker also claims to have footage demonstrating that an FBI helicopter fired on the compound, another action that has been repeatedly denied.
General Momir Talic, the Bosnian Serb army’s chief of staff, is the highest ranking official to be seized by the war crimes tribunal. During Bosnia’s civil war, Talic was part of a Bosnian Serb "crisis staff" formed to carry out ethnic cleansing in northwestern Bosnia. Mass graves containing over 1500 Muslim and Croat corpses have been uncovered in the territories he controlled during the conflict. Thus far, 34 of the tribunal’s 67 war criminals have been apprehended. The LAT points out this irony: Talic was in Vienna to attend a conference on cooperation between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnia’s Muslim-Croat federation when he was arrested.
According to a front page NYT story, the army’s investigation of an openly gay Republican state legislator who was also in the Army Reserves has re-ignited debate over the armed forces' "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy. Steve May was "outed" in his 1996 campaign for the Arizona State Senate, but the Army investigation began only after he spoke out against antigay cuts in health care benefits. The story notes an interesting fact: Since its 1994 inception, the number of armed forces personnel discharged for homosexuality has actually increased steadily. The 1998 yearly tally (1,145 discharged) is nearly double the 1994 count. The Pentagon announced earlier this month that it will revise its guidelines for carrying out the policy.