USA Today leads with an enterprising story concluding that U.S. arms dealers have illegally exported millions of dollars' worth of military equipment to the axes of evil. The paper, which reviewed documents from federal cases in which the smugglers were nabbed, says, "Iran, Iraq and North Korea acquired or plotted to obtain F-14 fighter jet parts, Phoenix air-to-air missile components and high-grade zirconium used in cluster bombs." The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the Department of Justice's contention that the recently ended interviews it conducted with about 2,000 Muslims in the U.S. have been useful. "Many people were eager to cooperate, and terrorists can't assume that they are going to be able to find cover in these communities," said one department official. The Los Angeles Times leads with Hewlett-Packard executives' claims they've won shareholder approval to buy Compaq Computer Corp. Dissident shareholders said that the vote is still too close to call. If the two companies do merge, they would create the world's largest personal computer conglomerate. The New York Times leads with Vice President Cheney's offer to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat next week, if Arafat reins in terrorism. The WSJ calls the decision, "a striking turnabout." Yesterday's LAT had emphasized that Cheney was considering making the offer. The Washington Post leads with congressional testimony by senior intelligence officials who warned that with spring coming, U.S. troops in Afghanistan will face an increased threat from al-Qaida and Taliban forces. According to the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (the military's version of the CIA), there's "a very widespread probability of insurgency-type warfare."
The Post nicely contrasts the above comments with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's contention last week that there was "no serious security problem" in Afghanistan.
A small wire dispatch inside the LAT has breaking news: "Gunmen attacked U.S. coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan, touching off a firefight that lasted several hours." A U.S. military spokesman said one American was wounded, though not seriously.
The WP's lead quotes a senior Pentagon official as saying that the U.S. is "leaning" toward releasing 31 Afghans it had detained on Monday on suspicions that they were al-Qaida members.
USAT's lead, in a rare move for the paper, jumps past the first page. The story asserts that "illegal exporters—international traders, U.S. businessmen, even U.S. military veterans—often place profits over politics." Big surprise.
The WP stuffs word that a man captured in the Sudan and extradited to Egypt is not, as had been previously thought, a high-level al-Qaida operative. U.S. officials now insist he is al-Qaida middle-management. This story, by the way, should help remind papers to attribute claims. A frontpage piece in yesterday's WPidentified the man,without citing sources, as "the most senior al-Qaida member to be arrested since the United States launched its war on terrorism."
The NYT goes inside with news that Pakistani troops arrested seven alleged al-Qaida fighters near the border with Afghanistan. The article is headlined: 7 MEN, APPARENTLY FLEEING U.S. BATTLE, ARE SEIZED IN PAKISTAN. Apparently, the headline writers were making assumptions. The article states, "Officials said it was not immediately clear whether the men had crossed the border in recent days or whether they had had any role in the fighting at Shah-e-Kot."
The NYT also stuffs word that "after months of searching, investigators have concluded that while al-Qaida researched chemical and biological weapons, there is no indication that it acquired or produced them."
USAT goes below the fold with a report that al-Qaida members may have escaped to Indonesia (via Pakistan and then on fishing boats), and may be regrouping in what is the world's most populous Muslim country. Meanwhile, the paper, citing congressional sources, says the Pentagon would like to send troops there. USAT points out that Indonesia's government is unlikely to agree to that.
The papers all mention that a Mideast cease-fire may be announced as soon as tomorrow. Those predictions were probably written before late-breaking news, which the papers catch, that a Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least five people on a bus in northern Israel.
The NYT's Thomas Friedman reminds readers of his patented solution to the Mideast conflict, "Israel can't stay in the territories and remain a Jewish democracy and it can't just leave and stay alive as a Jewish democracy. The only way it can safely leave is if U.S. troops are protecting its borders and those of the Palestinian state."
The NYT fronts word that President Bush is leaning toward accepting a plan to merge the Customs Service with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Yesterday's WP had a similar story, except it said that the Border Patrol would also be part of the consolidation.
USAT has a nice jab inside its "Life" section. The paper says that while the NYT, LAT, and WP have all written about a "smear campaign" against the Oscar-nominated A Beautiful Mind, there's no evidence that such an orchestrated effort actually exists. Said one observer, "I've never seen a group of such cynical people so eager to believe something so unsubstantiated."
A piece in the WP's "Style" section says that after a $10 million donation from Lockheed Martin, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Langley Theatre will be renamed the Lockheed Martin Theatre. The museum's director says that next on the list is a "sponsor for the planetarium." It's currently named after one Albert Einstein.
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