The New York Times leads with late-breaking word that for the second time in a week, Israeli soldiers have surrounded Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah. The army said it's on a short mission to arrest militants in the town and simply wants to make sure they don't escape into Arafat's HQ. The Los Angeles Times leads with a similar report, but emphasizes that Arafat, facing intense international and domestic pressure, announced changes in his Cabinet, cutting the number of ministers by a third and naming new ones to head both the finance and security departments. The paper says the moves were "roundly dismissed as superficial tweaks." USA Today leads with results from a poll showing that 72 percent of respondents approve of "the creation of a new cabinet Department of Homeland Security;" 37 percent also said that President Bush announced the proposal in order "to divert attention from reports that the government failed to take action on warnings about terrorist attacks it received prior to Sept. 11." The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that Congress is "scrubbed for surgery" on Bush's proposed overhaul. The Washington Post's lead says that the Bush administration "is developing a new strategic doctrine that moves away from the Cold War pillars of containment and deterrence toward a policy that supports preemptive attacks against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons."
As the Post notes, the president first spoke about the new preemptive notion in a speech about two weeks ago. Now, the Post says, the White House is putting it on paper and turning it into formal policy. The Post says that the emerging doctrine has caused "an intense debate" inside the Pentagon as well as within NATO.
The first two paragraphs in the NYT's lead focus on the Israeli government's statements that soldiers were just "surrounding" Arafat's headquarters, not "attacking it." But the article's 7th paragraph says: "Israel Radio reported that the forces completed the destruction of three buildings in the compound." The army denied it.
Everybody notes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrives in Washington today to meet with President Bush. The NYT says that given Sharon's impending arrival, "the timing of today's strike [on Arafat's compound] seems startling. But in the past Sharon has often taken impetuous actions."
The LAT cites a recent poll saying that Arafat's approval rating is about 35 percent, near an all-time low. "Palestinians want clean government. They want somebody to clarify what the intifada is all about, bring back the negotiations with Israel and put an end to the occupation," said one Palestinian political scientist. "Arafat lacks leadership at a time of extreme need."
A piece inside USAT points to some of the non-security responsibilities of the proposed homeland security department, including "preventing birds from attacking farm crops, treating ill circus animals, [and] overseeing horse shows"—all currently the responsibility of the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is slated to move to the new department. (By the way, the NYT's Maureen Dowd noticed this too and had some fun with it yesterday.)
The LAT fronts word that before Sept. 11, counter-terrorism work at the FBI's Phoenix office "virtually ground to a halt" because terrorism was a low priority and specialists in it were assigned to work on other investigations. One anonymous agent quoted by the LAT says it's still a problem: "If people only knew. They think [agents] are really out there making progress, but they are not being allowed to do what they need to do."
The WP fronts a piece pointing out that commercial cargo on passenger planes is rarely inspected and thus a big juicy target for terrorists looking to take down an airliner. Among other evidence, the Post points to an unreleased government report concluding that security for such cargo is "easily circumvented." (USAT led with a similar story a few weeks ago.)
According to a frontpage story in the NYT, "More and more escapees from North Korea are asserting that forced abortions and infanticide are the norm in North Korean prisons." Said one human-rights worker, who the Times says has interviewed dozens of prisoners, "If a [prisoner] gives birth to a baby, the general policy is to let the baby die or to help the baby die with a plastic sheet." North Korea's official news agency called the charges, "a whopping lie."
The WP off-leads word that Republican activists are busy compiling a cheat-sheet on Washington lobbyists. According to the Post, "The document lists the lobbyists' name, where they work, which party they belong to, where they have worked politically, and how much money they have contributed to both candidates and causes of both parties." The paper, paraphrasing one person involved, says, "The idea is to alert GOP officials and staff members to Republicans who 'deserve' such access and to Democrats who don't."
A front-page piece in USAT notices that Afghanistan is scheduled to open its much-anticipated loya jirga (grand council) today and begin deciding who will head the government. The paper says that plenty of the delegates have bribed their way onto the council. (A wire story inside the Post says that the start of the meeting has been "thrown into doubt" because of arguments about the role of Afghanistan's king.)
A NYT editorial has some fightin' words:"The Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 assault on civil liberties reached a new low recently when the Justice Department argued in court that an American-born detainee, who may be a United States citizen, should not be allowed to talk to a lawyer. This is the same Justice Department that has refused to release the names and locations of the estimated 1,200 people detained after Sept. 11, and that has insisted on conducting detainees' legal hearings in secret. These policies are blatantly unconstitutional."
Citing a report in the Chicago Tribune, USAT's "Life" section notes that singer R. Kelly, who has been charged with 21 counts of child pornography, posted bail on Friday. Afterward, he celebrated his recently renewed freedom by serenading a class of graduating kindergarteners.