German Know-How

German Know-How

German Know-How

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 24 2002 6:27 AM

German Know-How

The New York Times leads with new information from German investigators showing that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers trained in Afghanistan. The Washington Post leads with federal prosecutors' freezing the assets of former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow in the wake of testimony from one of his key aids. The Los Angeles Times goes with the Justice Department's appeal of a court decision that it says is hampering its ability to protect the American people from terrorist attacks. 

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German investigators say that Mohamed Atta, the suspected "ringleader" of the Sept. 11 attacks, trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan for a few months toward the end of 1999/beginning of 2000, according to the NYT lead. This new information is the best evidence yet that the attacks were planned in Afghanistan. The head of the German federal anti-crime agency also linked al-Qaida—which he said is still operating—to the suicide bombing in Tunisia that killed 21 people in April. He also said that new attacks are being planned, though he did not know specifics.

The case against Andrew Fastow is being helped along by his former aide Michael Kopper, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is now telling all to federal prosecutors, the Post reports. After Fastow's brother attempted to move a few mil from a targeted account, a federal judge froze Andrew's assets. "We will chase the money into the hands of whoever got it," says a Justice Department official. Fastow played a major part in the creation of the cutely named partnerships that were used to conceal Enron's debts and, or so the charges go, "funnel millions of dollars to relatives and friends." In addition to the $20 million they hope to squeeze out of Fastow, the government wants another $3 million from former Enron employees who benefited from Fastow's scheme, according to the WP.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which the LAT calls a " highly secretive federal court," ruled in May that the "firewall," erected by Janet Reno in the mid-'90s between those "investigating ongoing criminal activity and those gathering intelligence on potential terrorist attacks and acts of espionage" must remain intact. John Ashcroft argues that only cooperation among the intelligence agencies will keep America safe. "in order to keep seeing what's going on, we'll have to kind of sit with our hands tied and let people run around and do bad things," says a Justice official. "So I do think it has impeded our ability to get closer coordination."

The WP off-leads an uppity FBI asking senators for their phone records and appointment calendars. The bureau is looking for an intelligence leak and it's starting with members of the Senate-House panel investigating 9/11. (It's the June 2002 testimony of the director of the National Security Agency that was leaked to the press and the bureau wants to know who has the big mouth.) The irony, as the Post points out, is that the FBI is investigating senators, whose job is to oversee the FBI. The lawmakers seem to be cooperating so far, for the most part.

The NYT fronts the mind-boggling parade of political rubouts in Russia, where sudden death is "a grim fact of life for elected officials and political appointees." Nine members of parliament have been X'd out since the fall of the USSR in 1991 and a dozen aids bit the dust during the last legislative session. Most had criminal ties, according to the Times. The perps are mob types and the motive is usually money and no one is entirely safe. The deputy railway chief was bumped off this week; he'd been trying to curb the black market on forged rail and bus tickets.

The LAT fronts the West Nile virus, only to say that we're getting all worked up over what soon may be regarded as nothing. If the virus behaves like most others before it—meaning that we will soon become acclimated to West Nile as we have to, say, St. Louis encephalitis—the virus will "fall back into the obscurity of wildlife diseases," according to health officials. Most people who are infected with the disease experience no symptoms, but 16 have died.

Manhattan publicist/wayward S.U.V. skipper Lizzie Grubman pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crash (a felony) and criminally negligent assault (a misdemeanor), the NYT reports. According to the terms of her plea agreement, she'll do two months in the big house and 280 hours of community service.  She managed to avoid drunken driving charges, mostly because no breathalizer was taken after the crash. She still faces a raft of civil suits from the Hamptonites she mowed down with her Mercedes S.U.V. last summer.

The NYT celebrates Leni Riefenstahl's 100th birthday with a scathing profile cum review of her new movie, Impressions Under Water, which the paper calls "a series of screen-saver images of the unpolitical life under the sea," part of Hitler's filmmaker's attempt "to sell her innocence to yet another generation." "I don't understand," she says, "I didn't do any harm to anyone." The reporter lets up just long enough to report that Riefenstahl's clothes were "neat and her makeup careful" for the interview.

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.