Central Inept Agency

Central Inept Agency

Central Inept Agency

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 19 2002 5:35 AM

Central Inept Agency

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the newly released report by a congressional committee detailing the myriad of mostly vague intelligence tidbits that might in some way have provided a heads-up to 9/11. Among the previously undisclosed points: In 1998, the CIA got a tip that Islamic extremists planned to fly a bomb-laden plane into the World Trade Center. The Washington PostWall Street Journal  world-wide newsbox, and USA Today all lead with news that the Bush administration is pushing Congress to quickly pass a broadly worded resolution approving action against Iraq.

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The NYT headlines the1998 WTC plan and highlights authorities' conclusion at the time that such a plot was "highly unlikely." The article, meanwhile, waits until about halfway down to note that officials said they don't think that that plan and 9/11 were related. The papers all note that while the administration has previously said that most of the warnings in the summer of 2001 pointed to an overseas attack, there were actually plenty of indications that Osama Bin Laden was aiming to hit the U.S. itself. Everybody also notes that despite the fact that CIA Director George Tenet had declared a "war on al-Qaida" back in 1998, at the time of last year's attacks the CIA had exactly five analysts working full-time on al-Qaida, while the FBI had at most three. The NYT, though, mentions that the FBI contended that those numbers are misleading because some agents who were concentrating on Bin Laden worked in departments that the committee didn't count.

The Journal and LAT both give lots of space to the committee's conclusion that the government had received hints that terrorists were keen on crashing planes into big buildings. But as the NYT points out, this is not really news: As has been reported previously, an Islamic extremist was convicted in 1996 of, among other things, trying to fly a plane into the CIA's headquarters.

The Post says that the administration is also going to introduce a U.N. resolution, perhaps as early as tomorrow, declaring Iraq to be in "material breach" of previous U.N. mandates. The paper explains that the phrase has been used before "as international authorization for military action." The WP also says that the U.S. is considering invoking the U.N.'s "self-defense" clause should the Security Council balk at moving on Iraq. The NYT's Iraq coverage emphasizes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments that "a number of countries" have said they'll help with a war effort, even if the U.N. doesn't give approval for a strike.

The WP stuffs what seems like an important story: Apparently, a key piece of evidence about Saddam's nuke efforts may be bunk. For the past few weeks, the administration has been contending that Saddam has been trying to import aluminum tubes specially designed to help build a bomb. But according to a report by an independent scientific group, the tubes may actually have been intended as simple artillery barrels. (By the way, the tube story was first reported in the NYT. That piece mentioned, way down toward the end, that it wasn't entirely clear what the tubes were for.) The WP also cites researchers saying that the administration is trying to hush up any of its own scientists who disagree with its assessment of Iraq's nuke efforts.

In a scathing front-page piece, the Post says that the Bush administration has decided not to take part in negotiations meant to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. Currently, the BWC doesn't really have any teeth; the negotiations were supposed to deal with that. But the U.S. is saying that the changes that have been proposed are only half-measures and would thus allow offending countries to say they've been given a clean bill of health even while they're still producing bio-weapons. The Post points out that the White House made the same argument last December and at the time promised to come back with new proposals.

Everybody notes that a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up yesterday as policemen were walking over to question him. One officer was killed and three people were injured. The bombing, which happened in an Arab-Israeli town, was the first such attack in about six weeks. Meanwhile, two Israelis were killed in other attacks. The NYT mentions that, according to Israeli radio, Fatah claimed responsibility for one of those attacks. If that's accurate, it's interesting because Fatah isn't a small militia, it's the largest Palestinian political group, and it's headed by Yasser Arafat.

The NYT fronts an interesting piece pointing out that Africa is becoming more important to Washington. The paper explains, "One word sums up the reason: oil." The U.S. currently gets about 15 percent of its oil from the continent and within the next 10 years that may rise to 25 percent.

The WP's Lloyd Grove notes that President Bush was apparently hoping for a very special present from White House correspondent April Ryan, who just returned from maternity leave. "What's the name of the baby?" Bush asked Ryan yesterday, during a photo-op with Czech President Vaclav Havel. "Ryan Tyler James," she answered. "There's no 'W.' Sorry."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.