The Los Angeles Times leads with the French government canceling six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles. Details are still sketchy. But citing what the paper calls "reliable and corroborated" information, unnamed counter-intel officials said it was their "informed belief" that about six men on Air France Flight 68, including a licensed pilot, were planning to hijack the plane and crash into a target around L.A. One Air France flight that arrived at LAX was brought to a remote area of the airport, surrounded by cops, and passengers were checked before they could leave. It's unclear whether any of the apparent suspects were taken into custody. Unnamed officials told the paper that the LAX warning is what prompted this week's terror alert upgrade. The Washington Post and New York Times lead with catch-alls on mad cow: The Post emphasizes the recall of 10,000 pounds of beef that came out of a Washington slaughterhouse the same day as the cow that tested positive for the disease. Despite the recall, officials said that you can't contract the human form of the disease through just eating meat—you need to eat some nervous system tissue, which apparently is in hot dogs, bologna, and other delicacies. Eight countries yesterday banned imports of U.S. beef. The NYT emphasizes that officials are trying to figure out how a cow in Washington contracted the disease. No answer yet.
The LAT, which has the most info (or maybe scuttlebutt) on the Air France cancellations, says intel agencies picked up "chatter" about the possible hijacking of Flight 68. When agents went over passenger lists, they noticed at least one name that was similar to an AQ or Taliban member. "What are the odds that you would get that many hits if there was nothing going on?" asked one unnamed counterintelligence official.
The NYT isn't so sure it's a match: "Some characterized the links as uncertain." A French official told the NYT that some of the men had been questioned but none were arrested.
The NYT's mad cow coverage emphasizes the government's seemingly lax efforts to head off the disease. For instance, rendered meat isn't allowed to be fed to cows. But they can end up eating it anyway, since it is allowed to be given to chickens and leftover chicken food can be sold as cattle feed. The Times also mentions that with the FDA short on inspectors, only a third of the nation's feed plants were inspected in 2001.
Finally, in an interview with NYT, the neurologist who discovered the proteins that cause the disease said he's long complained about the overall lack of testing. Once that's addressed, he said, "we'll be able to understand the magnitude of our problem."
The WP suggests a different but perhaps just as accurate angle: Even with imperfect testing, there's probably not a major health risk. One Harvard scientist who's been studying the disease said the U.S.'s ban on nervous tissue being fed to other cattle is probably good enough to stop an outbreak. "Even with incomplete compliance with the ban, there is enough compliance so that it basically chokes itself off," he said.
If you're still worried, the NYT has a tip sheet for you, including: avoid "taco fillings."
Everybody stuffs word that four GIs and six Iraqi civilians were killed in a spate of attacks over the past 24 hours. Three GIs were killed by a roadside bomb near Samarra, while a fourth was killed by a bomb in Baghdad. In the northern Iraqi town of Erbil, a suicide car bomber attacked a government building, killing at least five people and wounding about 20. And at least two other bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring one politician.
The NYT mentions that U.S. gunships repeatedly strafed a landfill from which guerrillas have regularly attacked a U.S. base. The Times calls it "one of the largest attacks by American forces here since" Baghdad fell.
The Post and NYT front a federal appeals court's ruling blocking the White House's plan that would have allowed power plants to upgrade their equipment without installing newer anti-pollution devices. A dozen state attorneys general and environmental groups had sued the administration and the court ruled that the plaintiffs "have demonstrated the irreparable harm [of the White House's proposal] and likelihood of success on the merits" of their case. The states have argued that the administration's plan violates the Clean Air Act.
Only the NYT fronts Pakistani ruler Pervez Musharraf's announcement that next year he'll step down as head of the military but will keep the presidency until his term runs out in 2007. The move is a compromise offered to increasingly powerful hardline Islamic parties in a bid for their support. Those parties oppose any U.S. presence in the region, including Afghanistan.
A piece inside the Post reminds that Musharraf hasn't let democracy flourish as he promised he would back when he grabbed power via a bloodless coup in 1999; the White House has essentially kept mum.
On this special day, the WP editorial page reminds how Christmas is celebrated in Saudi Arabia: By a trip to jail, if you try it outside. According to the most recent State Department report on religious freedom, the public practice of any religion other than Islam can result in "arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture." A U.S. law calls for the president to "designate each country" that "has engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom." Saudi Arabia isn't on the list.