Stocks and Bombs

Stocks and Bombs

Stocks and Bombs

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 2 2004 7:43 AM

Stocks and Bombs

Everyone leads with warnings by the federal government of al-Qaida plans to attack major financial institutions. The warnings were based on what all the papers call new intelligence, unique in their specificity, about al-Qaida plans to use truck and car bombs to blow up the IMF and World Bank buildings in D.C., the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup's headquarters in New York, and the Prudential Financial building in Newark, N.J.

The announcement spurred an increase in security around the targets, which were already tightly guarded, at least in New York and D.C. (In Newark, police armed themselves with assault rifles and fenced off the building.) The new intelligence, while also supporting the argument that one of al-Qaida's main objectives is to cripple the U.S. economy, revealed some of the buildings had been meticulously cased even before 9/11, and, according to the New York Times, the Prudential building—of which al-Qaida had blueprints—was possibly the subject of a "test run" recently. While all the buildings plan to open on Monday, the NYT speculates that the economic effects of the warning are bound to be negative. There was no news released on whether terrorist cells in the U.S. had been recently discovered.

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The obvious follow-up question: How did the U.S. get the intelligence? Other than that, the warnings resulted from a flurry of analysis action by intelligence officials over the weekend, the NYT and Washington Post outline different stories, both heavy on anonymous sources. (Both pieces are must-reads.) The NYT attributes the find to an unannounced capture of a computer engineer in Pakistan three weeks ago, which eventually led investigators to "documentary evidence" of the planned attacks and broader information about al-Qaida's new communications network that relies on the Internet and couriers. On the other hand, the WP reports that the intelligence emanated from two laptops found during last Sunday's raid in Pakistan, which was reported last Thursday and nabbed the main suspect in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa. The NYT explicitly suggested that the suspect "had not been the source of the new threat information." It should be noted that the pieces aren't totally at odds—the NYT and the WP could both just be reporting on different parts of the same process.

The streets outside of four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul were blackened by car bombs during Sunday evening services, killing at least 11. The WP reports that at least three of the attacks used suicide bombers. All the papers contrast Iraqis' horror at the attack—the reports seem to convey belief that foreign extremists staged it to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians combined with rage at Americans—with the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism; TP would like them to report if any of the big clerics, from the reclusive Ali al-Sistani to the radical Muqtada Sadr, has said anything about specifically Iraqi Christians. In its Iraq overview, the NYT quietly notes what may be an interesting development: Some of the now-ubiquitous hostage-takers might be demanding not ideological purity or freed prisoners but cold hard cash.

The WP fronts John Kerry's Sunday morning TV statements on Iraq: While promising a "significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops" there over the next four years, Kerry indicated he wouldn't abandon Iraq but refused to go into much detail because he said he didn't want to "negotiate in public today without the presidency, without the power." Kerry spoke from Ohio, where his rust belt swing nearly crossed paths with a campaigning President Bush. Kerry was given a confidential briefing about the terror warnings before they were made public, the NYT (and, in less detail, the WP) reports in a CW-y piece about the role of terrorism in this year's election. Ralph Nader's campaign did not come close to crossing paths with either of the major candidates (nor did it receive a classified briefing), but it did encounter a pleading Michael Moore.

In the face of positive anecdotal responses to last Thursday's Kerry acceptance speech, USA Today publishes results of a Gallup Poll that seem to indicate little or no bounce for the Democratic candidate. However, reflecting the convention's focus on national security, Bush's (still significant) lead on the issue of terrorism was cut by six points, and Kerry is now more trusted by voters to be a "commander-in-chief." A look at the results shows Kerry leading or occasionally tied on almost all issues—including former Bush stalwarts like Iraq, sharing values, and trustworthiness—but President Bush still holds a nine-point lead when it comes to beinga "strong and decisive leader," a 12-point lead on terrorism, and a 22-point lead on "does not change his positions on issues for political reasons."

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The New York Times, in what seems to be an emerging trend, reports that a former FBI agent is claiming that he was fired out of retaliation for complaining about its counterterrorism methods. The agent, who had a record of infiltrating (non-Islamic) terrorist groups, broke with the FBI in mid-June, allegedly due to his vigorous promotion in 2002 of aggressive undercover intelligence-gathering operations against what he suspected to be a terrorist cell located in Tampa, Fla. His request was denied. A Republican senator, who had been briefed on the matter weeks ago, publicly derided the FBI.

Only the NYT runs a wire story about Sudan's refusal to comply with the new U.N. resolution that gives them 30 days to deal with the Arab militias in its Darfur region, who are conducting what the U.S. Congress has termed "genocide." They said they will only accede to a previous, less strident U.N. resolution that gave them 90 days to comply. TP wonders why only editorial pages have recently been publishing dispatches from the famished, devastated region.

A propane tank exploded in the middle of a supermarket in Asuncion, Paraguay, killing at least 256 people (283, says the NYT). It appears that many died because management locked the doors to prevent looting, and one of the owners was detained to be investigated for "culpable homicide."

The NYT and LAT report on the release of a previously classified 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency report that connects Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to noted drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The Defense and State departments dismissed the news, noting that it was raw intelligence based on a single informant. Despite those caveats, the new information will have serious political effects for Uribe, a staunch ally in the United States' war on drug trafficking in the region who was accused when he ran for president of connections to the Medillin drug cartel.

On with the veil, off with the … A fascinating piece in the NYT explores the rising acceptance of transsexual operations in, of all places, Iran. While it seems to be only limited to men who want to become women, it has been gaining acceptance among hard-line clerics, especially since the late Ayatollah Khomeini apparently gave his theological stamp of approval. Especially interesting is the mullah who paid for his assistant, a former member of the Revolutionary Guard, to become a she … and then married her.