The Los Angeles Times'top non-local story offers the latest from Ukraine, where about 200,000 protestors rallied in the capital, far more than Monday, and demanded the prime minister acknowledge voter fraud and concede defeat. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox,and Washington Post alllead with a coalition sweep into the Babil province just south of Baghdad, an area dubbed "the triangle of death." It's the same operation yesterday's LAT caught wind of. The NYT says the campaign has started with 11 raids in one town. The Post says the military won't go in full bore until armored units arrive in "the coming weeks." USA Today leads with an in-depth investigation: "HOLIDAY TRAVEL ESTIMATE AT 37.2M; Record Numbers Expected to Fly."
Ukraine's current president, who picked the prime minister as his successor, seemed to blink a bit, calling for negotiations. On the other hand, the prime minister's office called for the opposition candidate (aka the apparent winner) to give up. "You have a government, which to my opinion, doesn't know what to do," said a widely quoted "senior Western diplomat."
The White House has responded strongly to the electoral shenanigans, saying it's "deeply disturbed by extensive and credible indications of fraud." The Russian foreign ministry took a different stand, saying "the elections were democratic, free, transparent and, of course, legitimate." President Putin added, "Ukraine is a state of law. It doesn't need to be lectured."
Pondering the modest start to the latest offensive in Babil, one "senior officer" told the Post, "We just haven't been able to get enough force down there to go and find the [weapons] caches, then stay down there and get the police up and running." The NYT describes a recent drive though one town with a cop who said he never leaves his car—it's too dangerous: "He estimated there had been little police presence on the streets for about a year."
As the Post emphasizes, another prominent Sunni cleric was assassinated, the second in two days.
The NYT stuffs a report from the CIA concluding that Pakistaniscientist A.Q. Khan gave Iran "significant assistance" for its nukes program including designs for "advanced and efficient" nukes components. It was thought Khan only gave Iran old stuff. The Times also notes that former CIA chief George Tenet, in another one of those supposed to be off-the-record pay-to-play speeches, called Khan "at least as dangerous as Osama Bin Laden." Khan has been pardoned by Pakistan's President Musharraf and the U.S. hasn't been allowed to question him.
Chasing yesterday's NYT, the WSJ says the Pentagon has drafted a classified order saying special ops should be prepared to operate against al-Qaida types worldwide, including in friendly countries. The Journal says that as the draft is currently written allies"might not be informed that U.S. personnel are operating within their territory."
The LAT fronts and others mention President Bush "ordering" the CIA to ratchet up its staff, including a call for a 50 percent jump in the number of spies and analysts. The reason the other papers don't front it: The "order" includes no timetable and said funding is "subject to the availability of appropriations."
In an interesting tactic, the just-about-out-the-door deputy director of the CIA pens an op-ed in the Post defending the agency against, among other things, charges that it's been leaking like crazy: "The CIA was not institutionally plotting against the president."
The WP and, to a lesser degree the NYT, say some FDA managers appear to have tried to slime the agency researcher who slammed the FDA last week. They reportedly made "anonymous" calls to a whistleblower group he had contacted, and offered what turned out to be bogus criticism of his work. The researcher has since sought whistleblower protection.
Everybody fronts Dan Rather's semi-unexpected announcement that he's stepping down from his anchorship, effective March. Rather said it has nothing to do with the black eye over the never-authenticated Bush National Guard memos he had insisted were legit. "Dogs are going to bark and the caravan moves on," he told the Post. As it happens, an independent investigation of that incident is expected to file its report next month. Rather will continue on as a 60 Minutes correspondent. No word yet on a new anchor.
A piece inside the Journal says the tax-return snooping provision that turned up in a recent budget bill was basically a mistake, as Republicans have said: "Draft documents, faxes and internal e-mails sent during the final talks last week support the House Appropriations Committee's claims that it wanted the extra authority to visit Internal Revenue Service facilities solely to oversee IRS operations, not individual tax records."
The NYT flags some of the swine that was stuffed in the budget bill. A sampler: $236,000 for blueberry research, $133,000 for maple research, and $1.5 million to create an archive for the papers of former national leader Rep. Richard Gephardt.