The Los Angeles Times leads with a criminal investigation into a global arms-trafficking ring, which has allegedly found evidence that the government of Pakistan illegally purchased nuclear weapons components from American companies. The timing of the revelation is awkward because, as the Washington Post and the New York Times report in their lead stories, President Bush announced yesterday that he had decided to allow Pakistan to buy American-made F-16 fighter planes, reversing a 15-year-old ban on the sale of such weaponry to the unstable nation.
The criminal investigation began early last year, when a former Israeli army major was arrested at the Denver airport and charged with illegally exporting high-speed bomb triggers. The LAT's story includes new details suggesting that a separate shipment of sophisticated oscilloscopes, purchased by the Israeli from an Oregon company, were sent to a Pakistani arms merchant who has close ties both to his country's military and to Islamic militants. U.S. officials tell the paper that they suspect the materials ended up in the hands of the Pakistani government, which they allege has "begun a push to acquire advanced nuclear components in the black market as it tries to upgrade its 30-year-old nuclear program." But anonymous investigators grouse that their probe has been "stymied" by State Department officials, who consider Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "too important to embarrass."
Similarly, the NYT sees lifting the ban on fighter-jet sales to Pakistan "as reward for cooperation" in the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Bush's father barred such sales in 1990, citing evidence that Pakistan was attempting to build a nuclear bomb. Pakistan will probably buy two dozen planes to start, but the WP says there will be "no limits on how many it could eventually purchase." That's good news for the financially struggling Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, that makes the planes, the WP says.
Predictably, Pakistan's regional rival India denounced the move as a "great disappointment." In a personal phone call, Bush told India's prime minister that, as consolation, America is willing sell India even better planes, missile-defense systems, and the like. The WP says some analysts doubt this strategy, saying it means the United States "would effectively supply both sides in a new arms race in one of the world's most dangerous hot spots." But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells the WP that it's all part of a plan to "break out of the notion that … anything that happens that is good for Pakistan is bad for India, and vice versa."
Everyone off-leads stories related to the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case. The NYT goes with a long exegesis of the relationship between Michael Schiavo, his wife, and her family. It's a messy, nuanced story. The Schaivos seem to have had a rocky marriage, but after Terri's fateful heart attack, Michael initially lived with her parents, and even went to nursing school so as to better care for his wife. The two sides fell out over how to split the proceeds of a malpractice lawsuit settlement, after which Michael began to push to have his wife's feeding tube removed.
The LAT's has a harrowing account of two mothers, each of whom faced a similar decision about a child left in a vegetative state. One had her son's feeding tube removed and sat with him as he died of starvation. Another has spent more than three decades caring for her daughter. For the first 25 years, she left her house only twice. She has run up $300,000 in credit card debt.
The WP runs an analysis on the political implications of the Schiavo fight. Congressional Republicans turned it into a national issue, only to find that polls say "82 percent of Americans—including a whopping 68 percent of people who identify themselves as evangelical Christians" think they should have stayed out of it. Now some GOP lawmakers are complaining (anonymously) about their leaders.
In Rome, the papal death-watch continues. A front-page piece in the NYT recounts the scene at Good Friday mass, which John Paul II failed to attend for the first time in 26 years. Instead, he watched the proceedings from a private chapel at the Vatican, and his feeble image was projected onto a screen for the faithful to see. "It's the passing of the pope, and it's happening on television," says one Catholic commentator.
The LAT fronts an analysis of this week's more or less peaceful revolution in Kyrgyzstan. The ouster of President Askar Akayev represents "the latest in what analysts say is an astonishing and painful series of diplomatic missteps by Moscow," the paper writes, speculating (without much evidence) that a similar uprising could be brewing in Russia itself. Meanwhile, as an opposition leader was sworn is as prime minister, the M.I.A. Akayev issued a communiqué vowing to return, saying that "rumors of my resignation are deliberate, malicious lies." According to the WP, a local newspaper's headline summed up the prevailing mood: "Who's running our country?"
Inside, the NYT, following yesterday's Wall Street Journal, reports that a independent investigator is preparing to excoriate United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan for "failing to be sensitive to the perception of nepotism and conflict of interest" in dealings between the U.N. and a company that employed his son. The company had a role in overseeing the Iraqi oil-for-food program, which is the subject of a wider corruption investigation. The report will increase the political pressure on Annan, who is facing calls for his resignation.
Finally, the WP fronts a feature on the rise and fall of millionaire businessman Walter Anderson, who is charged with evading $200 million in income taxes. Anderson, a socially maladroit Star Trek enthusiast, made a fortune in the telecom industry and created a new life as "a wealthy, middle-aged Tom Swift, who dreamed of having his own space station, a moon base and a fleet of space tugs." He spent millions in an attempt to buy and salvage Russia's decommissioned Mir space station. He traveled under numerous aliases, including "William Prospero" and "Robert Zzylch," and when he was arrested he was found to have a book in his possession titled: Poof! How To Disappear and Create a New Identity. He is being held without bail.