USA Todayleads with the mass pro-immigration protests planned for today in about 100 cities. There were also some big marches yesterday, including one in Dallas, where the Associated Press cites police as saying there were "350,000 to 500,000" protesters. The Washington Postleads with documents revealing, in something less than a shocker, that the U.S. military has a campaign to play up the importance of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and that it goes beyond what "some military intelligence officials" consider is merited by the facts. The New York Timesleads with democratic reform in the Middle East not having much momentum nowadays after lots of talk of progress last year. "The question many people are asking is this," asked one analyst, "Did reform slow down, or did it just never happen?" The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Air Force giving its recruits a taste of basic training, teaching them to fight as GIs. The Air Force, once derided as the "Chair Force," has been helping out the overstretched Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and often operates from smaller, more vulnerable bases than in earlier generations.
"Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response," said one military briefing. Another document lists "U.S. Home Audience" as a general target. Military officials said they never lied or spread false stories. But one officer complained that the effort has made Zarqawi "more important than he really is." TP suggested the same when he profiled Zarqawi in Slateand argued that puffing up his role was a bad idea, not least because the military could end up believing its own propaganda and then misunderstand the insurgency.
The NYT announces on Page One that junior Army officers are "bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed" brass. Except that a chart accompanying the article shows that while young officers are leaving the Army at a higher rate than a few years ago, it's still lower than before 9/11. And while the number grew in the last few years, most recently it's now on a downturn again, a result, says the Times, of the military's increased incentives program. All which makes the thesis and the headline—"YOUNG OFFICERS LEAVING ARMY AT A HIGH RATE"—très 2005.
The WP fronts the White House seeming to float a plan to send "fewer than 500" NATO advisers to Darfur to help overstretched and underresourced African Union peacekeepers there. Militia killings have picked up recently, and the peacekeepers can't do much about it. The advisers would not go into the field and would stay at headquarters and help with logistics. "My hunch is, we're watching a bureaucratic slow-roll take place," said one analyst. "The administration has been in this knot of having called the situation genocide but then failing to do anything."
The NYT continues to be one of the only papers with a staff story from Nepal, where there are spiraling pro-democracy protests, and where four people have now been killed by the government.
The NYT reefersthe White House—via an SAO—confirming that President Bush did indeed order a leak-cum-declassification of (what turned out to be cherry-picked)prewar intel about Iraq. The SAO's spin, which the Times identifies as such, is that it's not Bush's fault: He didn't specifically tell anybody to contact reporters. What the NYT doesn't do is include the somewhat buried zinger that was in yesterday's Times and the Post—and, days before that, first picked at by a blog: Scooter Libby, at the direction of VP Cheney, quietly told reporters that one "key judgment" in the main classified intel report on Iraq was that Saddam was seeking uranium. Except that wasn't true: There was no such "key judgment" in the report.
In what one hopes was simply a case of good (or bad) luck, an LAT reporter hung out at a market outside a U.S. base in Afghanistan and was offered various stolen goodies, including flash drives—complete with classified material. Among the bits on the drive: soldiers' Social Security numbers and intel assessments of Pakistan—"Pakistani border forces [should] cease assisting cross border insurgent activities," read one report. Another file fingered some Afghan government workers as being involved in the drug trade, including one Gen. Mohammed Daoud. His current job: Afghanistan's counter-narcotics chief.