USA Todayleads with news that the National Security Agency has been collecting "phone call records of tens of millions of Americans." The agency doesn't actually listen in on calls, but it does log near every phone number dialed in the U.S. "It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one source "with direct knowledge" of the program. The goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the U.S. The Los Angeles Timesleads with congressional opposition to the Pentagon's proposal for two sets of interrogation rules—one for POWs and another looser rule book for "unlawful combatants," i.e., suspected terrorists. The rewrite of the detainee rule book has been spearheaded by top civilians at the Pentagon but is apparently on hold given the push-back, which is coming not just from Congress but from some in the military as well.
The New York Timesleads with Iraqi leaders "preparing" to turn Baghdad's patchwork security services into a single force serving under one commander. The politicians also want to reduce the number of GI patrols. As the Times dutifully notes, "it is unclear" whether such a revamping would do much to stop the militia and death squads operating inside government forces. The largest militias are led by the governing Shiite parties. The Washington Post'slead ponders the recent big drop in conservatives' support for President Bush. Gallup measured a 13-point sinking in just the last few weeks. The paper attributes it to the mix you've probably heard before: scandals, disappointment about big spending, and, particularly recently, immigration policies.
The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox leads with and the LAT fronts Russian President Vladimir Putin saying in his state-of-the-nation address that he's going to pump up defense spending, though he didn't seem to put hard numbers on it. "The stronger our military is, the less temptation there will be to exert such pressure on us," said Putin, who then suggested the U.S. is "comrade wolf": "He eats and doesn't listen to anyone else, and he doesn't plan to listen to anybody."
While thepresident has said the warrantless snooping only involved international calls, there has long been speculation that the NSA has at least been sweeping up domestic-call data. There's even a lawsuit alleging it. But USAT seems the first to confirm it and gives plenty of details.
USAT says that after 9/11, the NSA approached the major telecoms and asked for inside access. AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth all went along. One company, Qwest, balked. It asked the NSA to get the program approved by the national-security FISA court. The NSA said no thank you. According to USAT, the NSA also "rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization" from the attorney general's office.
USAT has a helpful Q&A on the snooping program. Example: "But I'm not calling terrorists. Why do they need my calls?"
A piece inside the NYT notes that an investigation by the Justice Department's ethics office into DOJ lawyers' work on the warrantless spying program "has been closed because investigators were denied security clearances."
The WP goes inside with a year-old but little-known Army Reserve policy that bars officers from resigning unless they fulfill various conditions: They have to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, work in much-needed specialties, or have serious family issues. Officers who come up short can be kept in the service indefinitely. At least that's the current policy; a handful of officers are suing.
The LAT fronts word that federal prosecutors are investigating the Republican chair of the powerful House appropriations committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis. Reportedly, subpoenas have been issued around Lewis' dealings with a lobbyist friend whose clients happened to be awarded millions in earkmarks by Lewis. It's all connected to the probe that started with now-convicted former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
Everybody mentions, briefly, that the ABA rejected a presidential appeals-court nominee as "unqualified." It's the first time that's happened in about 25 years.
TODAY IN SLATE
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Smash and Grab
Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?