The pope sends his regrets to Muslim leaders.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 17 2006 6:23 AM

Apopelogy

The Los Angeles Times leads with U.S. spy agencies increasingly turning to outside contractors to fill jobs once performed by government-employed analysts and secret agents. "If you took away the contractor support, they'd have to put yellow tape around the building and close it down," said one former CIA official. The New York Times leads with Iraqi and American leaders struggling to reform Iraq's police and internal security forces, which have been infiltrated by Shiite militiamen and criminals. (The LAT led with a similar report two months ago, so the situation doesn't seem to be improving … and it must be a slow news day.) The Washington Post leads with potential trouble at the polls come November. Problems with electronic voting machines "could cast a Florida-style shadow over this fall's midterm elections."

All the papers note, but nobody fronts, the only real news from Saturday: a senior Vatican official stopped short of issuing an apology but said Pope Benedict XVI "deeply regretted" offending Muslims with his inflammatory comments about Islam last week. Not good enough, say Muslim leaders.

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The pope's suggestion that compulsion and violence are inherent features of Islam has outraged the Muslim world. In Afghanistan, where apostates are subject to execution, the parliament and the Foreign Ministry demanded an apology. In Yemen, where religious conversion is punishable by death, the president has threatened to sever diplomatic ties. In the West Bank, Palestinians  attacked four churches with guns and firebombs. And a Somali cleric added his two cents: "Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim."

Back to the lead stories, according the LAT, "several officials" say the number of contractors employed by the CIA is greater than the full-time workforce of about 17,500. The outsiders aren't simply pushing paper either—officials said contractors recruit sources, liaise with the military, and act as "de facto team leaders in numerous stations around the world." But let's not get too excited. "Many of those hired have been retired case officers and analysts … who have more expertise and operational experience than agency insiders," the Times mentions in the 15th paragraph. Nevertheless, some in the intelligence community are concerned about the security risks and higher costs of outsourcing.

"I think there are some definite issues in the [Interior Ministry]," Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, tells the NYT for its lead. Among those issues, according to a "Western diplomat," is that the ministry employs "more than 1,200 policemen and other employees … convicted years ago of murder, rape and other violent crimes." That type of prior experience goes a long way in the security forces, which are accused of abduction, torture, and murder (mainly of Sunnis). A new interior minister wants to clean up the place but lacks the necessary political support.

No prior experience was necessary to get a job with the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq from April 2003 to June 2004. This according to a front-page WP report adapted from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's new book. The Pentagon official responsible for hiring the CPA staff, Jim O'Beirne, recruited Republican ideologues and "discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience."

The chief qualification of one of O'Beirne's "ideal candidates," according to a former CPA official, was that he had worked for the GOP on the Florida recount in 2000. So, O'Beirne will be happy to know that, according to the WP, former Secretary of State James Baker, as co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, is now seen by some as the last, best hope to come up with a plan to turn things around in Iraq.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called on finance ministers from the G8 countries to clamp down on Iran's finances. He said Iran was using front companies to finance its nuclear ambitions and to fund terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Back in the U.S., Democrats are making President Bush the star of their campaign commercials. But the NYT says "it is hard to spot the president in any of the Republican advertisements that were reviewed." John McCain, on the other hand, is "popping up everywhere."

Speaking of McCain, the WP says his dispute with Bush over detainees has ruined a carefully orchestrated plan to highlight Republican strengths on national-security issues in the run-up to the election.

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