The military's secret financial surveillance program exposed.

The military's secret financial surveillance program exposed.

The military's secret financial surveillance program exposed.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 14 2007 4:58 AM

Pentagon Fishing

The New York Times leads with another one of its periodic spycraft scoops: Military intelligence agencies and the C.I.A. have been monitoring the domestic financial activities of certain United States citizens, infringing on turf traditionally occupied by the F.B.I. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Timeslead with progress reports on the first days of Democratic rule over Congress.

The intelligence gathering, according to the agencies that conduct it, is meant to help discover potential spies and other security threats by giving them information about targeted individuals' sources of income. When their suspicions are raised, the agencies issue so-called "national security letters" to banks and other financial institutions. Unlike the F.B.I., the agencies have no power to compel the banks to turn the information over, but they're seldom refused. The military seems to be much more involved in it than the C.I.A. The strongest voices of criticism—and the sources for the story?—seem to be at the F.B.I., which thinks the spooks are going on fishing expeditions. "The more this is done, and the more poorly it's done, the more pushback there is for the F.B.I." when it goes to banks to conduct its own investigations, an anonymous "official" tells the paper.

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The paper notes that the disclosure is significant, because it marks a breach of the traditional strictures on domestic operations by spy agencies. Congress has rejected several attempts by the agencies to gain the power to compel banks to give them such information. It's not clear whom the agencies are investigating. The military claims it's mostly keeping tabs on servicemen and private contractors, though others say the surveillance is broader, especially when it comes to the Pentagon, which has made the use of such letters "standard practice."

After the NYT posted the story on its website yesterday, the WP scrambled to follow, putting its story on page A12.

The LAT and the WP come at the Congress story from opposite sides of the aisle. The LAT's story, about the Democrats' increasing boldness when it comes to opposing the war in Iraq, is the more compelling of the two. The piece says mainstream Democrats are starting to "[embrace] positions once primarily held by the party's most liberal fringe," openly talking of such things as cutting off funding for the war. The WP's piece says there is "splintering" in the Republican ranks, citing as evidence a series of votes in which the Democrats drew serious GOP support last week. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, quoted in the last paragraph of the story, seems to have a valid point, however: The bills happened to concern "issues that poll at 80, 90 percent"—perhaps not the best measure of a mutiny.

The NYT, in its own reefered story on the same subject, says that President Bush invited Republican congressional leaders to Camp David to brainstorm political strategy. Its off-lead is an analysis of how Bush's unpopular call for a increase in troops levels in Iraq is shaking the 2008 presidential race, particularly John McCain and Hillary Clinton's prospective campaigns. On Friday, Clinton, who is struggling to overcome her vote for the war, became perhaps the only refugee fleeing to Iraq, flying to Baghdad and missing a very antiwar day in the Senate.

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Inside, the LAT catches advance details of a "60 Minutes" interview with Bush that will air tomorrow night, in which he says the war was justified because Saddam Hussein "was a significant source of instability" that needed to be removed, adding: "Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude." For their stability?

The WP strips a piece by Imperial Life in the Emerald City author Rajiv Chandrasekaran across the top of its front page. Chandrasekaran notes that some of those internal dissenters who were forced out of the occupation administration during Paul Bremer's tenure are now returning to position of authority. The question is whether it's too late for them to reverse the consequences of the policies they wisely opposed.

On the NYT's op-ed page, an army captain writes about an issue that this TP'er hasn't seen covered before—the (according to him) huge number of "ghost" soldiers in Iraq, names that exist on the army payroll solely so Iraqi officers can pocket their paychecks.

The WP and the LAT both front pieces on the amazing story of two kidnapped boys who were returned to their parents Friday night after being found alive in the home of a Missouri pizza parlor manager. One of the two had been missing for more than four years. The LAT's story has more details about the conditions of the older boy's captivity—unsuspecting neighbors thought the kidnapper was jerk, but it seems like the boy was free to go outside, and he even apparently had a girlfriend.

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Inside, Condoleezza Rice tells the WP that nobody should get their hopes too high for her upcoming attempt to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The LAT fronts a piece on a Fatah leader who might be useful in helping Mahmoud Abbas fight Hamas—if he weren't already on the run from the Israelis, who have him on a "wanted terrorists" list.

The NYT fronts an interesting feature on logging in the Amazonian rainforest. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist elected with the support of environmentalists, is now proposing that some untouched sectors of the Amazon be opened to logging, in the hopes that legitimizing the business will make it possible to police. Skeptics point out that the forest is huge, and the Forest Service is tiny.

American super-celebrities are once again going to Japan to make commercials on the sly, the WP reports.

The WP's Sunday Magazine has a piece on people who think that the government is trying to control their minds.

Calling Captain Ahab… That frigging Shamu column is back at No. 1 on the NYT's "Most Emailed" list. Please, for the sake of all humanity, don't click on this link.