The FBI reconstructs terror cases; commodity exchanges need a facelift.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 21 2007 6:03 AM

Private Investigations

The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the FBI is "quietly reconstructing" the government's case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 14 other suspected al-Qaida leaders, in part because evidence collected by CIA interrogators might not be admissible at trial. The Washington Post gives its top spot to the continuing lack of government oversight in commodity exchanges, where goods like oil and uranium are traded with relatively little regulation. The New York Times leads with the United States increasing the scrutiny it gives to Americans returning home from Mexico, which has led to delays at the border.

Describing the revelations as "an embarrassment for the Bush administration," the Los Angeles Times reports that "as many as 300 agents and analysts in a 'Guantanamo task force' " have been working on the investigations for as long as two years. The investigations were requested by the Defense Department "after legal rulings indicated that al-Qaeda suspects would probably win some form of trial in which evidence would have to be presented." It's not clear that such trials will be used, but in the event that the planned military commissions are rejected or Guantanamo Bay is shut down, the prisoners could be transferred elsewhere and tried using the evidence the FBI has started gathering.

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The New York Times says that the new border procedures, under which agents are asking a greater number of Americans for photo identification, are a "dress rehearsal" for a new set of rules that will take effect in January. Previously, Americans simply "declared they were citizens and were waved through," but the new rules, which Congress approved in 2004, will require them to show proof of citizenship upon re-entry. The Times asks us not to forget the tradeoff: "Since the authorities began ramping up enforcement in August, wait times at border stations in Texas have often stretched to two hours or more, discouraging visitors and shoppers and upsetting business."

Concerns about commodity exchanges were stoked last winter, when a 32-year-old hedge fund trader single-handedly increased gas prices by trying to corner the market on an unregulated exchange (toppling the hedge fund in the process). According to the Post, the volume in commodity trading has grown six-fold since 2000, but the government's oversight commission is working with outdated computers and a smaller staff than at any time in its history. The House and Senate are hearing proposals for reform, but the paper is nice and cynical: "[S]imilar efforts over the last few years have failed to make it out of committee. And this year, getting the House and Senate to vote on the matter may not be easy, given their busy agendas."

The Post also goes above the fold with a feature on the State Department's difficulties controlling private security companies like Blackwater USA, which provides protection for State Department officials and has been involved in several recent shooting scandals. When a Blackwater employee killed one of the Iraqi vice president's bodyguards last December, an embarrassed State Department quickly identified the shooter but did not detain him. To no one's surprise, he left the country the next day. "As you can imagine," wrote a Baghdad embassy official in an e-mail to his Washington headquarters, "this has serious implications."

That LAT has a corporate trend piece on what is apparently dubbed, in uninspired contrast to offshoring, "onshoring": "Some U.S. companies have recently pulled back from India to set up shop in rural areas where access to high-speed broadband connections isn't the problem it was just a few years ago, and where lower real-estate prices and wages are attractive."

The WashingtonPost talks to residents of upstate New York about Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations. Clinton's electoral success in the region is often cited as evidence of her ability to win over conservative rural voters, but the Post is skeptical: "[S]een from ground level in this swath of rolling farmland and small towns between Buffalo and Rochester, it is unclear whether that argument holds up."

The Post also looks at Route 505, an Israeli-built highway that runs between Israel and the West Bank, once serving as a major economic bridge between them. Since the construction of the Israeli security barrier, however, the highway has gone largely unused.

The Times reports from the two-day Values Voter Summit, where Christian conservative voters heard speeches from GOP presidential candidates and conducted a straw poll, in which Mitt Romney edged out Mike Huckabee for first place. Rudy Giuliani, who finished second to last out of the nine candidates in the poll, addressed concerns about his relatively liberal social positions with a swipe at Romney: "Isn't it better that I tell you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the prevailing winds?"

In other religious news, the Times notices that worshipers in Burma have started returning to the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the famed Buddhist stupa that was until recently surrounded by soldiers and barbed wire. "But," the paper cautions, "at its four entrances, pictures of what appeared to be detainees, their faces harried or bruised from beatings, were posted as a warning."

The NYT profiles Howard Dean and finds that, surprisingly enough, he "appears content" in his role as a low-profile chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The paper reports that he "seldom receives so much as a call seeking advice from this year's candidates."

Conor Clarke is a former editor at the Atlantic and the Guardian as well as the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism.

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