Intelligence gathering is increasingly tied to law enforcement; Democrats fear a long fight.

Intelligence gathering is increasingly tied to law enforcement; Democrats fear a long fight.

Intelligence gathering is increasingly tied to law enforcement; Democrats fear a long fight.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 6 2008 6:16 AM

No Way Out

The Washington Postleads with a detailed look at how the "wall" that has long existed between local law enforcement and intelligence gathering on national security matters is coming down more quickly than most realize. After Sept. 11, police agencies began to link up their systems to share more information than ever before, and these efforts are going to shift into high gear this month as some local and state agencies will connect to a new Justice Department system known as N-DEx (National Data Exchange). USA Todayleads with word that U.S. Postal Service officials approve almost all the requests from law enforcement to record information that is on the outside of letters and packages. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that more than 97 percent of the requests are approved, and there have been more than 10,000 of these authorizations since 1998, a number that doesn't even take into account the mail that was monitored as part of national security investigations.

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with, and everybody else fronts, a look at the state of the Democratic presidential race after Sen. Hillary Clinton's victories this week. No one doubts that winning three out of the four primaries on Tuesday has revived Clinton's bid for the White House, but in reality she wasn't able to cut into Sen. Barack Obama's lead by a significant margin. The full results from Texas aren't in yet, but the NYT estimates that Clinton will get a net gain of anywhere from five to 15 delegates, while the Associated Press thinks the number will be around 12. Estimates vary, but Clinton still trails Obama by more than 100 delegates, including superdelegates.

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N-DEx aims to become a central repository of information that will allow "federal law enforcement, counterterrorism and intelligence analysts to automatically examine the enormous caches of local and state records for the first time," explains the WP. Previous efforts to create these types of networks haven't been very successful, but officials are optimistic that this new $85 million system developed by Raytheon will be different. The paper notes that these new systems of information networks highlight the important role private companies are playing in national security matters, but doesn't expand much on the issue or elaborate on why that could be considered troubling. Of course, many are simply troubled by such extensive information-sharing networks that could easily lead to abuse. Even some proponents of these systems are worried that if there's a lack of proper oversight "the new networks pose a threat to basic American values by giving police too much power over information."

The LAT and WSJ highlight, and everyone mentions, Clinton's victories caused more heartburn among Democratic Party insiders who are concerned that a long primary fight will cause irreparable damage to both candidates and hand the presidency over to Sen. John McCain. As predicted, more attention is being paid to Michigan and Florida, two states that were stripped of their delegates for scheduling early primaries. Yesterday, the governors of the two states called on the party and the candidates to come to an agreement so their delegates can be seated at the convention. But some are concerned about a potential backlash if there's a feeling Obama lost because the rules were changed, particularly among black voters who could see it as the party's way to stop the first viable African-American candidate. "It would be an absolutely gigantic fight that would spill over not only to the convention floor, but to the streets of Denver," a Democratic strategist tells the WSJ.

Making matters more complicated for the Democratic insiders is that there doesn't seem to be any way for either candidate to clinch the nomination without the help of superdelegates. The Clinton campaign is leading an effort to convince superdelegates that they should stay put and not make any commitments at least until Pennsylvania votes on April 22. Assuming she wins that state, Clinton could then try to convince superdelegates to join her by arguing she is the better nominee for the general election, even if she trails in the delegate count. In that scenario, the race would still go on, and now it seems even more Democrats are suggesting that the best way to avoid potential damage would be a joint ticket. "To me that's the most logical option, the easiest one to figure out," Leon Panetta, a Clinton supporter, said. Clinton opened the door to this discussion yesterday when she suggested, "that may be where this is headed," but Obama countered that the talk "is very premature."

Despite all the hand-wringing, not everyone is convinced that a long Democratic race automatically helps McCain. In the WSJ's op-ed page, Karl Rove writes that as long as the Democratic contenders keep fighting each other (and there were hints yesterday that the battle is about to become even more aggressive), McCain will have trouble getting media coverage. The WP's Libby Copeland agrees and says that "such a fascinating election deserves a little more time and contemplation." Copeland argues that as long as the Democrats hog the news coverage, "voters are left with the image of McCain … receiving the president's endorsement," which may not be to his advantage considering Bush's low approval ratings. A new poll out today by the WP that shows McCain would lose to either of the Democratic contenders—although by a larger margin when paired against Obama—could give credibility to this view. The paper doesn't mention it, but the poll was taken the weekend before Tuesday's primaries, when the media largely ignored McCain and focused on the Democratic battle.

Clinton's supporters may have been popping bottles of champagne yesterday, but inside the campaign, it felt "less than victorious," says the WP. Most of the other papers have already written about the intense infighting that has plagued the Clinton campaign, but today the WP adds several choice nuggets about this battle that won't die and points out that as soon as the results were known yesterday, her advisers quickly let everyone on their contact lists know that Mark Penn, her chief strategist, should not be credited for the victories. Many of the campaign's most senior officials have frequently tried to convince Clinton that she should fire Penn, but she has stuck by him. During the month of February, tensions were so high that apparently insults (including several instances of "[Expletive] you!") were bandied about. Two other interesting tidbits from the insidery article about the sources of statements that backfired: It seems Penn was the one who gave Bill Clinton the line about comparing Obama's victory in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson, and it was Bruce Reed (a Slate contributor) who offered up the "change you can Xerox" line that Clinton used in last month's debate.

Campaign workers may be exhausted from all the campaigning, but so are the journalists who have to follow them around, notes the WP's Howard Kurtz. Although the media are often accused of trying to prolong the horse race, some reporters just want it to end. "This is a really strange phenomenon in that you're seeing people who can't wait for it to be over," says Time's Ana Marie Cox. "There's only so many stories you can write, and we're running out of them."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.