A scientist commits sucide just as he was about to face charges on anthrax attacks.

A scientist commits sucide just as he was about to face charges on anthrax attacks.

A scientist commits sucide just as he was about to face charges on anthrax attacks.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 1 2008 6:51 AM

Inside Man

The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that a government scientist who was about to face charges for the 2001 anthrax attacks apparently committed suicide. Bruce Ivins, 62, a "skilled microbiologist," worked at the government's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Md., for the last 18 years and, according to people who knew him, had been informed of his impending prosecution. Ivins helped the government investigate the anthrax mail attacks that killed five people shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. The New York Timesleads with word that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that members of Pakistan's intelligence service helped militants plan the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan last month, an attack that killed more than 50 people. The link had long been suspected, but intercepted communications finally brought confirmation.

The Washington Postleads with news that five American troops died in combat in Iraq last month. When noncombatant deaths are added, the number increases to 13, which is the lowest American death toll in any single month since the war began in 2003. The Wall Street Journal also leads its world-wide newsbox with Iraq and highlights that President Bush praised the "durability" of the security gains even as he took pains to emphasize that "the progress is still reversible." Bush suggested that the decrease in violence could lead to further U.S. troop withdrawals before he leaves office. USA Todayleads with new figures that show state and local governments have been on a spending binge lately. State and local governments increased spending 7.8 percent in the second quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, while revenue rose a mere 2.5 percent. Some states are taking drastic measures to reduce spending, and some predict there will be deep cuts in 2009 as governments begin to feel the effects of a weakening economy.

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The news about Ivins, who had never been publicly identified as a suspect, comes on the heels of the FBI's settlement with Steven Hatfill valued at $5.82 million. Hatfill, a former biodefense researcher, was long the main suspect of the anthrax attacks, and the payout "was an essential step to clear the way for prosecuting Ivins," reports the LAT. Ivins was being treated for depression, but his condition apparently quickly worsened after the settlement was announced, and he was committed to a facility for treatment.

Ivins had already been questioned by Army officials for failing to report anthrax contaminations. Ivins admitted he had made a mistake by cleaning up the contaminations and staying quiet, but the Army didn't discipline him. Some now say that the investigation raised some red flags that should have been looked into. The main suspicion comes from Ivins' claim at the time that he couldn't remember whether he tested contaminated areas that had been cleaned to make sure that they were, in fact, free of spores. The thinking now is that he may have been reluctant to give a definite answer in case someone checked and found spores in his office.

The NYT notes that the confirmation of the link between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants in Afghanistan have provided "the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region." Along with the link, officials also say that "new information" gave them evidence that Pakistan's spy service has also provided militants with details of American operations in the region.

Although there's little detail about what this new information consists of, significantly, officials emphasized that the cooperation with militants was not the work of intelligence officers operating on their own, "indicating that their actions might have been authorized by superiors," says the NYT. "It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held," one American official said. "It was sort of this 'aha' moment." The WP, which, along with the LAT, also fronts the news but credits the NYT with breaking the story, says there's disagreement within the intelligence community about how much of Pakistan's intelligence service is populated with militant allies. "You will find folks who will say there is significant penetration," one official said. "But others are saying that certainly, there's penetration, but we don't think it's top to bottom."

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Bush made his statement about the possibility of withdrawing troops from Iraq on the same date that had originally been informally set as a deadline for Iraqi and U.S. officials to reach a new security agreement. Everyone notes that the two sides are close to reaching a deal. The LAT says the deal won't establish a strict timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq but rather "outline a conditional time frame for Iraqi troops to take charge of the country and U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn." Whatever ends up being decided, it seems clear that it won't look anything like what administration officials had initially hoped. "The whole thing has been spun around," a senior Iraqi politician tells the LAT.

The NYT fronts more bad news from the economic front. New figures showed a weak expansion of the U.S. economy from April to June while numbers for the last couple of months of 2007 were revised and now show "the first official slide backward since the last recession in 2001," says the NYT. Economists say these new numbers increase the likelihood that the country is in a recession. All eyes will be on the jobs report this morning as analysts widely expect that it will show the seventh straight month of losses.

The NYT is alone in fronting, and everyone mentions, how, for the first time, the issue of race was openly discussed on the presidential campaign trail. Of course, race was much discussed during the primaries, but yesterday John McCain's campaign helped push its debut in the general election by accusing Barack Obama of playing "the race card." The statement was a response to Obama's remarks from the previous day when he said that McCain and his allies would try to get voters to be "scared" of the Democrat, who has "a funny name" and "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills."

McCain said he agreed with the "race card" comments, while Obama's aides emphasized that the Democrat had uttered similar lines throughout the campaign. Although it's true that Obama has frequently made comments about what the LAT describes as his "otherness,"  the WP says that "Obama did appear to expand upon the theme by linking the attacks to McCain by name." The NYT points out that by simply raising the "race card" comment, McCain's aides made sure that "race would once again become an unavoidable issue" and "would again be a factor in coverage of the presidential race." Indeed, attention to this issue made sure that Obama's attacks against McCain's energy policies didn't get much coverage.

A dream (could) come true … The NYT and LAT front, and everyone notes, that scientists have discovered a drug that could provide the benefits of exercise without moving a muscle. Yes, it has been tested only on mice, but scientists are optimistic that it could some day help humans, too. In fact, the scientists have discovered two drugs that improved the athletic performance of mice, although one has to be combined with (gasp!) actual exercise in order to work. "It's a little bit like a free lunch without the calories," one researcher said.

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