Uncle Sam wants you … to break into enemy computers.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 31 2009 6:21 AM

Hackers Get Security Clearances

The New York Times leads with military contractors competing for work "hacking for the United States." The government's push into cyberwarfare has companies chasing billions of dollars in new defense contracts and running advertisements for "cyberninjas," says the Times. The Washington Post leads with an analysis of Sonia Sotomayor's role in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano, which is under review by the Supreme Court. The White House is "concerned that a reversal would be seen as an embarrassment for its nomination." The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at  La Familia Michoacana, a "cult-like" and "particularly violent" drug cartel operating out of the Mexican state of Michoacan. La Familia "goes beyond the production and transport of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine and seeks political and social standing."

The NYT reports that nearly all of the major defense contractors in America "have major cyber contracts with the military and intelligence agencies." One industry official estimates that the government is spending $10 billion a year on computer security. But the contracts are not only for defensive efforts; the companies are also developing weapons to break into enemy computers and steal data or disable networks. This has led them to buy up smaller firms that look a lot like '90s startups, featuring "computer geeks in their 20s" who "like to joke that they are hackers with security clearances." Some actually are: One Raytheon employee was hired after he won two major hacking competitions. Let's just hope they don't start World War III.

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The WP's lead story on Sonia Sotomayor and the Ricci case adds little to a topic that has been covered by columnists, bloggers, small papers, large papers, and popular Web sites. The Post tries to sell the story by saying the case "raises questions about Sotomayor's philosophy." But there seems to be only one sentence devoted to any discussion of her broader judicial outlook. The headline is also a bit of false advertising. "Bias Case Looms Large for Nominee" the story is titled. But in the 32nd paragraph we are told that a reversal by the Supreme Court "would not likely have a lasting effect" on Sotomayor's nomination.

Not yet suffering from Sotomayor fatigue, the papers are chock-full of stories on the nomination. The NYT says "identity politics is back with a vengeance" as a result of the pick. But maybe that's justified, as minority judges always make waves, says the Times' Adam Liptak. Will that be true of Sotomayor? The LAT says, "The passion for minority rights that she showed from Princeton onward is scarcely reflected in a review of her judicial decisions." Regardless, Barack Obama wants to see a "timely" confirmation.

A U.S. law enforcement official tells that LAT that La Familia Michoacana is "a modern success story in Mexican narcotics trafficking." Through terror, murder, and politics, the group has corrupted the government of Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderón. In 2006 the group "announced its dominance by tossing five severed heads onto the floor of a dance hall." More recently "dozens of mayors, city hall officials and politicians have been killed or abducted." Mexican authorities have tried to crack down on the cartel, recently rounding up 10 mayors and 200 other local officials suspected of drug ties. But the LAT says La Familia is "stronger today than ever."

The LAT notes that "La Familia has established footholds in the United States" as well, with "drug-running operations in 20 to 30 cities and towns across the country." The NYT takes the story from there, reporting on its front page that "Mexican drug cartels have pushed heroin sales beyond major cities into America's suburban and rural byways." But you won't find any specific references to groups like La Familia in the NYT piece. Connecting distribution rings in America to the cartels in Mexico has proved difficult, says the paper. "Those arrested here typically say they fear for the safety of their families in Mexico if word gets back that they have been too cooperative."

As the Pentagon moves into the future with cyberwarfare projects, the NYT looks at a man who keeps it stuck in the past. Critics describe Sen. Daniel Inouye as "the most potent remaining champion of the parochialism that for decades has made major military projects hard to kill."

The Pakistani government has scored a "significant victory" over the Taliban, says the NYT. The military has taken control of Mingora, the most populous city in the Swat Valley. But the WP notes that "a significant number of insurgents are thought to have retreated into the nearby hills."

The WP asks a group of activists, journalists, and policy experts "what the president should say in his address in Cairo" Thursday. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute says, "It's a shame that President Obama chose Egypt, home to an aging autocrat who embodies the antithesis of hope and change, as the venue for this speech." She doesn't say which hopeful, changing, nonautocratic Middle Eastern country she would have chosen.

The WP fronts news that Susan Boyle, the improbable Scottish singing sensation, finished second on Britain's Got Talent, the reality show that catapulted her to fame. The winning act was an acrobatic dance troupe named Diversity, which can be seen here.