Tuesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey
Published August 3, 2004 1:48PM (EDT)

The New York Times reports that not only was "much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions ... three or four years old," intelligence and law enforcement officials "reported that they had not yet found concrete evidence that a terror plot or preparatory surveillance operations were still under way."

Despite that, officials still said the information was "significant and troubling because the reconnaissance already conducted has provided Al Qaeda with the knowledge necessary to carry out attacks against the sites in Manhattan, Washington and Newark. They said Al Qaeda had often struck years after its operatives began surveillance of an intended target."

"... Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said on Monday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports, apparently collected by Qaeda operatives had been 'gathered in 2000 and 2001.' But she added that information may have been updated as recently as January. The comments of government officials on Monday seemed softer in tone than the warning issued the day before. On Sunday, officials were circumspect in discussing when the surveillance of the financial institutions had occurred, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cited the quantity of intelligence from 'multiple reporting streams' that he said was 'alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.'"

" ... Federal authorities said on Monday that they had uncovered no evidence that any of the surveillance activities described in the documents was currently under way. They said officials in New Jersey had been mistaken in saying on Sunday that some suspects had been found with blueprints and may have recently practiced 'test runs' aimed at the Prudential building in Newark."

In the Washington Post piece on the same subject, a senior law enforcement official told the paper: "There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new ... Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't know that."

"One piece of information on one building, which intelligence officials would not name, appears to have been updated in a computer file as late as January 2004, according to a senior intelligence official. But officials could not say yesterday whether that piece of data was the result of active surveillance by al Qaeda or came instead from information about the buildings that is publicly available. Several officials also said that much of the information compiled by terrorist operatives about the buildings in Washington, New York and Newark was obtained through the Internet or other 'open sources' available to the general public, including some floor plans."

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, John Kerry said he thinks replacing U.S. troops with foreign forces in Iraq within a first term in the White House is a "reasonable goal."

"I will engage in the creation of a very different equation, very rapidly,' the Democratic presidential nominee said of troop deployment in Iraq. The interview, conducted Sunday night during Kerry's bus tour through the Midwest, continued the aggressive challenge to President Bush's national security record that the Massachusetts senator and other Democrats offered at the party's national convention last week. Kerry flatly asserted that he was more qualified to conduct international diplomacy than Bush. He argued that the president was so committed 'to rushing to the job of going to war' that Bush failed to sufficiently question the intelligence he received on Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times also reports that President Bush says he would have gone ahead with the Iraq war no matter what the intelligence said. On Monday, he said "'knowing what I know today, we still would have gone on into Iraq,' signaling that revelations of flaws in the prewar intelligence had not changed his mind about the wisdom of attacking and removing Saddam Hussein from power. Bush acknowledged that no banned weapons had been found in Iraq, but he said they might still turn up. 'We still would have gone to make our country more secure,' he said, adding that Hussein 'had the capability of making weapons.'"

"'He had terrorist ties,' Bush said. 'The decision I made was the right decision.'"

The Washington Post reports on its post-convention poll, showing Kerry with a small lead over Bush, and only a modest "bounce" from Boston, but with improved standing on the economy and who is better qualified to serve as commander in chief.

"The poll showed Kerry with the support of 50 percent of all registered voters, compared with 44 percent for Bush, with independent Ralph Nader at 2 percent. On the eve of the convention, Bush led Kerry 48 percent to 46 percent. Among those most likely to vote, the race is tighter: Kerry holds a two-percentage-point advantage over Bush in the current poll."

" ... Kerry energized his Democratic base and effectively introduced himself to many voters who had only a vague impression of him and reestablished himself as the candidate who better understands the problems of average Americans, the poll found. He appeared to answer questions about his fitness to assume the presidency in a time of crises abroad and terrorist threats at home."

Ralph Nader filed about 45,000 signatures yesterday in his bid to qualify as an independent candidate for president in Pennsylvania, "but prominent Democrats were preparing a challenge even before the petitions were stamped 'received' at the Department of State in Harrisburg, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

"Twenty minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline, Nader volunteers brought in boxes containing what they said were well over the 25,697 signatures needed to get the consumer activist a line on the Nov. 2 ballot. Party volunteers and lawyers, marshaled by the top Democrats in the state House, plan to scrub the signatures for irregularities, hoping to keep Nader out of the electoral mix in one of the most closely contested states in the nation. 'We're ready to go to war,' said Mike Manzo, chief of staff to House Minority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Fayette)."

The Miami Herald reports that thousands of Florida voters are requesting absentee ballots for the upcoming primary because so many are worried their votes will not be counted by flawed touch-screen machines.

"So far, more than 35,000 voters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have asked for absentee ballots for the primary with a month left before the election. The requests for absentee ballots in Miami-Dade could outpace the number requested in the September 2002 primary election. But if more bad news about touch-screen machines surfaces, it won't be surprising if the number surges."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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