Periscope

Terrorism

Man on the Run

One of the most wanted terrorists today is a 36-year-old Palestinian Qaeda leader known as Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who has been linked to recent Qaeda activity and possibly even Iraq. Wanted by Jordan since 1999, when he allegedly plotted to bomb U.S. targets in Amman, Zarqawi is supposed to be one of Al Qaeda's top experts on chemical and biological weapons. Some investigators believe he is behind a recently foiled London plot to poison food at a British military base with ricin. Jordanian authorities believe Zarqawi was involved in the murder of a U.S. foreign-aid official late last year.

Zarqawi evaded capture in Afghanistan after 9-11 by crossing the border into Iran, according to intelligence reports. After sojourning under what some Pentagon officials believe was the protection of Iranian "security forces," Zarqawi supposedly went to Baghdad, where doctors amputated his leg (injured in Afghan fighting) and replaced it with a prosthesis. Later, so the story goes, Zarqawi moved farther westward, via Syria, to Lebanon. Last August, at a terrorist camp in southern Lebanon, he purportedly attended a terrorist "summit" whose participants included Hizbollah militants, Iranian secret agents and a Lebanese Islamist gang called Asbat al-Ansar. According to some reports, Zarqawi also may have traveled to Iraq's Kurdish region to visit a pro-bin Laden militia called Ansar al-Islam, and to the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, where Qaeda operatives reportedly train with Chechen militants.

Not surprisingly, reports putting Zarqawi in Iraq piqued the interest of Pentagon hardliners eager to find evidence to support their suspicion that Saddam and bin Laden are allied and may have plotted 9-11 together. But neither the CIA nor Britain's legendary M.I.6 put much stock in Zarqawi's alleged Iraqi visits, stressing such reports are "unconfirmed."

Science

Talk About the Weather

Let's face it: when a moisture-heavy southwestern monsoon is raging through India in the summer, the average Indian couldn't care less what the weather's like in the North Atlantic. But maybe he should. A new report published last week in the science journal Nature shows a link between weather patterns in the North Atlantic and summer monsoons in South Asia. By studying planktonic sediment samples gathered from the floor of the Oman Margin in the Arabian Sea, Anil K. Gupta of the Indian Institute of Technology and his colleagues constructed a detailed record of the centennial patterns of the southwestern monsoon over the last 11,000 years. After comparing the information with climate cycles in the North Atlantic during the same period, they found that arctic conditions in that region coincided with a weakened monsoon season in South Asia.

These findings could well spark more than casual Asian interest in European weather. Gupta has already contacted several climate modelers to see how best the study can be used to predict whether the North Atlantic is going to cool or warm--and how this would in turn affect the tropics. And scientists agree that this long-term link could be a key to understanding global climate. Further data on the monsoon's northern connection is still needed, says Gupta, which he plans to find by analyzing samples from the same site at more frequent intervals. But for now, Gupta is hoping to put his findings to a more immediate use: examining the coldest Indian winter in almost four decades by gathering data on what is happening in the North Atlantic. "If there is some abnormality in the climate over there, maybe we can do something," he says. With more than 1,800 dead from a month of bitter cold in India and its neighbors to the northeast, any ray of sunshine the scientist could provide would certainly be welcome.

Iraq

What Price Is Right?

Would the benefits of attacking Iraq outweigh the costs? Experts are struggling to assess the likely toll on the 26 million people who happen to live in Iraq. The best estimates of deaths, injuries and humanitarian fallout from a conflict--contained in new reports from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and independent medical experts--are by no means definitive. But none of them is attractive.

Body counts are hard to predict, but they would no doubt extend beyond the battlefield. The projected death tolls range from 48,000 up to 260,000 (the high number includes 21,000 deaths from chemical and biological weapons). And civilians are likely to bear the brunt of the damage. The new reports predict that as bombs destroy Iraq's transportation networks and electricity grids, millions will lose access to basic medicine, adequate food and even potable water. The likely health consequences range from malnutrition and dysentery to deadly outbreaks of measles and meningitis. Experts agree that a U.S. invasion could also trigger a refugee crisis, an economic meltdown and years of civil unrest in Iraq and neighboring countries.

The most chilling of the new reports is not a published monograph but an internal United Nations memo assessing the practical challenges a war will pose for relief agencies. The U.N. document, obtained by The Times of London in December and made public this month by a humanitarian group called Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, notes that Iraqi civilians are far more vulnerable today than they were during the 1991 gulf war, when most had jobs and basic assets. A decade of economic sanctions has since left 60 percent of the population dependent on food baskets distributed by the Iraqi government, the memo explains. If military combat paralyzes that system, some 3 million mothers and young children will face dire food shortages, and relief workers may not be able to reach them at all.

Drawing on data from UNICEF and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the memo predicts that 7.4 million Iraqis will require some kind of humanitarian assistance in the event of a U.S.-led invasion. More than 5 million will need "food and necessities," and 2 million will "require some assistance with shelter." At the same time, 39 percent of the population will "need to be provided with potable water," the memo predicts--and 500,000 people may need treatment for injuries. The Bush administration says that its postwar plans include humanitarian relief as well as major efforts to rebuild Iraq's economy and civic institutions. There will certainly be a lot of work to do.

Fiat Coming to America?

Fiat patriarch Gianni Agnelli, 81, died last week just hours before a family meeting to decide the fate of his beloved but broken-down car company. Now it looks as though General Motors may reluctantly ride to the rescue of the debt-ridden Italian automaker. GM already owns 20 percent of Fiat, and the Italian automaker has an option to sell the entire company to the General in 2004. The strong-willed Agnelli, once a rival of Henry Ford II, fiercely opposed letting the Americans take the wheel. But now that younger brother Umberto is in charge, analysts expect him to turn the keys over to GM so he can focus on Fiat's more promising ventures in newspaper publishing, jet engines and soccer.

A GM spokeswoman declined to comment, but the No. 1 automaker cannot relish the prospect. GM has already written off nearly all of its original $2.5 billion investment in Fiat, and repairing the automaker won't be easy in a country where strong labor unions resist U.S.-style downsizing. (Fiat workers briefly halted their latest strike when news of Agnelli's death emerged Friday.) The one bright spot for U.S. car enthusiasts is that GM might bring over to America another, sexier car line that Fiat owns: Alfa Romeo. But with the Italian wreck headed for GM's garage, the U.S. automaker is likely to learn why mechanics say Fiat stands for Fix It Again Tomorrow.

FBI

Touchy New Targeting

Frustrated that his troops are still not aggressive enough in hunting down terrorists, FBI Director Robert Mueller has launched a potentially controversial initiative. As part of the effort, NEWSWEEK has learned, Mueller's top aides have ordered chiefs of the bureau's 56 field offices to develop "demographic" profiles of their localities--including tallying the number of mosques. These profiles are then being used, along with other factors, to set specific numerical goals for counterterrorism investigations and secret national-security wiretaps in each region. Top bureau officials have signaled that if field offices don't meet their pre-established goals, they may be subjected to special reviews by inspection teams from headquarters.

Field offices learned of the new project earlier this month when they received a six-page questionnaire that, in a section headlined vulnerability, asked about the number of mosques in their communities. The approach has raised concerns that the FBI is engaging in a new form of religious "profiling."

FBI officials have acknowledged that the initiative could be politically dicey. But they say the move is justified given continuing concerns about undetected "sleeper cells" and troublesome evidence that some mosques may be serving as cover for terrorist activity. Other FBI officials stressed that mosque tallies are only one of several criteria used to assess the terrorist threat in each region. Among others, they said, are the number of "vulnerable assets" in an area (such as bridges, dams and nuclear plants), flight schools and Islamic charities that have been linked to terrorism.

Lego

The Smallest Big Guys

It's as if his opponents' dreams have finally come true. There stands Shaquille O'Neal, just 4.1cm tall. The towering Los Angeles Lakers center is one of 24 NBA stars who have been rendered in miniature by LEGO, the Denmark-based toy company. The new line of tiny characters, part of a worldwide licensing deal with the NBA, represents a number of firsts. Little Shaq, Mini Kobe and friends are the first LEGO figures based on actual people, as well as the first black LEGO figures in the 71-year history of the company. Sensitive to the suggestion that LEGO is targeting black toy buyers, company spokesperson Melinda Siemionko points out that the NBA characters also include the first-ever white LEGO figures. (Up to now, LEGO people have all been bright yellow.) But 18 of the NBA figures are black, and while the company says the toys are aimed at all groups, the little hoopsters could have particular appeal among African-Americans. By race, the top LEGO markets right now are whites and Asians, which might also argue for a Yao Ming figure to compete against Shaq in LEGO playoffs someday. (Six of the new figures are non-U.S. players, and LEGO is hoping to introduce another all-star line in 2004.)

Working within the limitations of the medium--everybody has the same barrel-shaped head--LEGO's designers seem to have relied on hairstyles and whiskers to distinguish the players. Allen Iverson sports cornrows, while Predrag Stojakovic features a mustache and some funky-looking stubble. As for Shaq--well, even when he's reduced to the size of a midget's thumb, there's something about the guy that says, "Get out of my way."

ART 'Perfect' Paintings

If you can imagine such professional grown-ups as retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, ex-Clintonite James Carville and former NOW head Patricia Ireland dabbling with paints and pastels--then your name can only be... Debra Trione. Trione was "a task-force liaison" for Bill Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development, and has written for public radio and newspapers. In 1997, she began interviewing every pooh-bah she could find, posing such stumpers as "Name two or three things you hope will be true about the world in fifty years." She also brought her paints and somehow got them to picture their utopias. The result is "A Perfect World: Words and Paintings From Over 50 of America's Most Powerful People."

It turns out that America's MPPs have hearts as golden as the parachutes they've received from various distinguished institutions. Carville paints "a daddy, a momma, two children, a paycheck and a future"; Ireland envisions "a general spiral of progress on the issues I care about"; Schwarzkopf pictures "a kind of universal well-being." Trione writes that when she sprung the paints on former senator Alan Simpson, he said, "This is appalling to me." But he produced a preschool-expressionist landscape of his native Wyoming, with "one of the most unique plants the world has ever known, known only to the imagination." ("This is the damnedest interview I've ever had," he concluded.) The funniest is critic Harold Bloom's scrawl--looks like about 30 seconds' work--of a triangle-faced lady scowling at a book. But you know who can really paint? Former NASA administrator Daniel Goldin, whose rendering of a rocket, suns and "very happy planets" looks like a modernist masterwork until you see what it's supposed to be. He's about the only one who should've given up his day job.

Oil

Fueling Up On Guilt

Americans bought a record number of SUVs last year, but new campaigns are urging drivers to change their gas-guzzling ways. The guilt factor's at work: recent TV ads ask, "What is your SUV doing to our national security?" (Last fall an evangelical group's ads asked, "What would Jesus drive?") And although several TV stations are refusing to run new ads that link SUVs to terrorism, Detroit seems to be preparing for a change in attitude. GM has said that it plans to sell fuel-saving hybrid gas-electric vehicles, including SUVs.

Meanwhile, some Americans are starting to fill up only at gas stations that don't import Mideast oil. But the oil's origin is less important than trimming usage, says Environmental Defense's transportation director, Michael Replogle: "There's no need to take your big SUV down to get a quart of milk when you can use the smaller vehicle." Or use your legs. In the end, it may not be the activists' efforts--but high gas prices--that turn consumers into environmentalists.

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