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White House official: Tapes 'disturbing'

Lawmaker says tapes are 'important wake-up call'

One of the tapes shows dogs being subjected to lethal gas.
One of the tapes shows dogs being subjected to lethal gas.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Videotapes showing lethal chemical gas experiments on dogs and terrorist training tactics underscore the dangers posed by the al Qaeda network, administration officials and lawmakers said Monday.

In Crawford, Texas -- where President Bush is on vacation -- press secretary Ari Fleischer said the president was "well-briefed" about the tapes, but could not say if Bush had watched any of them.

"This is a serious reminder of the type of enemy we are up against, and the risks the world faces from people who would use weapons that bring harm to innocents," Fleischer said. "It vividly illustrates what terrorism means and the threat it poses."

Fleischer and other officials commented after CNN aired reports Monday on some of the 64 videotapes obtained in Afghanistan by Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson.

One congressman called the tapes a timely reminder of the threats posed by al Qaeda.

"It's an important wake-up call as to how lethal the enemy can be," said Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who sits on the House International Relations Committee. "It's human nature: The further you get from September 11th and without incidents in the papers or on TV from day-to-day, you can block out of your mind how serious this war is. This is an important wake-up call for us, to remind us."

Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, agreed, citing his "horror and disgust" with what is depicted on the tapes.

"They have an impact in the sense that those who'd like to assume that 9/11 was a unique episode will now have to recognize that this is an ongoing project," Lantos said. "We are a long ways from taking care of the problem and it will flare up in different places, in different forms and we'll have to use all the means at our disposal -- including preemption."

Philip Reeker, deputy State Department spokesman, said the tapes underscore the need for continuing international cooperation to capture al Qaeda operatives and freeze the group's financing.

"Certainly no one should be surprised at what the tapes purport to reflect: that is, terrorist training techniques," he said. "Al Qaeda is well known for its brutal terrorist tactics and has trained thousands of members to murder innocent people.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said the tapes show the United States is right to wage a war on terrorism.

"These tapes only lend further justification to America's worldwide war on terrorism and our mission to eliminate any threats to our way of life from the al Qaeda network," the Mississippi Republican said.

One refrain offered by several lawmakers was that the tapes shattered any illusion about the nature of the terrorist threat that the United States faces.

"I am very pleased that these tapes were found and are being shown," Lantos said. "Almost a year after the horror of New York, we must be reminded regularly that the terrorists are still around, getting ready with all the power at their command to train new cadres to perpetrate the most horrendous crimes- from suicide bombings to the use of chemical or bio weapons."

Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said the tapes are more evidence of "dangerous and highly skilled people who intend major harm to America."

The California Democrat said the tapes highlight the need for creating a new Department of Homeland Security soon.

"We don't have that now, and I worry enormously that certain parts of the country are enormously unprotected," she said.

The archive includes 64 videotapes that span more than a decade and provide new insight into al Qaeda's planning, tactics and mindset. Nearly all the tapes pre-date last year's September 11 terror attacks. But one tape includes recorded segments from televised news reports of the attacks on New York and Washington, including CNN coverage

The archive of tapes includes previously unseen images of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, believed to have masterminded the September 11 attacks. Some footage shows dogs being subjected to lethal chemical tests.

"My reaction is the tapes help to educate the American people to just how great the threat is from the al Qaeda network," said Rep. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina. "I've learned not to be surprised by anything from that region on al Qaeda. I cease to be amazed with the expertise of this organization."

King said the tapes show that al Qaeda terrorists are "well coordinated, well trained" and that when it comes to the development of chemical weapons, "they might be further along than we thought they were."

The lawmaker said he was especially alarmed by the footage of mock kidnappings.

"Let's say some prominent person is kidnapped in middle of Times Square, for example," he said. "Who's ready for that?"

King predicted a "renewed focus" on al Qaeda when lawmakers return from their summer recess.

"Most of us have sort of had a supposition that they've been weakened, that they're in a state of confusion, on-the-run, but you look at this and you realize that it's still pretty tough out there," King said.

Another senior administration official, who follows non-proliferation issues including chemical weapons, said the tapes indicate a very strong desire to acquire the capability of chemical agents -- "obviously to be used against humans."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said the tapes point to the "malevolent, malicious (and) venal" nature of al Qaeda.

"It should not be surprising to learn that they conducted experiments with chemical or biological weapons," said Feinstein, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "This is one reason why I believe strongly that it is vital that the United States continue in the strongest terms its military effort against al Qaeda, to bring to justice it's leadership and to put its operations out of business wherever they exist. Anything short of that leaves the world and innocent citizens vulnerable to attacks of all kinds."

-- Senior White House Correspondent John King, congressional Correspondent Kate Snow, Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash and State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.




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