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New bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri Tape Surfaces

Aired September 10, 2003 - 14:16   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I want to take a minute to bring in David Ensor joining us from Washington, D.C. now to get a little bit of perspective from him.
David, can you hear me? What are your thoughts on this?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Heidi, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency will be analyzing the voices on this tape, almost immediately. It usually takes them about a day or so to pronounce whether or not they think they really are hearing the voices of the persons that the tapes are claimed to be. So whether this -- these are the voices of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri or not, or voices of translators is not clear at this point -- whether these are genuine messages or not. The CIA, as I say, will have its judgment on that in probably a day or so.

There have been indications over the last few weeks that -- and from various quarters that al Qaeda might attempt to issue some sort of a message on or around the anniversary of the September 11 attacks of 2001, and we're almost there now. There have also been indications, U.S. Intelligence officials tell me, there may be an attempt to make some sort of an attack or a gesture in a number of different places in the world. So they don't have any specific or credible information about an attack being plotted in any particular place, but what we always talk about here, the level chatter, the level of conversations that are being monitored. The indications that al Qaeda and those associated with it may be wishing to attempt something to mark the anniversary. There are some such indications, Heidi.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I also think that, David, that they really wanted to show with this videotape -- and again, as you point out, we don't know when this videotape was made of bin Laden. It could have been made a long time ago. As we know from the al Qaeda videotape library that CNN recovered from Afghanistan, they kept a wide collection of bin Laden videotapes and other training tapes. So we don't know exactly when this was taken. But they wanted to try to show their followers around the world that bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri are in good shape. They're healthy. Although, as I said, the reporter in Al-Jazeera said they viewed it as the two looking frail just because of old age.

COLLINS: Yes, there have been...


COLLINS: Go ahead, David. Go ahead.

ENSOR: I was going to say, as you say, the videotape and the audio message are two different issues. I haven't had a chance to speak to intelligence officials yet about the videotape. But as I say, there's really no way of dating it. It is a very good chance that these are old pictures that were saved to be put out at this time. But we have no way of knowing that, and it's doubtful that U.S. intelligence will either.

COLLINS: Let's take a minute, if we could, to talk about -- just for a moment. We've been getting tape like this. This is not the first time that we have seen pictures of Osama bin Laden. What is different about this? What is most alarming to you?

BOETTCHER: Well, what is different about, this -- it's been 17 months since we've seen a videotape of bin Laden. What's different about this is you're seeing bin Laden not making a statement on camera -- which is interesting, and it's something that has to be analyzed. If they're willing -- and this is a recent videotape and they were willing to speak on an audiotape, both bin Laden and Ayman Al- Zawahiri, why didn't they just speak on camera? And that raises all sorts of other questions about how this whole tape was put together and what it means and why they're not talking on camera. But obviously, they want to show them in good shape.

I was told by coalition sources in the Middle East that in the early part of this year, bin Laden sent out written messages via courier, several couriers, to several operatives around the world. As best we know, there has been no electronic traffic coming from bin Laden or the place they suspect he is hiding, which is in the tribal areas, an area 150 miles southeast Kabul just across the border in Pakistan. That is the best estimate right now where he might be. But if he's willing to talk on an audiotape, why not on videotape? So that's one of the questions, and I don't know the answer to that.

COLLINS: Right. Of course not. And -- I mean, if he is in hiding, which is obviously what the case has been, why would he allow video to be shot, if, in fact, he would like to remain in hiding?

BOETTCHER: David....


BOETTCHER: ..the folks at the CIA, when they look at this, I would imagine they'd be interested in the health of these two men. Judging from what happened the last time, 17 months, when he appeared to be injured on the left side.

ENSOR: They'll be very interested, as you say, Mike, in the health of the men. But I think they're going to be looking at this videotape with more than a grain of salt. I suspect we'll be hearing soon from them that they think it's old videotape.

It's very dangerous to put out recent pictures of bin Laden. This site -- there's enough pictures of where he is that someone who knows the area, someone who works the area, and U.S. intelligence does at this point, might be able to pinpoint where he was, and thereby narrow down where he might be now. So these are -- I think you're going to find unlikely to be recent pictures of Osama bin Laden and his deputy. But the audiotape which refers to the second anniversary and makes various other references in it that suggest that it was recorded recently -- if that turns out to be the genuine voices of these two individuals, that is an important indication that they are -- they're still alive and kicking and still making threats.

BOETTCHER: Now, there have been several reports that keep bubbling up about Al-Zawahiri, the No. 2, the person you see in front there, who is basically bin Laden's mentor, that he had been in Iran. And I have been told consistently by my sources that he was not in Iran. This depicts both of them together somewhere. As it said on the Al Jazeera broadcast and a -- shows them wandering in an unknown mountainous area. As David says with, expertise, you probably could pinpoint it, which would indicate that they wouldn't make this recent. He's not going to show his hiding place.

But it's interesting, this -- this shows them together. They want -- they want to depict both of them together, and they, frankly over their history, over many years have been inseparable. They've stayed together. Bin Laden listens closely to his counsel. There are many who say that Ayman Al Zawahiri is indeed, in fact, the most powerful man in al Qaeda.

COLLINS: So this does not seem unlikely to you at all that the two of them would be together, even at this point?

BOETTCHER: No, absolutely. That -- that is the best estimate from people who look at this for a living.

COLLINS: David, you also touched a little bit, as you say, on the anniversary of September 11 tomorrow, that being the very day. What will the investigators -- CIA, FBI -- what will they now? Will they go at this at a ramped up speed? As you say, it usually takes about a day to determine the authenticity of something like this.

ENSOR: It will probably take about a day to determine the authenticity. And obviously, with the importance of the target, that might be speed up just a little bit. It may be that this audiotape and the videotape will not offer very much additional evidence that will help the U.S. in its search to find these two men.

I was talking to a senior intelligence official a couple of days ago and asking about the hunt for bin Laden and asking whether there's ever any kind signals of intelligence, any kinds of signals, whether it be something sent on the Internet or telephone or any kind of communications that can be traced directly or indirectly to Osama bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri. And the official said, if a person chooses to stay off the electromagnetic signal sphere, there's not much that U.S. intelligence signals officers can do to find them.

So the suggestion there, indirectly was that no, these -- these two men are not using modern communications of any kind. So as mike said, if they're in charge of al Qaeda, they're doing it by handwritten messages sent by couriers. And that's about it. COLLINS: All right. David Ensor, coming to us from Washington, D.C. David, I know we have to cut you loose here, so we appreciate your comments and your insight on all of this very much.


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