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U.S. Releases New Bin Laden Videos; Mississippi River Forces Evacuations; Cosby Tours Disaster Zone; Syria in Turmoil; War in Libya; Two Imams Kicked Off Flight; Terror Leader's Secret Life; New PR Offensive Against Al Qaeda: Pentagon Releases Video Of Graying Bin Laden, Hunched Under A Blanket, Watching Himself on TV

Aired May 7, 2011 - 18:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Welcome to the special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INT'L. ANCHOR: I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in Washington. We welcome our viewers watching around the world on CNN. We are getting out first look at new videos seized from Osama bin Laden's hideout.

CROWLEY: Five different videos of the man who was the world's most wanted terrorist, released today by U.S. intelligence officials, each of them with the sound removed to avoid spreading bin Laden's words.

SWEENEY: Some already surprisingly candid. One shows him watching himself on television, holding a remote control. Another is said to be a message to the United States recorded in October or November. They're part of the treasure trove of intelligence gathered from the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Our own Barbara Starr was called in for the special briefing today when intelligence officials released these new videos.

Barbara, just your first impressions when you saw the totality of what they've so far allowed us to see.

BARBARA STARR, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Candy, that the entire room was stunned, if you will, at the first time we saw this candid video of Osama bin Laden, with a white beard, white hair, hunched over in a blanket, a wool cap, a remote control in his hand. Essentially channel surfing looking at videos of himself, peering at that television tracking his own image.

What they were explaining to us as they were showing this is their feeling that this is an example of a man who was controlling and obsessed by the image that he presented to the world. Sitting hunched over the TV, seeing how he was being portrayed. When he made those formal videos, in his robes, his hat, his cap, he dyed his beard black so he would appear younger, perhaps stronger, more the universal image of the feared leader of Al Qaeda. But at end of the day, he was in this compound essentially for the last many years hiding out from the world.

What we learned today, however, is the U.S. feels he was very much in control of Al Qaeda. This is not a man who was living in a cave on the Pakistan border. He had strategic, ideological control over Al Qaeda, operation and tactical control. He was involved in the details, the planning, the plotting. So they are trying to look at all of the evidence, all of the intelligence they've gathered, to see where there may be more threats and get to them before any more time goes by, Candy.

CROWLEY: Barbara, was there any discussion about why we've been told all these years that bin Laden was on the run, that he was more symbolic than anything else, that he was somewhere deep in a cave. And what turns out to be folklore, is not so. He certainly seemed confined to that one place. But nonetheless, it does seem to me, once again, you say, where did the intelligence come from that he was in a cave with kidney disease somewhere.

STARR: Yes, you bet. I think there's a couple of explanations. His existence in this compound, we now know, was one of the most closely held secrets possibly in the history of the United States intelligence community. Very few people knew about this. This was very closely held. The Pakistanis didn't know, no other foreign government officials knew. So perhaps the people who were telling us this were, you know, spending years repeating folklore, maybe it was disinformation, to throw people off the trail.

But I have to tell you over the last many months, there began to be some sources we had, all of us in the news media, that began to talk about the notion that he was living perhaps in a city somewhere in Pakistan. That thread had begun to emerge. Nobody by any stretch acknowledging this, again, very few people knowing; but there had begun to be the notion that possibly he was in more of a populated area, than living in some cave on the border.

SWEENEY: Barbara, what did you believe-this is Fionnuala, by the way. What did you believe the point of this press briefing to be? And was there any mention of Pakistan, or even the possibility that some information might be gleaned from that compound that could in any way link Pakistan to Osama bin Laden?

STARR: Well, on the question of Pakistan, the officials said, still, they have no evidence at this point that Pakistani government officials were are in the know about where bin Laden was hiding. We can only assume that means both military and the intelligence service of Pakistan.

Look, clearly, they're still looking at that. Pakistan has arrested a number of people. They want to know in that immediate area of the compound who knew what.

As to the question of why the briefing today, clearly there's a couple of motives behind this on the part of the Obama administration. They want to get out the information that they feel they can about the compound, and that bin Laden was there, and he was killed. They made the case that these videos, as short as the clips were, as managed as they were by the administration, that these videos could only have been in a place where bin Laden was located. So that was point number one. They also went over the evidence again that they had identified bin Laden by looking at the facial features of his corpse as it laid on the ground after they killed him. They offered a pretty interesting statistic that the DNA match was positive and had a 1 in 11.8 quadrillion chance of being wrong. All of this evidence trying to get to that point that even though the world will not see the pictures of a dead Osama bin Laden, this was him. This was the compound.

And now the navy SEALs have grabbed all this intelligence on their way out, and the administration across the board is analyzing it. Trying to figure out what may happen next with Al Qaeda.

CROWLEY: Barbara, it seems to me that this is obviously a big score for the intelligence community. And certainly kudos around the Navy SEALs and the administration for deciding on what essentially was a very risky mission. But I wonder how much of this also has to do with an attempt to, yes, Osama bin Laden is dead, but you know, there's always going to be myths that spring up around someone. You know, oh, he was this and he was that. And then here are four pictures of him the way he wants to be seen, and here's who the real guy is. Seems to me an attempt to kind of undermine his image, the U.S. is now in control of this image. And here's what it is.

STARR: I think that's absolutely right, Candy and Fionnuala. I mean, this is the United States government saying to the world, we will now -- we will now control what the image is that Osama bin Laden is -- how he is seen to the world. And perhaps the enduring image is an old man huddled over a TV watching himself, but it should not be forgotten while he is doing that, over the last many years, tens of thousands of U.S. troops, coalition troops, and Afghans were fighting for their lives, wounded, killed in action. And that war has been so deadly to so many while he sat in that compound.

CROWLEY: Barbara is going to stick with us. We'll have more after the break. We'll also go live to Pakistan to get reaction to these tapes released today by the U.S. government.


CROWLEY: You are looking at new tapes released by the United States government. This is part of what we are told the massive amount of material that U.S. Navy SEALs scooped up while they were in that house where bin Laden was killed and took with them. It may take weeks, maybe months, to go through all of this.

But what are you looking at are five tapes where -- four tapes where you see bin Laden pretty much as you have seen him in other tapes that we have seen over the years. And then in the middle we see this tape, a very different man, a different colored beard. He is literally shuttling through television coverage right now. We are told looking for coverage of himself. So you see just looks like a tenement. This is a man wrapped in a blanket. He looks frail. So the public imagery very, very important to bin Laden then, and to the United States government now.

This is just an underscoring of what the United States government is trying to say, which is this man is not who you thought he was. This is not some big hero, some big powerful guy. This was a man confined to this little room watching television by himself. Not what he portrayed in these videos that you see where he clearly dyed his beard and perhaps his hair.

I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.

SWEENEY: And I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in Atlanta. Barbara Starr was called in for the briefing today when intelligence officials released these new videos.

Barbara, just before we went to break, you were talking about the U.S. wanting to control the message here, and the image of Osama bin Laden by releasing these videos. My question is, what is the mood in the Pentagon now about anticipating any possible backlash?

STARR: Well, you know, that was addressed today. Somebody asked, are you worried about potential attacks against U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan, or perhaps anywhere, or attacks against the United States? That is what they are looking for in scrubbing through all of this intelligence. Are there any clues about any potential attacks that might be coming?

What the sense of it right now is that at least, right now, Al Qaeda is disrupted. What will happen in the coming weeks and months is what is so critical. Who will be the next leader of Al Qaeda? Will it be Ayman Al Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor, who was seen over the years many times in videos with bin Laden, and on his own? Who actually was thought to be the operational leader of Al Qaeda. Not very well liked in some circles of the Al Qaeda network, we are told.

There is a lot of concern that one of the Al Qaeda affiliates might decide to make the play to at least take over and be the public face of Al Qaeda. A lot of worry about Al Qaeda in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as it is known, and the American-born Yemeni cleric there, Anwar Al Awlaki. He, of course, affiliated with the failed so- called underwear bomber attack in the airplane in Detroit. Said to be the inspiration for the failed Times Square attack. The key thing about that Al Qaeda affiliate, whether it is through his own planning or his inspiration to others, he can reach out and touch the United States. Failed, thank goodness so far, but concerned that some day, heaven for bid, he might not fail. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula right in the crosshairs of the CIA, the U.S. military. That's a key concern right now.

CROWLEY: Barbara, I just finished an interview with Tom Donilon, who as you know is the president of the national security adviser for tomorrow's "STATE OF THE UNION." And we talked a little bit about Pakistan and did he say, indeed, that he has yet to see-although they're still searching-any sign that either the intelligence services or anyone else in the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was in this concrete complex. Is there any speculation or any talk over there, in this briefing, about how it is they could possibly have missed this if indeed nobody knew about it?

STARR: You know, I think that's one of the big questions here that remains unanswered. One of the things you have to keep remembering, as we all do, is the United States did not inform Pakistan that it was going to enter its air space and conduct this commando assault raid on this compound.

Now, of course, to some extent, that gave the Pakistani government plausible deniability with its own people. We didn't know the Americans were coming. We didn't give them permission to invade our air space, even for this very brief period of time. But let's make no mistake, the U.S. did not inform Pakistan because of fundamental concerns that the mission would be compromised. Officially, of course, that is the line. The Pakistani government didn't know, the military didn't know bin Laden was there. The ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, did not know bin Laden was there.

But the Pakistanis have already rolled up a considerable number of people in this town asking them questions about what they knew. In particular, the Pakistani intelligence service is a multilayered organization where for many years, the United States has believed it has basically continued to reflect the Taliban/Al Qaeda infiltrated, having members with divided loyalties, whatever you want to call it. There's just no way the United States government, the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. administration does not believe that the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, does not have divided loyalties. And on that night, when the SEALs flew through the air in those helicopters, the major concern was that the Pakistanis would not detect they were on their way.

CROWLEY: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon doing yeoman's work as always. Thanks, Barbara.

STARR: Sure.

CROWLEY: We're going to give you a bit of an break.

There were some skeptics in Pakistan about whether Osama bin Laden was actually killed. So will these tapes help quell any of those doubts? Our Reza Sayah is monitoring reaction in Pakistan's capital of Islamabad.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, it's about 3:15 a.m. in the morning, so most people fast asleep here. It's tough to get reaction this time of day.

But based on the deep mistrust that exists in this region, not just here in Pakistan but across the border in Afghanistan, I think some people, despite the release of this new video they're still going to be skeptical whether bin Laden was killed in this raid earlier this week.

I think a lot of people might point to that new piece of video, that fresh piece of video where we see Osama bin Laden with a gray beard sitting on the floor, remote control in hand, watching the television set. That image of him is only a partial profile. Some people here who are already skeptical might say look, I can't conclude definitively say this is indeed Osama bin Laden, because I can't see his full face. Again, it's an indication of the deep mistrust that exists here in Pakistan. But I think these new images will go some way in convincing some of the skeptics that indeed bin Laden was killed, because simply they haven't seen this video before. Obviously, Washington was wrestling earlier with releasing what some described as the gruesome image of his remains. They decided against this. This could be a safer way of convincing some skeptics here in Pakistan, across the border in Afghanistan, that bin Laden is dead. But my guess is, when people wake up tomorrow and se these images, some people will still have some questions.

SWEENEY: Reza, it's Fionnuala Sweeney here in Atlanta.

Obviously the discussion about relations between United States and Pakistan very much at the top of the agenda for both countries. Lets me ask you, what is Pakistan most worried about when it sees the release of these tapes? And perhaps, perhaps more to come?

SAYAH: Well, I think they're worried about their reputation, domestically, in this country. They're worried about their reputation globally. They're worried about damage to their relationship with the U.S. Remember, despite the criticism coming from Pakistan against Washington, this is a country, the U.S., that they depend on heavily for billions of dollars in military aid, economic aid, the U.S. gives Pakistan. Leverage when it comes to their rivalry with their neighbor India. It gives the civilian government credibility.

So despite this huge blow to the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S., many observers say it doesn't mean an end to their relationship because these two countries desperately need one another. We cited the reasons why Pakistan needs the U.S. The U.S., of course, needs Pakistan when it comes to hammering out successful political solution in Afghanistan, and eventually withdrawing.

So certainly a damaging blow, this entire episode for the Pakistani military and this relationship between Islamabad and Washington, but no one is saying right now that this is the end of the relationship because these two countries need one another.

SWEENEY: The show must go on. Reza Sayah in Islamabad, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

CROWLEY: For years the name Osama bin Laden equaled terror. But a just-released video shows a very different image. What the pictures say about the man who was the world's most wanted terrorist.

SWEENEY: And Afghanistan: That country endured a decade of war during the hunt for bin Laden. We'll go to Kabul for a perspective on the new videos.


CROWLEY: You are looking at one, two, three, four, five new pictures. These are tapes that the U.S. government has released today. Four of those pictures you recognize. Osama bin Laden over the years. We have seen tapes like this as he spewed his propaganda out to the world. Now, look in the middle, a very, very different tape. This is Osama bin Laden as we have not seen him before in a very sparse room. You see him there with the gray beard, very unlike what you saw in his public image, an old man image as he clicks through satellite TV looking for coverage of himself. For many, many reasons, the U.S. government has released this part, they tell us, of a huge cache of intelligence that those U.S. Navy SEALs on their deadly mission into suburban Islamabad took with them when they left.

This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm Candy Crowley.

SWEENEY: I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in Atlanta.

CROWLEY: We want to check in with Fran Townsend for a new look at these images. She is a CNN national security contributor and a member of both the CIA and Homeland Security External Advisory Committees.

So, Fran, since you're on external advisory committees, why would you have advised the U.S. government to put out these images of bin Laden?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Candy, it's twofold. One, it's to prove we were there. We were in-the Navy SEALs were in his compound, the only place they could have gotten possession of this. And it is where, as we know now, they killed him.

Second, it really, Candy, is to go directly at the myth of bin Laden, this invincible statesman as he built himself up to be. We see him in basically curled up in a blanket, in a knit cap, in a-what looks like not so much a mansion, as we think of it in the west but his own prison. It is a sparse room with an ancient television, staring at pictures of himself, no less.

There's the other one where he flubs his line, looking at the camera, and the lighting is bad. And then the really interesting one, Candy, is the one that of the video that was done in late 2010, which had not been released. And at least theoretically Zawahiri has a copy of this and may have been thinking about releasing it himself. The U.S. government is making clear here, they're now in control of bin Laden's image. And they're going to exercise that control and put things out there that he probably didn't want in the public.

SWEENEY: Fran, this is Fionnuala Sweeney in Atlanta.

I want to ask you a question. Do you think the release of these five excerpts of these videos will put an end to the debate or any questions that have been raised about what went on during the 40- minute raid?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, Fionnuala, I will tell you, you know, almost 10 years now after 9/11, there are still people, conspiracy theorists, who believe that the U.S. and Israel were behind 9/11. Those people you're never going to convince. I don't think that's who this is aimed at. The administration rightly wants to try and quell some of the rumors in the region and convince the young men who may be the subject of recruitment, you know, Zawahiri is clearly issued a statement and said they're going to try to avenge the death of bin Laden.

What you are trying to do is show these young men, bin Laden was not this great figure he's being held out as. He was really an ordinary man and died an anonymous death.

CROWLEY: Fran, can you tell me what we understand is they got massive amounts of material, videos and material from the computers. The Pakistanis also got material, we are told. How does that get processed? And what specifically at first blush-I'm assuming this will take awhile. But at first blush, what are they looking for.

TOWNSEND: Sure, Candy, they've got a large interagency task force. That means people from all across the federal government, including dozens of Arabic speakers going through all of this material.

First and foremost, you triage it. And first and foremost you're looking for current ongoing threat information. You've seen already the U.S. government released things related to a potential threat against railways for the 10th anniversary. Plans targeting cities like Washington, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. And we'll continue to see those things as we go, as they reveal them.

The second thing you're looking for is information that may be related to the location of high value targets. Zawahiri, Anwar al Awlaki, the Yemeni cleric, those sorts of people.

And third, you're looking for is it possible that there are other lower level operatives that can be identified by taking this information, together with information we already knew, other people deployed in Western Europe, in the United States, maybe sleeper cells, that you can then go and identify and take into custody.

CROWLEY: But if I'm al Zawahiri or al Awlaki, aren't I changing positions rights now? What's the shelf life of this information?

TOWNSEND: Well, it's very short to your point, Candy. It's very short. Absolutely. But that's good news. If you can make Zawahiri and al Awlaki focus all of their energy on staying alive, that means they've got less bandwidth plotting and planning against the United States and communicating with others. You're going to make them more reticent to communicate with those who may pull of these operations. And that is good. That buys you time to try to capture or kill them.

SWEENEY: If you were moving forward, Fran, and you are expecting more details to be released over the coming weeks, how would you assess the current threat level then in the United States?

TOWNSEND: You know, it's interesting. I spoke to aster administration official about that very question, Fionnuala. They said each time they'd find one of these pieces of information, they'd go through an assessment process. I'll give you an example related to the threat against the railways for the 10th anniversary. They actually convened an interagency process, discussed whether or not this warranted raising the threat level. And decided it did not. And I think each time they find one of these threats, it's going to require them to go through that sort of a process and analysis; very time consuming, but very important.

And then what they do is disseminate it to state and local authorities, who look to see if they can gather any information to corroborate or refute the intelligence being disseminated.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Fran, what do you make of the fact that Bin Laden was hiding in this compound living a, you know, normal life as you can live in like one spot and apparently unable to move from there.


CROWLEY (voice-over): And yet, you know, the mythology around it was he was in a cave someplace. He had kidney disease. He probably needed dialysis. He was no longer relevant.

I mean, you were part of an administration that eventually said, you know what, he's on the run and we're not worried about him anymore. We're after al Qaeda. So how did that folklore get out there?

TOWNSEND: Well, part of that was there was very little intelligence, technical or human intelligence, which suggested to analysts that it was difficult for him to communicate. That it's difficult for him to communicate, you can imagine it's hard for him to do things like give operational or tactical direction.

Clearly, he had this very trusted courier and was able to do more of that than the intelligence community had expected. You know, I think there was a lot of surprise at him being in an urban area, but if you look at it, Candy, as Osama Bin Laden and go back six years, what does he know?

He knows the U.S. is increasingly using predator drones in rural areas. You say to yourself, I'd better get out of a rural area. He knows those in his organization targeted by drones typically had some electronic communication device. You say to yourself, I'd better not be using the internet or cell phones.

And you say if they're using these in rural areas, I want to get to an urban area and the other piece, a public dispute between U.S. and Pakistan, Pakistan making clear they didn't want U.S. military boots on the ground.

You look at all these things together with the knowledge that they found in Karachi in a very urban area and you can see how he developed the idea going to an urban area like Abottabad away from where U.S. troops were was a smart strategy. It served him well for six years.


CROWLEY: Fran Townsend, thanks so much for your expertise.

Our special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM continues as we look at these new images of Osama Bin Laden. Videos seized from his compound when U.S. forces raided the al Qaeda leader's home last Sunday night. Retired Army General Mark Kimmitt will join us. FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: We're also monitoring a natural disaster in the making. The Mississippi River is reaching levels it hasn't reached in more than half a century. Residents are rushing to get out of the way of floodwaters.



CROWLEY (voice-over): You are looking at the latest from the U.S. government, five videos taken from a cache of information that U.S. Navy SEALs took out of the home where they killed Osama Bin Laden in suburban Islamabad.

Four images of Bin Laden as you know him and then that one in the middle, Osama as you have never seen before and that's the image that the Obama administration wants to have stick in the minds of the world.

An old gray man sitting huddled it looks like in a tenement-like room watching himself on television. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.


SWEENEY: I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in Atlanta. Welcome to viewers in the United States and around the world. If you're just joining us, let's check in on some of our other top stories.


SWEENEY (voice-over): The Mississippi River continues to swallow neighborhoods and towns as it floods to levels not seen in more than 70 years. Parts of Tennessee are underwater and people in the Memphis are obeying more than 1,000 evacuation notices. The Mississippi is supposed to crest in Memphis nearly 14 feet above flood stage on Wednesday.

So far, eight states have been impacted by the historic flooding from the river, which meteorologists say will take through June to recede.

A high profile visitor in another zone, entertainer, Bill Cosby toured parts of Alabama hit hard by last week's tornado outbreak. He comforted victims and got an up close look at the damage. The largest tornado outbreak ever recorded killed at least 327 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

At least four women died in Syria on Saturday when government thanks and troops trooped stormed into villages along the Mediterranean. Residents of one town formed a human chain to block security forces, but witnesses say they opened fire. This after violence erupted at nationwide protests again on Friday, as well. At least 26 activists and 10 security officers were killed.

In Libya, the fiery aftermath of fuel depots apparently bombed by Moammar Gadhafi's forces. A rebel spokesman says helicopters with the Red Cross and red crescents symbols were used in the attacks. Misrata has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks. It's the only western city still held by the rebels.


SWEENEY: Atlantic southeast airline has apologized after two Muslim men were removed from one its flight last night. The plane was about to depart Memphis to Charlotte, North Carolina. A spokesman to the Council on American Islamic relations says the two imams contacted his office.

And said they were told that other passengers were uncomfortable with them on board. The men wearing traditional Muslim clothing and were headed to a conference on Islamaphobia. We'll be speaking with the imams tonight during the 10:00 p.m. Eastern hour here on CNN.

But just ahead, back to our breaking news. The U.S. government releasing videos just a few hours ago captured during the assault on Osama Bin Laden's compound less than a week ago. Live reaction from Afghanistan when we return.



SWEENEY (voice-over): Welcome to our breaking news coverage. You're looking at excerpts from five video clips, which were released by U.S. intelligence today at the Pentagon. Purporting to show Osama Bin Laden in various states of preparation for making a recording address, a reported address or indeed, actually recording an address to America and the rest of the world. It doesn't purport to show.

Of course, it shows Osama Bin Laden and these tapes were taken during the raid in which he was killed at his compound in Pakistan early on Monday morning. The tape there in the top center box is one of Osama Bin Laden watching himself on television.

Purporting to show a very different man and much older man and not with a black beard as we have seen in the other tapes. These tapes, of course, are, edited by U.S. intelligence, but clearly here the United States wanting to control the message and the image of the late Osama Bin Laden.


CROWLEY: You are watching a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM on CNN. Reaction now to the new video of Osama Bin Laden just released by the U.S. government, we have CNN's Stan Grant live in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Stan, have you been able to see what various people, particularly Afghans, think about the release of these videos?

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's still too early, only a quarter past 3:00 in the morning here, Candy. So it's too early to get any real reaction from people, but I had a chance to speak to people over the past.

One of the things that really struck me is that Osama Bin Laden had not only loomed so large in the minds and imaginations of these people for such a long time, but he had really developed aura of invincibility.

People said to me they capitol even believe that he was dead because a, they had heard those stories before and they were untrue, but b, because they couldn't imagine it. They couldn't actually imagine him being killed. This is a man who had eluded capture for such a long time.

And, of course, he very carefully cultivated that image as well, but to see these latest videos, to see an older looking man, a frail looking man sitting in that nondescript room watching himself on television is certainly going to puncture that image.

Another thing that they are likely to take away from this is it will underline the fact that he was in Pakistan for some time, years. Now people I've spoken to here both political figures and people on the street have said that this is really calling into question just how much Pakistan knew and just how committed they are to this fight against terror whether in Afghanistan, they think they have a partner for peace in Pakistan. That's certainly going to also come to the fore.

SWEENEY: Stan, this is Fionnuala. The Taliban and al Qaeda are often closely intertwined or regarded as such by many people in Afghanistan because precisely of Osama Bin Laden's connected with that country. How would you assess the status of the Taliban at the moment, but also specifically al Qaeda at all in Afghanistan?

GRANT: Yes, a very good question, Fionnuala. We see Bin Laden as this larger than live figure, a figure who has dominated the headlines and seared into our consciousness and we imagine him as being the dominant partner here.

And certainly he was a significant figure. He bankrolled and helped recruit for the Taliban as well as the two organizations were linked, but he didn't create a home here. He found a home here. The Taliban already existed. The Taliban had been the government of Afghanistan and they continued to be a potent force today.

We've just seen more attacks in the region of Kandahar, multiple explosions there. A number of people killed and wounded. It's all part of the spring offensive that they said they are now about to launch and it also goes to show just how potent they are to the extent that al Qaeda is still part of that organization to the extent that al Qaeda gets shelter from the Taliban.

It is able to train with the Taliban, but they also will remain effective. But certainly if you talk to people here in Afghanistan, the Taliban is the real power and the Taliban is the real threat in this country, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: All right, Stan Grant in the very early hours of the morning in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you very much, indeed.

CROWLEY: We'll have more on those newly released Osama Bin Laden videos coming up. We'll get perspective from a retired army general on why the Defense Department may have wanted the world to see them when we come back.



SWEENEY (voice-over): Breaking news on CNN, you're looking at five videos of Osama Bin Laden. They are excerpts from five tapes taken, retrieved from the compound where Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in the early hours on Monday morning.

These tapes were released by U.S. intelligence at the Pentagon early this morning. And the center box on the top is showing a television screen, and Osama Bin Laden there, a man with gray hair, not the black beard as you have seen in other speeches, watching himself in a rather unkempt and threadbare room.

As we watches a channel and watches himself on television, a man who was very interested in controlling his own image, and now it would seem the United States in releasing these edited tapes wants to do the same.


SWEENEY: I'm Fionnalla Sweeney at CNN in Atlanta.

CROWLEY: And I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. The world's most wanted terrorist revealed on tape, those just released videos showing life in Osama Bin Laden's suburban hideout.

We want to bring in Mark Kimmitt in Washington. He's a retired Army General, now the executive VP of the defense contracting firm, Advanced Technology Systems Company.

So we are told they have this huge amount of material and the Pakistanis have even more because they went in afterwards. So of all of that, why do you think these five tapes are what they put out there?

GENERAL MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Well, a couple of things, first of all, it's probably the least important information from a pure intelligence value, as Fran Townsend said, there's probably some actionable intelligence or targetable intelligence remaining in the rest of the repository.

That's important, we need to keep that classified, keep our soldiers safe as they act on that intelligence. But I think it's also the issue of immediately attacking this icon, which for 15 years we have been chasing. He has presented himself throughout the region as invincible, invulnerable, and uncatchable.

And symbology is very important for this movement. They use the media. They use the internet. They use symbols. They use music. And on top of all this was Bin Laden himself. So if the Defense department rightly can show that like the "Wizard of Oz," pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

It will have tremendous value not only in the current fight, but could well stop the recruitment of these young, potential Jihadis that still could be a threat to America and a threat to the region.

CROWLEY: So do you think it's an attempt to destroy the legend. The man is dead, but the legend kind of remains and -- but isn't it more -- I mean, how much of al Qaeda do you think dies with Osama Bin Laden?

Because we hear, you know, obviously we have a lot of other folks, number two, number one, that's out there, waiting to take over. So it's hard to believe that they have lost a recruitment tool when there's always somebody standing in the wings.

KIMMITT: Well, but the importance of Bin Laden can't be underestimated. He was the founder. He was the leader. He was the symbol. Bin Laden is dead, they're trying to kill Bin Ladenism, but they have also got to end al Qaeda.

Now al Qaeda operates in many ways as a franchise operation and a franchise organization. So there's still plenty of work to be done. So in order to get that entire organization, yes, they got the top of the organization, but just as when we killed Zarqawi in Iraq, there was still much more work to be done. When we caught Saddam, there was still much more work to be done.

CROWLEY: General Mark Kimmitt, stick with us. We're going to be right back after a quick break.



SWEENEY (voice-over): The world's most wanted terrorist revealed on tape. Excerpts there from five videotapes released by the U.S. intelligence at the Pentagon earlier today.


SWEENEY: Let's bring in Mark Kimmitt in Washington again. He's a retired Army General, now the executive VP of the defense contracting firm, Advance Technology Systems Company.

My question to you, sir, is that it was largely argued or agreed by analysts that the recent unrest and revolutions in the Middle East had been to al Qaeda's disadvantage, had rendered them somewhat impotent in the region. Do you agree and what impact does Bin Laden's killing have in the rest of the region?

KIMMITT: Well, I do agree with your point. I mean, it was clear that when the streets erupted in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Bahrain, in Yemen, in Syria, they were not proclaiming Bin Laden as their icon. They were not declaring radical Islam as their solution.

They were looking for democratic change, human rights, individual rights, so if there has been any discrediting of al Qaeda in the past 10 years, the most significant has been done by the street, by those individuals on the ground in those countries today.

CROWLEY: General, let me ask you because we were timed during the break, how is it that Osama Bin Laden became an old guy, dying of kidney disease, hiding in a cave on the run to running this entire network and looking fairly healthy except for that picture we keep seeing?

KIMMITT: Yes, I think it just has to do with the nature of intelligence. Intelligence in many cases is based on best estimates. It's based on shreds of evidence. It's based on, in some cases bad information.

So I think that there was clearly in this case perhaps a bit of a difference in terms of what turned out to be true, but that's the intelligence officials doing the best they have with the best information they have at the moment.

CROWLEY: One question quickly in the remaining moments we have and that is, because Bin Laden is dead, and we have all this information, is the capture of Ayman al Zawahri and others closer now?

KIMMITT: Well, I think it depends on what we find on those thumb drives and those hard drives and other information and now quickly we could act on it. If I was Zawahri, if I was Awlaki, I would not be sleeping comfortably at night.

CROWLEY: In fact, you're probably on the move, right?

KIMMITT: I would suspect they would be, which makes them awful exposed.

CROWLEY: General Kimmitt, thank you so much for coming by and lending us some expertise on these photos. Come again, thanks.

KIMMITT: Thank you.

SWEENEY: This has been a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Fionnula Sweeney in Atlanta.

CROWLEY: And I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Tomorrow morning on "STATE OF THE UNION," we talk about the intelligence that led to the raid that brought Osama Bin Laden down as well as the future fights against al Qaeda.

National Security adviser Tom Donovan will be our guest and then the questions surrounding Pakistan's knowledge of Bin Laden's whereabouts, where does our relationship stand with Pakistan and should it continue to receive U.S. foreign aid.

We will ask those questions of the Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Republican Senator Richard Luger of Indiana. "STATE OF THE UNION" begins at 9 a.m. Eastern.

Meantime, the "CNN NEWSROOM" continues right now.