Osama bin Laden was trying to show Americans and the world in his taped message Friday that his al Qaeda terrorist network was still effective despite its loss of personnel and inability to strike inside this country since Sept. 11, 2001, a senior government counterterrorism expert said.
John O. Brennan, director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) and a longtime senior CIA analyst, told reporters yesterday that bin Laden was trying "to demonstrate that al Qaeda, as an organization, is still effective, even though they have not, in fact, been able to do something here in the states."
Bin Laden was "looking for a way to justify the organization's continued existence and that there is still something there," Brennan said. Although Brennan made no mention of Abu Musab Zarqawi, other intelligence analysts have noted recently that the Jordanian terrorist, who is active in Iraq, has positioned himself as a successor or competitor although he recently swore fealty to bin Laden.
Brennan said there appeared to be "no specific threat information" in the bin Laden tape but that it could be related to another tape given to ABC News last week showing an anonymous man claiming to be an American affiliated with al Qaeda and threatening attacks on Americans. Brennan said his agency was "looking . . . very closely right now" at whether there is a relationship between the two tapes.
In a bulletin sent to state and local law enforcement agencies Friday night, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security asked for help in seeking to identify the individual, said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who appeared with Brennan at a news conference.
The bulletin described both tapes as "clearly intended to influence and instill fear in the American people." Both tapes were produced by the same media office, Al Sahab, and contain "classic al-Qaida propaganda in terms of their anti-U.S. ideology and denunciation of U.S. foreign policy," the bulletin said.
"We remain concerned about al-Qaeda's interest in attacking the American homeland, and we cannot discount the possibility that the video may be intended to promote violence or serve as a signal for an attack," the bulletin said.
"There is no specific intelligence that targets Election Day, polling places and the like," Ridge said. But in a conference call yesterday morning he briefed 350 people responsible for homeland security around the country on the situation. "The tapes are new," Ridge said. "The threat is not."
The bin Laden tape, which was delivered to the al-Jazeera Arabic-language network, is being studied for clues about where the al Qaeda leader is hiding. The tape was delivered to the Qatar-based channel's office in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday hours before it was broadcast, the Associated Press reported.
Once the tape reached Qatar, a copy was delivered to U.S. officials there and transmitted to the United States. When the White House learned about the tape, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told President Bush aboard Air Force One while he was between campaign stops Friday morning. Bush then held a videoconference call with Rice and the FBI and CIA directors, along with top Justice and Homeland Security officials.
U.S. officials asked al-Jazeera to delay broadcasting the tape, but the network turned down the request.
An hour before the tape aired Friday, and after U.S. intelligence analysts had concluded that the speaker actually was bin Laden, Bush's Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), and his campaign learned about the tape from the White House.
Among the many unanswered questions about the tape is whether its entire content was broadcast. One officials who asked not to be identified said that the tape was originally 18 minutes in length, but only 14 minutes were broadcast.