Dec 16, 2004

New Bin Laden Tape

For some additional insight, we turn to CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. He's here in Washington. And also Nail al-Jubeir. He's director of information for the embassy of Saudi Arabia here in Washington, as well.

Nail, let me begin with you. You obviously speak Arabic. Have you heard this tape?

NAIL AL-JUBEIR, DIRECTOR OF INFORMATION, SAUDI ARABIAN EMBASSY: No, I haven't heard the tape. So that's just -- so people are aware, I have not heard it. I've listened to the reports on it. I wouldn't be surprised that it is him.

BLITZER: Has your government made an assessment of this tape, based on what you know?

AL-JUBEIR: Not yet. We're still looking into the tape, where the emphasis, what he's saying. Are there any hidden messages that he's sending out?

We have elections in February so that may be part of his message that he's trying to send out to the world.

BLITZER: Is he directly aiming, in your assessment, Saudi Arabia right now, which is his birth place, his home -- he's a Saudi -- is he going after Saudi Arabia? Is that his first and foremost objective?

AL-JUBEIR: That was always his foremost objective. We were al Qaeda's first target. We will continue to be his target. Now he's focusing on it. He's trying to take advantage of the situation in Saudi Arabia, thinking that he's going to gain the rally.

But he doesn't have support in Saudi Arabia. If he had it, he wouldn't be hiding somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan. He'd be sitting in Riyadh by now.

BLITZER: But he must have a little support if he launched this attack against the U.S. consulate in Jeddah.

AL-JUBEIR: It doesn't take many people to commit a criminal act. And that's what it was.

There are some remnants inside Saudi Arabia. We're not denying it. We're going after them. They are on the run. The fact that they did strike the U.S. consulate, one of the most secure places and they failed. Killing innocent people on the outside does not make a victory.

BLITZER: Most of the people they killed were non-American workers at that consulate, including some Saudis.

AL-JUBEIR: That's correct. But the intent was he did not get to the heart of the consulate. The intent to go after Americans failed. He was -- the idea was to kill. And you make headlines.

That message that came out is right before the Christmastime, and is to bring fear, not only to people inside Saudi Arabia but as well as the west.

BLITZER: And so just to be precise, you have no reason to believe this is not -- this is a fake or anything like that?

AL-JUBEIR: No. We shouldn't -- he comes out with these tapes. The surprise is it did come out that quickly, which means that he has the ability to send out these messages.

But running an organization out of -- on the Internet is not difficult. He can hide anywhere and upload it somewhere, which makes it more difficult. I think it's more difficult nowadays to deliver a tape than it is to uplink something like that.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk to Peter Bergen. He's analyzed a lot of these tapes over the years.

This looks different to me in a certain degree. Most of the tapes that I am familiar with, whether it's Ayman al Zawahiri, the No. 2 al Qaeda leader or Osama bin Laden, usually they deliver it to Al Jazeera somehow.

And then it's sort of censored by Al Jazeera. We get a chunk of that. We further censor it, and we only put a little bit of that on the air. But this time all 70 minutes is made available to anyone who wants to download it.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. The debate over whether Al Jazeera is a good or bad thing, which often you hear in this country, has sort of been obviated by the fact that, with the Internet, you don't need Al Jazeera.

I mean, bin Laden, this tape is being broadcast everywhere around the world. And as Mr. Al-Jubeir has pointed out, it's a relatively easy thing to do, to put it on the Internet.

By my count, his is the 29th videotape or audiotape we've had from either bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri since 9/11. That's an extraordinary number. Every six weeks, the top leaders of al Qaeda deliver a significant statement.

BLITZER: But I think what's significant this time, as Nail al- Jubeir and as David Ensor just pointed out, this was very quick, right after that Jeddah attack at the U.S. consulate.


BLITZER: All of a sudden he's talking about it.

BERGEN: This is the fastest turnaround of any tape that I -- that I can remember. I mean, this is -- this is quick.

BLITZER: So what does that mean?

BERGEN: Well, I think it shows he feels very secure about where he is, wherever he is. I mean, the conventional wisdom, that he's probably in Pakistan, but he's -- he's producing these tapes. I mean, there are more tapes, rather than less tapes.

And clearly the chain of custody of these tapes is the one way guaranteed to find him. And American intelligence and other intelligence agencies have been doing a rather poor job, I think, of tracing back these tapes. Presumably they're doing it but without much effect.

BLITZER: I mean, to say that he's hiding in some sort of cave right now in very primitive conditions sort of would go against the notion of at least somebody in his organization has access to the Internet, a computer. And they can download a 70-minute tape like that, which requires a certain degree of computer sophistication.

BERGEN: I'm very skeptical that he's in a cave. I mean, if you look at the last videotape we have from bin Laden, it was well produced. He was talking about very recent current events. He's clearly well informed. You don't get newspapers or the Internet or even electricity in the remote tribal areas.

Every senior member of al Qaeda who's been found so far has been in a city in Pakistan. I believe that it's more likely, perhaps, that bin Laden is in some urban area. Going to your point, that it's suggesting some, you know, Internet access, et cetera.

BLITZER: Let me bring David Ensor back in. Because David, you and I have -- we've gone over these tapes a lot. We've interviewed a lot of intelligence officials who make a career out of studying every little nuance.

This is 70 minutes, an audiotape. Give our viewers a little flavor of what specifically experts in the U.S. government, in the intelligence community, are going to be looking for in trying to get a better understanding of Osama bin Laden, his whereabouts, his capabilities, based on this 70-minute tape.

ENSOR: You know, sometimes there's a tendency, particularly in the news media to look for the visual clues or the verbal clues, in this case, as to where he might be.

But the analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency and elsewhere who look at these tapes, they look at the content more than anything else. What's he saying? Are there any clues as to what might be the next targets for al Qaeda? Is there some particular angle he's going on? Is he after economic targets now? What's up?

Because sometimes there have been indications in these tapes as to what al Qaeda might try to strike next. That is obviously what they care about more than anything else in U.S. intelligence.

BLITZER: Nail al-Jubeir, usually -- correct me if I'm wrong -- after one of these tapes is released, this audiotape or videotape, some sort of operation occurs. Is that right?

AL-JUBEIR: Well, they happen to -- where you have some operations after that. Whether that is a message that he's sending out or not, we have to wait and see.

I think there is the biggest advantage of for him to send these things out is more psychological. This is the -- for the west, the travel season. People go shopping. And when they can bring in some fear into it, the better for him.

BLITZER: So is your government telling westerners, Americans specifically, stay away from Saudi Arabia right now?

AL-JUBEIR: No, we're not. We welcome anybody who wants to come to Saudi Arabia. We have a terrorism conference taking place in February. We have the elections coming in February. We have the Hajj coming in January. And we welcome anyone to come in.

BLITZER: Now, the Hajj, you'll get millions of Muslims coming to Saudi Arabia. How many millions?

AL-JUBEIR: We expect about a million-plus to come from outside the country. It is a logistical nightmare, to be honest with you. But we've been working with all the other countries in the region in trying to make it a safe Hajj.

This is what we're fearing, that he will take advantage of it. Luckily so far he hasn't taken advantage of the Hajj.

BLITZER: What do you -- you think this is one of those moments, Peter, the Hajj in January, is that right?


BLITZER: That Osama bin Laden could strike specifically in Saudi Arabia, when have you all these Muslims trying to get to Mecca and Medina?

BERGEN: I think it would be unlikely that he would want to do that, since it would so counter his claim to be a religious leader to interfere with the Hajj.

But I think the one thing we can predict from these tapes is the call for attacks on Iraqi and Saudi oil installations that are in these tapes, I think we're going to see a lot more of that. Bin Laden/al Qaeda has a desire to jack up the price of oil. For them that's a strategic success. Creating a so-called fear premium on the price of oil is something they're very much interested in doing. So I think, unfortunately, we're going to see more of these attacks in Iraq and in Saudi Arabia as a result of this tape.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Nail?

AL-JUBEIR: I think that's the idea, is to undermine the world economy. That's why he's been trying to attack Saudi Arabia.

But there was -- I believe there comes a point where the world premium sort of starts to disappear, because the ability of the world market to produce more oil somewhere else, not as much as he were to strike at Saudi Arabia, but oil installations are safe. He has not, luckily, struck against the Saudi oil installations so far.

BLITZER: Nail al-Jubeir from the embassy of Saudi Arabia, thanks very much.

Peter Bergen, thanks to you.