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February 12, 2003

If you’re in fact confused about the whole business with the latest “Bin Laden” tape, as well you might be, Mark Kleiman has a useful summary here. [07:54 AM]
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Comments on If you're in fact confused:

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 12:08 PM:

The summary confirms my confusion from listening to NPR this morning.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 12:35 PM:

The relevant part of the current tape seems to be this:

"Fighting in support of the non-Islamic banners is forbidden.

"Muslims' doctrine and banner should be clear in fighting for the sake of God. He who fights to raise the word of God will fight for God's sake.

"Under these circumstances, there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists.

"The jurisdiction of the socialists and those rulers has fallen a long time ago.

"Socialists are infidels wherever they are, whether they are in Baghdad or Aden.

"The fighting, which is waging and which will be waged these days, is very much like the fighting of Muslims against the Byzantine in the past.

"And the convergence of interests is not detrimental. The Muslims' fighting against the Byzantine converged with the interests of the Persians.

"And this was not detrimental to the companions of the prophet. "

-- http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=30999

That doesn't sound to me like admitting that he and Saddam are allies.

And which brings me around to my current speculations. These are merely guesses. I do not have any direct knowledge here.


Previous years: Bin Laden communicates with his followers by means of videotapes. He is an effective orator, and his face is well-known.

September, 2001. Bin Laden carries out terrorist acts in the US. He makes subsequent videotapes discussing these attacks, including an interview shot in October 2001, and a discussion with a friend on a tape probably made in November.

December 2001. Bin Laden is in Tora Bora. His voice is heard and recognized on short-range radio broadcasts among the troops.

At this point we get into some heavy speculation which has no basis in any facts. This is guesswork, and should be treated as fiction.

RFDF finds the location of the broadcast, real-time voice recognition software identifies the voice as bin Laden, and a Daisycutter lands on top of him. He's reduced to fragments, and five hundred tons of rock fall on the pieces.

The next lower level of leadership isn't there, though, and carries on. They're maintaining the fiction that he's still alive. At first they don't know, but as time goes on, the silence goes on, and they, at least, know that the boss is gone. So what's the movement without the leader? They need to come up with something. At first they're doing compliation tapes of old material, and previously unreleased video. But as time continues to go on, with bin Laden not making any statements that can be dated post-December 2001, the world is wondering why. Then there's an interview with some sorta-top-level al Qeida folks in Pakistan, where one of them inadvertently speaks of bin Laden in the past tense. Oops. They have to come up with something, and they have to do it quick.

October 2002 -- a typewritten letter, purportedly signed by bin Laden, is faxed to al-Jazeera. It mentions current events.

The typewritten letter is the result. And this is widely disbelieved, most people not being total fools. So they have to come up with something better. They don't have the boss, so he can't make a videotape, but Akbar over there could always do a darned good Osama imitation. Hey, Akbar, c'mere. Read this into the microphone....

The tape is of cruddy quality. But it's good enough.

November 2002 -- an audiotape, supposedly from bin Laden mentioning current events, turns up. It is authenticated by an anonymous source in the US Government, but Herve Bourlard of the Swiss Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence (IDIAP)says no, it's not bin Laden on the tape. Okay, who do you trust? A named scientist from a named institute well known for its expertise, or an anonymous statement from an inside source?

The full transcript of the tape is here:

This latest tape is also of cruddy quality. But it's good enough. Aren't there any good-quality tape recorders in the tribal areas of Pakistan? You'd think that a world-wide terrorist organization could find something without all that tape hiss.

The movement needs to maintain the fiction that the charismatic leader is still alive. That's what the tapes are all about.

To believe in them ourselves, though, we have to believe that a videotape recorder isn't available in whatever corner of Yemen Osama's in. We also have to believe that IDIAP can't analyse a voice recording.

Which all brings us around to the current tape.

The most recent recording shows that whoever made the tape is preparing for Iraq to lose by saying words to the effect of "Who cares if the go down? They're a bunch of infidels anyway."


Why does the US say that these tapes are authentic? (Even if the guy saying they're authentic doesn't give his name.)

First, we need to have a living charismatic leader for the opposition as much as they need to have one. He's a good target, a good symbol. A good one-word shorthand for The Bad Guys.

Second, if we said "He's dead," the overwhelming response would be "Yeah? Where's his body?" To which we'd have no answer, since we don't have it. It's mulch, and the ants have carried even that away. We say "Trust us," and then what? Suppose that the million-to-one chance pays off and he shows up alive somewhere. Boy do we look dumb.

Third, and this is the biggie, the fact that we can do real-time voice recognition is classified Top Secret, NOFORN, WINTEL, (that is, information which if released would cause serious damage to US interests, cannot be released to foreign nationals, and reveals US intelligence methods or capabilities). We can't say how we know he's dead without giving harmful information to people with no clearance and no need to know. Further, specifically targeting the guy is assassination, which is of dubious legality.

So, my overall opinion is that the current tape was made by someone inside the al Qeida organization for their own purposes, but that Osama himself is plant food.

That tape is now being used by the US government for their own purposes. No real surprise to that.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 01:05 PM:

Just in case we were a little bewildered by what to make of all this, CNN clarifies all with the headline A signal of pending attack?:

With the nation on high alert, CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate committee Wednesday that the United States is looking at whether the purported new audiotape from Osama bin Laden "is a signal of a pending attack."

The medium is the message or the message is the medium or Tenet is a medium or something.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 02:31 PM:

"What he said has often been followed by attacks," Tenet said, "which I think corroborates everything in what we are seeing in terms of raising the threat warning, in terms of the specific information we had at our disposal last week."

I don't recall which specific attacks followed the typewritten letter and the first audiotape. I wonder if this might not be an example of the post hoc fallacy?

Here's more speculation:

The "specific intelligence" is that sleeper cells are standing by to carry out attacks against soft targets, and that the signal for those attacks will be the start of US bombing of Iraq. Tenet knows that the bombing is scheduled to start on Saturday. Therefore, the higher state of alert.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 02:52 PM:

Our declared intention to start a war before Boskone is out would have nothing to do with why Muslim terrorists would want to target Americans right about now. What part of their brains do these guys have to part with to join the Bush administration, anyway?

Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 03:52 PM:

I don't believe the US stands to gain anything by convincing people bin Laden is alive; quite the opposite. Bush made a big show of calling for his capture ("dead or alive") in 2001, and it's been quite an embarrassment that this hasn't yet happened.

I can think of several reasons that there hasn't been any video communication from bin Laden recently:

Fakery - bin Laden is dead, and his organization is hiding the fact. They lack the technical resources to fake video.

Injury - He's alive, but in bad shape. Audio is better than showing the Great Leader looking haggard and sick.

Concealment - Analysis of the rock walls in the background of a tape made during the invasion of Afghanistan led US forces to bin Laden's location. He's not taking any more chances.

Confusion - He's alive and wants to talk to his followers, but wants to keep the US confused as to whether he's really alive or not. Audio-only leads to rumors of his death, and less intelligence assets assigned to tracking him down.

Conspiracy - The alien parasite that inhabited bin Laden's body has cast off its old shell and now lurks within President Bush's brain. The US has already fallen to the invader; stockpile your weapons now.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 04:03 PM:

Damien, I like your "Conspiracy" theory. But Bin Laden's eyes never glowed, in any of the tapes, nor did he speak in a digitally-distorted voice. Also, he'd be claiming to BE Allah, instead of just serving him.

Now, maybe he's just pretending to be human. But in that case the theory holds up even better as regards Bush - irrationally sending thousands of troops into battle, just for ego, is remarkably Goa'uldish.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 05:58 PM:

Another vote for Conspiracy:

The alien parasite that inhabited bin Laden's body has cast off its old shell and now lurks within President Bush's brain.
Just to be on the safe side, we need Bush to disarm. Send in the inspectors.

Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 07:21 PM:

I believe bin Laden is dead and one of his many brothers or sons is speaking on the tape in his place.

al Queda has many reasons to make bin Laden appear to be alive. The US really doesn't as the government has just gone on to its next scapegoat, Hussein.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 10:28 PM:

They presumably wish to maintain a reserve boogy-man, since Saddam Hussein is going to be killed quite soon if their plans work out.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2003, 09:03 AM:

From James D. Macdonald,

>Here's more speculation:

>The "specific intelligence" is that sleeper cells are standing by to carry out attacks against soft targets, and that the signal for those attacks will be the start of US bombing of Iraq. Tenet knows that the bombing is scheduled to start on Saturday. Therefore, the higher state of alert.

The only problem with this, James, is that there has been a paucity of follow-up attacks in the US by Al Qaida. IIRC, the 'shoe-bomber' was the only one.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2003, 03:19 PM:

There's also the distinct possibility that OBL got plastic surgery to disguise himself and doesn't want to show off his new makeover on camera.

If he were honestly thought to be dead, there'd be people treasure-hunting all over Afghanistan trying to find the bits of bone the ants hadn't carried away, since that would allow them to claim the reward. And while I don't recall Bush actually stating a $$$ amount with his "Wanted: Dead or Alive" business, the Western press would be more than happy to cough up.

After the analysis of the rock structures, I don't see them taking many chances. Hence the poor quality tapes too.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2003, 05:56 PM:

The official US government reward for bin Laden was (and presumably still is) $25 million dollars.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2003, 03:51 AM:

Gee, Patrick, you link to such nice people. Such kind gentle antiwar people. I scrolled a bit farther down Mr. Kleiman's page and found this:

I sent him an email about it.

Large public seders in resort hotels in the US are mostly attended by Orthodox families and relatives, who practice the mitzvah of welcoming strangers into their homes for shabbat on a weekly basis. They don't have to prove their halachic credentials to you.

Your comment was incredibly mean-spirited and asinine. What is your problem?

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2003, 09:39 AM:

I'm feeling really irritable at the web this morning for somehow not giving me what I want, probably because it does seem that in 24 hours our military is going to start killing thousands of people with friends, relatives and families who do not happen to be named Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden because Bush is frustrated that he can't kill the two people who do happen to have those names. I would really have liked to have woken up and have some website tell me otherwise.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2003, 11:52 AM:

James - good point about Al Qaida in other countries. Aschroft does boast about having
shut down a bunch of stuff, but who knows?

In the end, however, Al Qaida has displayed little or no ability to conduct follow-up attacks in the US. They'd have been trivial to set up, before 9/11 (and totally compartmentalized).

As to intelligence that Al Qaida is going to strike in case of Gulf War 2.0: that's very forseeable, and needs no OBL tape to trigger (I'd have disseminated coded messages over several months, giving the order to go ahead if the war starts). I do take the US government's terror threat level warnings with a grain of salt.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2003, 04:02 PM:

BTW James, when I re-read my post that you responded to, I had a hard time figuring out what
my original point was. If I seem confused in my latest post, no wonder.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2003, 10:13 PM:

I've fallen behind on reading comments, so I missed Yehudit's outburst from February 14. But it does seem worth pointing out that, contrary to her assertion, Mark Kleiman is in fact not "antiwar."

I do agree that he seems quite nice, though. Reasonable, even. I also think he's Jewish, so knock yourself out having an argument about "halachic credentials" with him. Jeez.