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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

U.S. Justice Department Taking War on Terrorism Directly to American Public

Aired January 18, 2002 - 07:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Up front this morning, a global manhunt for suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. The U.S. Justice Department is taking the war on terrorism directly to the american public, releasing a new set of videotapes and issuing a worldwide appeal to be on the lookout for five men who it is feared have murder on their minds.

Here's Susan Candiotti.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They could be anywhere worldwide. They may even be dead. But U.S. officials are taking no chances, releasing videotapes of suspected al Qaeda operatives allegedly bent on becoming martyrs for Osama bin Laden.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The videotapes depict young men delivering what appear to be martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists, trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts.

CANDIOTTI: Authorities say they won't let the public hear what the men say, insisting analysis is still underway. The tapes were discovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, found in the Kabul house of Mohammed Atef, one of bin Laden's top lieutenants killed last November during U.S. bombing raids. The FBI calls the release of the tapes unique, encouraging people around the world to stop these men before any future attack.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: We hope that no one hesitates to surface anything that could be of interest to us. The principle is simple -- an informed and alert public works.

CANDIOTTI: One of the men on the tapes is seen holding a weapon with writing on the strap. The meaning, if there is one, is unclear.

ASHCROFT: Often we're accustomed to wanted posters that give you a static view of individuals. This happens to be a superior sort of basis for people to make identification.

CANDIOTTI: Because of technical problems, only freeze frames of two others were made available. One of them, international fugitive Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Bin al-Shibh failed at least three times to enter the U.S. before the September 11 attacks. Authorities suggest he was probably meant to be on one of the hijacked planes. Instead, they say, he helped funnel money to the men. The tapes may be even more useful in the hands of the public overseas, where these suspected terrorists may be hiding.

DAVID ISBY, DEFENSE ANALYST: As bin Laden has demonstrated over the years, those who live by the video will perish by the video.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): No reward for finding the men is being offered at this stage, authorities hoping goodwill will be sufficient motivation for finding these suspected terrorists.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So what do these tapes really tell us and how effective can they be in identifying the suspects and helping prevent future attacks?

Joining us now to offer his analysis from Washington, Kelly McCann, CNN security analyst and president of Crucible Security.

Welcome back, Kelly. Good to see you this morning.

J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST, PRESIDENT, CRUCIBLE SECURITY: Hi, Paula.

ZAHN: So, as Susan Candiotti just reported, authorities say that the analysis of these tapes is not complete. Do you find it a little bit odd, then, that there -- at least some of the content of these tapes were made public before they're completely analyzed?

MCCANN: No, Paula, because I think they're going to tread very lightly on this. They want their faces out so like "America's Most Wanted" and shows like that have proven, you know, if you get the images out there people may recognize them. But the old axiom, stereotypical as it is that, you know, they all look the same to me, really goes to the whole point that most people have better facial recognition skills within their own race.

So I think the real value of these videotapes is connecting the American public to this kind of ambiguous war. They need to keep up the endurance of the American people for this.

I will also tell you that unreleased videotape that I've reviewed has a treasure trove of information on them because of the peripheral discussions and the comments that they never intended us to hear, because those tapes were never supposed to be seen by us. So right now the intelligence collection agencies in country are gaining tremendous ground.

ZAHN: Well, Kelly, can you tell us a little bit more about this tape you're saying you've analyzed? What does it say?

MCCANN: Those tapes are basically training tapes and they, the real strength in those tapes goes to the way that they are training, the things they're training for, those kinds of things. It gives us a real insight into what they may be planning. Also, as I said, the trainers themselves, as they discuss different things, and some of the offhand remarks, some of the just casual fraternal remarks between the people on the videotape are really telling.

So we are really gaining ground in leaps and bounds.

ZAHN: Let's go back to the five tapes that specifically the attorney general discussed yesterday and the FBI director also, calling them a treasure trove of information. Can you explain to us this morning why al Qaeda members would leave those behind? They could have destroyed these tapes in advance of U.S. bombing.

MCCANN: Absolutely. But, you know, we've got to take a look at this. If you think about it in the most juvenile terms, Afghanistan was their Spanky's tree house. I mean these guys never in a million years thought that what was going to -- what has actually played out was going to happen. So from that comfort, they got a little bit sloppy and they left things around. Their operational security was not that great.

I think it also is valuable because since we know that's the case, and when we started the push into the country we rocked them back on their heels and they didn't have time to clean everything up, it means that it is likely not disinformation. In other words, it is valuable information. They didn't have the ability to create things to clutter the information/intelligence background here. So truly valuable stuff.

ZAHN: Others argue they had plenty of time to get rid of forces stuff. I mean they anticipated retaliation for months.

MCCANN: I don't think that they ever anticipated that once we got the momentum we did that it would go as fast. In fact, everybody, obviously, is saying that. And if you think about it in priority, the many things you would have to destroy to reduce your document trail, to reduce your video trail, your electronic trail, all the things that in, over the course of five or six years that they've used to set up and establish training houses, school rooms, all of that stuff, that would be a tremendous undertaking.

So I think that, in fact, we're feeling the benefit of a very quick campaign.

ZAHN: Kelly, a final question for you this morning. An interesting piece in the "Washington Post" saying at a time when our government has so focused the American public on a certain racial profile here that there is great concern, and this is a quote from actual intelligence officials in this piece, that the next face of this is not going to be an Arab face, but possibly Indonesian, Filipino, a Malaysian face or even African. Are you concerned that because the security profile is so understood of the Arab profile, that Americans might not be on the lookout for some of these other faces? MCCANN: Absolutely, Paula, because, you know, any commander, any combat commander -- and remember, that's what these al Qaeda are, of course they're combat commanders and troops -- will always seek the soft under belly of the battlefield. And it's a dynamic situation.

So as we create stopgaps, they're going to have no choice but to find other vulnerabilities. And that, of course, is changing the face as we recognize it right now. So far throughout this process we have been kind of reactive. What we need to do is leap ahead and get proactive and offensive and make them react to us. I mean that's the way wars are fought and that's the way we'll win this thing.

ZAHN: J. Kelly McCann, as always, good to have you on the air with us this morning. Thanks so much for your insights.

MCCANN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Jack?

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