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Terror on Tape: Inside al Qaeda

Aired August 25, 2002 - 22:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special investigation, TERROR ON TAPE: INSIDE AL QAEDA. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, Wolf Blitzer.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Welcome to our special report.

All this week, CNN has brought you the TERROR ON TAPE story, 64 videotapes from a private al Qaeda library in Afghanistan, tapes experts say have never been seen until this week. Tonight, we'll assess what we've learned about Osama bin Laden's terror network.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson obtained the tapes after a nearly day-long journey through the dangerous back roads of Afghanistan. CNN agreed to pay for the tapes because we believed it was incredibly important for the world to see them.

We begin with Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Hardest to watch of all the tapes in what experts say is al Qaeda's video library, this one, apparent testing of a poison gas on dogs. Exactly who taped it and where may never be known.

The dog tape just one in a broad and deep range of carefully catalogued material contained in 64 tapes CNN obtained from a secret location in Afghanistan, shortly after they'd been dug up from a hiding place in the desert.

We have shown the tapes to many experts, including Rohan Gunaratna, a leading al Qaeda analyst, who, in his consultation work for western governments, has interviewed al Qaeda members and viewed more than 200 of the terror group's previous tapes but, until now, none of these.

ROHAN GUNARATNA, UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS: The collection has al Qaeda videos taken by al Qaeda of events. Whenever Osama bin Laden met with foreign journalists, he always had his own tape, his own cameraman, and it is those tapes that are there because that itself shows that this is the al Qaeda library. This is not the library of someone else, and this is the registry, the record room of Osama bin Laden.

ROBERTSON: Perhaps most revealing about Osama bin Laden, these never-before-seen pictures show in graphic detail the al Qaeda leader's personal security arrangements.

All this material and much more discovered in an Afghan house said to have been used by the al Qaeda leader, a video archive spanning more than a decade, giving new insight to al Qaeda's planning, tactics, and mindset.

GUNARATNA: Those videos are not for public consumption. They're only for the al Qaeda leadership, not even for their members. It is the al Qaeda memory. You have taken a part of the al Qaeda memory.

ROBERTSON: In the collection, a three-hour tape of how to make purified TNT from easy-to-get ingredients, sophistication in planning and explosives skills that scare government arm experts, terrorists in training, not the made-for-camera al Qaeda promos we've seen before, that detail demonstrations of how to kill, hijack, and ambush.

Experts we have talked with say no terrorist organization has ever put this much expertise on videotape before. No terror organization has ever disseminated its knowledge this way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining me now to discuss the tapes are CNN Terrorism Expert Peter Bergen, who participated in an interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997; our National Correspondent Mike Boettcher, who's been following al Qaeda for years; retired General David Grange, a CNN military analyst and a former special operations officer; and the man who risked his life to obtain the tapes, Nic Robertson.

Nic, no one has watched these tapes more closely than you have. What is your biggest concern right now?

ROBERTSON: We see on these tapes how serious al Qaeda is, how dedicated they are, how sophisticated they've become. I think perhaps the biggest danger is that we underestimate them perhaps again, that we get complacent about what al Qaeda is capable of doing.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. I want to continue this conversation.

But now this treasure trove of al Qaeda recordings also revealed the roots of Osama bin Laden and his hatred of the United States and documented perhaps graphically for the record when and how al Qaeda declared wear on America.

Once again, Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The first to appear from Osama bin Laden's armored jeep, as guns fire a welcoming salute, Ayman Al- Zawahiri, bin Laden's right-hand man and inspirational ally.

Exiting from the other side of the vehicle, bin Laden leads the way, accompanied by his military adviser, Mohammad Atef. Atef is now dead, killed last November in coalition bombing. But this day, the 26th of May, 1998, was Osama bin Laden's biggest day ever in public, and these pictures from Eastern Afghanistan, part of an exclusive library of al Qaeda tapes CNN has obtained, have never been seen before. Bin Laden is about to declare war on America.

OSAMA BIN LADEN (voice of interpreter): By God's grace, we have formed with many other Islamic groups and organizations in the Islamic world a front called the International Islamic Front to do jihad against the crusaders and Jews.

ROBERTSON: Of all the al Qaeda tapes CNN obtained, this stands out, a record of an event that terrorist leaders saw as history in the making for al Qaeda...

(on camera): And do you know where this compound is?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It's near Khowst. It's a place called in Zawar Kili.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): ... a day journalist Peter Bergen, who'd interviewed bin Laden for CNN the previous year, believes is incredibly significant.

BERGEN: Bin Laden is calling really in this very public way with the military commander, the guy who probably planned September 11, and his number two, the guy who really is almost the brains of the operation, Ayman Al-Zawahiri -- they're going public. They're saying, "We're having this war against the United States."

ROBERTSON: A select group of Pakistani journalists and one Chinese writer were invited to record al Qaeda launches of jihad on the western world, which, while noted at the time, never got wide exposure because no independent videotaping was allowed.

Ismail Khan was one of the journalists there that day.

ISMAIL KHAN, PAKISTANI JOURNALIST: We were given a few instructions, you know, on how to photograph and, you know, only take picture of Osama and the two leaders who were going to sit close to him, nobody else.

ROBERTSON: Could security be the reason we have never seen the video before? That's a question we put to Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside al Qaeda."

GUNARATNA: Making that tape public would compromise the security of al Qaeda and of Osama bin Laden. They did not release that tape.

ROBERTSON: Perhaps bin Laden didn't want his enemies to know he always carried a weapon or that even inside the building attentive bodyguards exuded professionalism worthy of presidential security or maybe because there were others in the room that day they didn't want identified.

BERGEN: I recognize this bodyguard here from when we interviewed bin Laden in '97.

ROBERTSON: But neither Bergen nor the journalists at this press conference was allowed to take his picture.

Another identity protected, bin Laden's interpreter, who shows up on other tapes recovered by CNN as a military trainer.

BIN LADEN'S INTERPRETER: Hi.

ROBERTSON: While there were some he wanted to hide, there were others bin Laden wanted to highlight, like the two sons of Sheik Abdul Rahman, the spiritual leaders of those convicted of blowing up the World Trade Center in 1993. Sheik Rahman himself in a U.S. prison for planning other attacks on New York.

BERGEN: The significance of having Sheik Rahman's sons at the press conference can't be underestimated. First of all, Sheik Rahman's sons make it clear that they have been fighting alongside bin Laden for many, many years of up to a decade.

They also distribute at his press conference what they claim to be the will of their father, Sheik Rahman, calling for attacks Americans, and the will -- the purported will states, you know, "Attack them on the sea. Attack them on the land. Attack them everywhere. Attack their economy."

I mean, it's a very kind of strong statement.

ROBERTSON: Sheik Rahman's involvement, says Bergen, key for bin Laden, who uses his spiritual guidance as a religious fig leaf from behind which he broadens his terror group's appeal to radicals.

With hindsight, the important moments are easy to pick out -- for example, when Osama bin Laden hints at an attack on U.S. targets.

OSAMA BIN LADEN (voice of interpreter): And by God's grace, the men reacted to this call, and they are going on this path, and they are doing a good job. By God's will, their actions are going to have a successful result in killing Americans and getting rid of them.

ROBERTSON: Within 11 weeks, al Qaeda attacked U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and perhaps almost as chilling, because it didn't happen, Ayman Al-Zawahiri appears to justify an attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI: And the CIA station in Cairo is the biggest station for the CIA outside America. There are more than 20,000 Americans in Egypt working with the CIA.

ROBERTSON: A journalist asks bin Laden why he thinks he has the resources to take on the United States.

JOURNALIST: ... which is the superpower of this world.

BIN LADEN (voice of interpreter): In Islam, there is a natural dignity to be respected, and whoever depends on God, God will give him victory.

ROBERTSON: For bin Laden, the day seems to have been a success. He looks relaxed, even slightly elated, as he poses for photographs with journalists and entertains them over tea and candy.

As the journalists prepare to leave, bin Laden looks somewhat less at ease. Notice how he flinches when a rocket-propelled grenade is launched nearby.

As he inspects the security later on for his meeting, fighters were keen to show off their prowess. Where these men are now remains a secret.

BERGEN: We know some bodyguards have shown up. The United States has captured some of bin Laden's bodyguards. Which ones exactly, what it means, I don't know.

ROBERTSON: If bin Laden is still alive, then likely his security detail will now be less visible. These pictures, however, an insight into just how seriously he takes self-preservation, an image never before seen as he sets off to wage terror against the West.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So what exactly did we just see, and what does it say about al Qaeda's threat? Our panel will explore those questions when we return.

Also, weapons drawn in rehearsal for urban terror. Straight ahead, how a terrorist prepares for war.

And we want to know what you want to know. Head now to cnn.com to send us an e-mail, and our experts will try to answer them later this hour.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Just before the break, Nic Robertson showed us what could only be called al Qaeda's coming out party when Osama bin Laden declared jihad on America.

Peter Bergen, I feel as if you were almost there at the time. You went, participated in this interview in '97 with Osama bin Laden. Little did you know that while you were videotaping him, he was videotaping you.

BERGEN: Yeah. Well, I didn't notice. I mean, we now see this videotape of the interview happening in '97, but I had no idea that they had their own kind of record of the event because we were kind of concentrating on doing the interview.

But, clearly, they went and then recorded interviews that they were doing with ABC News and this press conference we saw earlier. So this was part of their media operation

BLITZER: What was the point?

BERGEN: I think this was -- they were documenting moments that were important to them.

This '97 interview was the first television interview bin Laden had never done.

The '98 press conference we saw earlier in the program was the first time that the entire leadership were together, the first, in fact, we've seen pictures of Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef, the military commander.

So these were the kinds of moments that were important to them.

BLITZER: General Grange, the security around Osama bin Laden pretty sophisticated. I've covered presidents of the United States. I see how the Secret Service operates when he goes into a crowd, but what they're wearing is of particular interest to you.

GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is. First of all, they have an outer circle of security which has heavy weapons, an inner circle which has lighter weapons, different kinds of AK-47s, earlier -- you know, earlier-made and some recent-made types, and then they -- the detail's in uniform as an elite guard with the security of their face, except for the one agent in charge of the detail, who wants to be exposed, who is very, very cocky, very open about his position in that job.

BLITZER: And when you see these pictures of that type, what they're wearing in particular, what does it say about the level of sophistication?

GRANGE: Well, they're wearing normal web gear, but the -- they're all in uniform. They all turn their weapons a certain way, high in the air, which is really not a good way to carry them for a detail, but, again, they're very tightly in around bin Laden, and -- and their job, obviously, is to protect him with their life.

BLITZER: When you saw the rehearsals that they were doing, Mike Boettcher, for, you know, either kidnappings or assassinations, this is almost like a professional operation.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was more than just practice, Wolf. If you look at the al Qaeda documents that were retrieved from Kabul by CNN Producer Ingrid Arnesen, you'll see that the plans in there match exactly the plans you saw acted out with the --

We'll see with the Toyota Land Cruiser and the motorcycles, grabbing someone out, a kidnapping. I'm told by coalition intelligence analysts I've spoken to who have seen this -- this particular videotape, that this was a rehearsal for an actual kidnap of an American diplomat in the Middle East. BLITZER: When you said earlier, Nic, that your biggest concern is complacency, that we might sort of forget about what happened and just go about our day-to-day lives, what do you mean by that? I mean, how can anybody be complacent after what happened on 9/11?

ROBERTSON: Well, it's easy to brush off what we see in these tapes, if you will. It -- it's -- we're disassociated from it. It's happening somewhere else. There they are in remote Afghanistan doing whatever they're doing, doing the training on this videotape here, announcing their jihad against the rest of the world.

But what we perhaps shouldn't lose sight of here is the level of sophistication and dedication that has gone into not only preparing these tapes, many of which are training tapes that have perhaps been disseminated around the world, but the level of sophistication that it's taken to arrive at that point.

We have video of making pure TNT. It's being made and the instructions are by a very skilled chemist. The fact that the steps have been broken down and made really simple showed that people have applied great thought to this.

BLITZER: When they say they're ready to die for a cause, they literally are ready to die for a cause.

Stand by. We're going to continue this conversation.

Osama bin Laden was ready to back up his war of words. His soldiers had been meticulously trained, even practicing specific attacks. Experts tell us these sessions were rehearsals for hostage- taking and assassinations.

Nic now peels back the layers of that training in our next story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Explosions resonate around a remote Afghan hillside as al Qaeda fighters burst into what appears to be a stone hut. But all is not as it seems on this al Qaeda training video, one of several tapes CNN obtained that record al Qaeda's never- before-seen battle plans.

GUNARATNA: A series of exercises to train the recruits who came to Afghanistan, who come to the West to conduct terrorist operations.

ROBERTSON (on camera): In the urban environment?

GUNARATNA: In the urban environment. Now this they are able to operate in cities.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): This is a remote setting, but the training we see here is, according to al Qaeda analyst Rohan Gunaratna, designed to teach the terrorist trainees how to take their jihad to western cities, in this case a western city replicated in canvas and stone on a hillside in Eastern Afghanistan. GUNARATNA: Al Qaeda has built a small city, and they are training, and they're placing real explosives and blowing up that bridge. They are blowing up some of the houses, some of the offices. It is a real thing. It is more advanced than training. It is almost like doing the operation so that, when they go to the real operation or the theater, they will feel hundred percent confident.

ROBERTSON: For al Qaeda effectively a kind of special forces.

Magnus Ranstorp, one of several al Qaeda experts CNN asked to examine this collection of tapes, says he is startled by the level of expertise.

MAGNUS RANSTORP, UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS: I don't think anyone ever fathomed, even in the intelligence community, how sophisticated the training was, how well prepared they were, and how they were working away in secret and imparting this advice and developing, thinking, not only what to do but also the defenses the enemy has.

ROBERTSON: This tape is labeled "exclusive" and perhaps the nom de guerre for al Qaeda's now dead top military commander, Mohammad Atef. The tape provides step-by-step instruction on how to use a surface-to-air missile.

GUNARATNA: The video of the surface-to-air missile training is something that has never been made public before. I don't think intelligence agents had any idea that al Qaeda has made a video where they would train a person to fire a surface-to-air missile, and I think that this video comes as a shock to the international intelligence community because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will become very vulnerable because of this type of video.

ROBERTSON: Other training tapes add insights into how al Qaeda works. Here, recruits learn to repel down the side of a cliff. One trainee gets stuck, unable to move. Exercises like these, an indication al Qaeda was not only putting new fighters through their paces, but selecting the right people for the right job.

RANSTORP: And they are really training for specific missions, and it's weeding out the elite of the elite, le creme de la creme, who may be deployed for either more specialized training, may even be deployed into the west for terrorist purposes.

ROBERTSON: Elsewhere on the same training tape, al Qaeda operatives repeatedly rehearse complex hostage taking and assassination operations, procedures that exactly match diagrams in this handwritten manual recovered by CNN last November from a former al Qaeda safe house in Kabul.

For CNN's military analyst, retired General David Grange, al Qaeda's tactics present a very clear and present danger.

GRANGE: Just the intensity of the training that's described in these tapes, very determined, covering a lot of different areas, information warfare, bomb making, assassinations, raids, snatches, destruction of bridges, lines of communication. ROBERTSON: For Grange, the training tapes provide more than just a wakeup call on al Qaeda's sophistications. He says the tapes also show weaknesses in al Qaeda's organization.

GRANGE: And so you have to be on the lookout of how they use motorcycles together with automobiles as an example.

But what really is apparent looking at a higher level of how they operate is that, one, they have to have an idea, they have to have a plan, they have to have resources. They need money. They need chemicals. They need ammunition. They need weapons.

And then they have rehearse, practice, stage. And then there's communications requirements. They have -- they end up talking to leaders. And then they have to do the hit, they have to withdraw safely, and then they have to recover somewhere in a safe area.

Throughout that whole stage, that whole process, there are vulnerabilities, and, again, they teach offensive not defensive measures.

ROBERTSON: But those offensive measures were taught to the trainees on these tapes at least four years ago, giving al Qaeda a substantial head start, experts say, in putting trained operatives in place.

GUNARATNA: In terms of preparation, in terms of planning, al Qaeda has created a large number of killers, a large number of terrorists who will -- you know, over the years, will go into action.

ROBERTSON: If al Qaeda has, indeed, stolen the initiative, as these experts fear, the threat of terrorism may be as real now as it was September the 11th, 2001.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Frightening images. Our panel assesses what we just saw when we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've shown you al Qaeda's meticulous training from lessons in surface-to-air missiles to rehearsals of urban attacks.

Let's continue our conversation with our guests.

Peter, you've suggested that Osama bin Laden, whom we haven't seen or heard in a long time from, has a window during which he has to make some sort of public statement, and that window is coming up pretty soon.

BERGEN: Well, you know, I think that Abu Ghaith, who is his spokesman, made a statement about two months ago saying, "You're going to hear something from the great leader, Osama bin Laden," and I think that, given the fact that the al Qaeda media spokesman has now said that, if bin Laden doesn't come out, let's say, by around 9/11, then surely there must be some sort of problem.

BLITZER: So you're -- you anticipate that we might get a public statement that will be confirmation he's alive?

BERGEN: Well, I believe that he is alive. I think that most analysts do. So I think that 9/11 would, obviously, be a very psychologically damaging moment to come out with a statement.

BLITZER: General Grange, I've spoken with top U.S. counterintelligence, counterterrorist officials in Washington who are very concerned right now, but, at the same time, they want to balance their concern. They don't want to overly get the American public in a panic situation, but they're very worried about the potential of al Qaeda right now. How do you balance these two pressures?

GRANGE: Well, you know, right now, geographically, we know we're not safe like we were in the past. We have a threat. It may not be a nuclear threat like we experienced from the Soviet Union, but we have threats from individuals now that can bring harm to the citizens of this country.

I think that we just have to be cognizant of that fact but not overreact, not move around as a nervous wreck, and just say, "Hey, we're ready for you," you know, "Don't come here."

The other is our military, our -- and our State Department personnel, and those that are deployed overseas. It's very important that rules of engagement, when we engage and not engage, is articulated and carefully carried out by our people.

It's better to have more aggressive response than to say you're sorry to somebody's mom and dad because you didn't take action against terrorists.

BLITZER: Al Qaeda, Mike Boettcher, has claimed credit for a few operations since 9/11, not many, that synagogue bombing in Tunisia, one in particular, but we keep hearing that several operations have been thwarted by U.S. and ally forces. What do you know about that?

BOETTCHER: Well, I can confirm, in the past three months, there have been six operations thwarted. One was the Moroccan cell which was to attack U.S. and British ships in the Straits of Gibraltar, but there were five others in the Middle East that were thwarted, some high-profile targets -- American targets in the Middle East, and those were broken up by coalition intelligence efforts. Before three months ago, there were others as well, but those are the recent ones.

BLITZER: Can Osama bin Laden, assuming he is alive right now, and most people think he's probably alive, although we haven't heard from him -- can he still undertake any significant command and control of the al Qaeda operation around the world?

ROBERTSON: We know that his command and control in Afghanistan has now been degraded probably by a long way. We don't know what he's capable of at the moment. His sophisticated operation has involved using encrypted e-mails, has involved using radio. But the cellular structure of al Qaeda, the fact that there are cells out there around the world that can operate autonomously, that may have already slowly received plans from him or ideas from him, that can't be ruled out.

The abilities that he's had in the past are, however, probably seriously degraded.

BLITZER: All right. Let's continue and pick up this conversation. We have a lot more to talk about.

Still to come, the most shocking video of all, how terrorists are using common items to mix up disaster, and the worst part, who they're testing it on. We'll bring you that next.

And don't forget. Please send us your questions. Go to cnn.com where a link will connect you to our mailbag. And our experts will try to answer several of your questions later.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Of all the tapes acquired by CNN, the following may be the hardest to watch. Here, the al Qaeda appear to be testing deadly chemical agents on dogs.

First, a warning to our viewers. Some of the images on this tape are very graphic and very difficult to watch. It is not recommended for children. And some adults will not want to watcher either.

We are showing you these tapes because we think it's important that the video be shown.

Once again, CNN's Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): We begin with possibly the saddest and scariest tape of all showing the death of three dogs.

Calling out to each other to hurry, several individuals wearing Afghan-style sandals rush from the room. As they leave, a white liquid giving off a gas slowly seeps from the left.

And we discover these men are executioners, and this is a death chamber. We never find out their identity, but they laugh as they leave the dog to his fate.

The video you're about to see is very disturbing and is not suitable for children. Some adults, too, may want to turn away.

Coalition intelligence sources who have examined this tape say this appears to be an al Qaeda lethal weapons experiment at its remote Afghan Darunta camp. Those sources say no intelligence agency has seen this before, the experimentation by al Qaeda with poison gas. Already the dog reacts, licking his lips, a sign of increased salivation, a sign, say some of the experts we asked to examine the tapes, of a nerve agent.

John Gilbert is a chemical weapons specialist who advises the U.S. government.

JOHN GILBERT, SCIENCE APPLICATIONS INTERNATIONAL CORP.: Well, the first impression I had was that it's a test or a demonstration of a very powerful quick-acting chemical that behaves like a nerve agent, such as sarin, which was used in the Tokyo subway terrorist attacks in the 1990s.

ROBERTSON: Watching the tapes with Gilbert, David Kay, formerly the United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, for whom the tape raises the specter of weapons of mass destruction.

DAVID KAY, FORMER UNITED NATIONS WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, it's a powerful segment of tape, first of all. The emotional response to seeing it is there. The second one is horror. Here again is another group that has managed to open the door to serious WMD capability.

I'm above a reasonable doubt that this is a nerve agent that they developed, either an improvised one or they may have developed actually sarin in some form to use.

ROBERTSON: Al Qaeda documents examined by CNN last fall in the bombed-out ruins of Darunta camp showed chemical formulas for sarin. Other documents connect al Qaeda's Darunta camp, a series of modern stone buildings not unlike this room, to chemical testing.

KAY: You're looking at the classic symptoms that the dog demonstrates. For example, it's -- he loses certain muscles controls, his eyes as they react, the way his muscles (ph) react, and then the gradual loss of voluntary muscles, and the final -- the racking loss of diaphragm, lung capacity, as he dies, is the normal progression of a nerve agent.

ROBERTSON: We also asked chemical and biological weapons specialist Jonathan Tucker from the Monterey Institute to examine the tape. He, too, says he his shocked by what he sees, but he cautions that, for him, the dog's symptoms indicate not a nerve agent but a form of cyanide.

JONATHAN TUCKER, MONTEREY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: We saw visible fumes from the material that you probably would not see from a nerve agent but is consistent with production of crude hydrogen cyanide gas by mixing cyanide crystals and acid.

We saw a flask that had some white material in it that is suggestive of powdered cyanide, and I think what we have here is a very crude binary weapon that terrorists could -- would be attractive to terrorists because it's extremely low tech and also very safe to use.

ROBERTSON: Dr. Frederick Sidell, another of the dozen experts consulted by CNN, says evaluation of the chemical is difficult.

DR. FREDERICK SIDELL (RET.), U.S. ARMY INSTITUTE OF CHEMICAL DEFENSE: The most common chemical agent is something called mustard, which is a blister agent, and it's certainly not that. It could be nerve agent or cyanide, but they -- characteristically, the effects come on sooner, if this was vapor.

Those dogs appeared to be conscious until the end, which they aren't with nerve agent and cyanide. Those two don't cause selective paralysis of the hind quarters as that agent did. So we can almost say that it wasn't those either. So I don't know what it is.

ROBERTSON: On this tape, more experiments and closeups cataloguing symptoms of death. The metal boxes in the corner, manufactured in the Afghan style, give an additional indication the experiments took place inside Afghanistan. The implication of the rudimentary laboratory test is unmistakable for our experts.

GILBERT: The implication is that al Qaeda or another terrorist group could create a number of different ways of attacking people, you know, for example, in an enclosed area, such as an airport lobby or in a theater or a train or a bus. Another is that it could be used against individuals selectively who are targeted for assassination.

ROBERTSON (on camera): How significant do you think the discovery of this tape is?

GILBERT: I think it's probably extremely significant, if not profound. I know there's been a lot of speculation about the state of technology and how far they may have advanced toward having a usable chemical weapons. The fact that they were able to repeat tests or demonstrations on this tape indicates that they clearly have a way to produce a predictably lethal chemical.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Until now, intelligence agencies have had only fragmentary information to help build their picture of al Qaeda's chemical threat. Satellite images of Darunta camp showed dead dogs, according to coalition intelligence sources.

In the 11th volume of al Qaeda's encyclopedia of jihad obtained by CNN, detailed timings of how long it takes to kill a rabbit with cyanide and recent testimony in federal court about activities at the Darunta camp by Ahmed Ressam, a man trained by al Qaeda and who pled guilty in 2001 to attempting to bomb Los Angeles Airport.

This is an excerpt of that testimony.

PROSECUTOR (voice of interpreter): You watched as your chief put a dog in a box, correct?

AHMED RESSAM, TERRORIST (voice of interpreter): Yes, we were all present there.

PROSECUTOR: Your chief put cyanide in the box. Is that correct?

RESSAM: Yes. PROSECUTOR: He added sulfuric acid to the cyanide. Is that correct?

RESSAM: Yes.

PROSECUTOR: And the dog shortly thereafter died from that experiment, correct?

RESSAM: Correct.

ROBERTSON: Al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna interviewed an al Qaeda member who said he'd been involved in al Qaeda's chemicals weapons program.

(on camera): Do you we know where they did that?

GUNARATNA: No, we do not know, but it is very likely that it was in the Darunta complex or a safe house near that complex.

ROBERTSON: The tapes CNN obtained are disturbing, but, at the same time, they are hugely informative about al Qaeda's current threat. They add much detail. Like the Egyptian accents of the men testing the chemicals on the dogs, in keeping with information that al Qaeda's chemical weapons chief, Abu Kabab, preferred to work with Egyptians.

Still, the tapes hide as much as they reveal.

KAY: Only in one instance do you actually see the liquid which appears to be either poured or pumped out going out. You don't see it the rest of the time. So you really don't know at what level they are in terms of weaponizing it.

There are a lot more questions this tape leaves than answers, unfortunately, but all the questions are really bad questions.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Questions, however, that, if answered, could help thwart the threat.

GILBERT: If the actual locations where those demonstrations were conducted could be found, there might be some residual material available that could be analyzed and might show us definitively which chemicals were used.

ROBERTSON: Among those who evaluate terrorist groups, the equation of threat equals ability times intent. What is clear is that the al Qaeda equation now totals much more than it did before.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Horrible images, indeed.

Let's open up our discussion.

Once again, you know -- you know, Peter, a lot of people in Washington are telling me they're very concerned about 9/11, the first anniversary, that's coming up. Does al Qaeda have a history of looking at these kinds of anniversaries and, for perhaps symbolic reasons, want to issue another terrorist attack?

BERGEN: No, we're -- there was a lot of concern around July 4 that there might be al Qaeda attacks, and I think that they were -- they were, obviously, misplaced. Al Qaeda operates kind of on its own timetable.

The only time they've actually taken a very specific anniversary that was important to them was the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa, which took place eight years after the introduction of American troops into Saudi Arabia, which is one of bin Laden's principal bugbears.

BLITZER: If they want to go to make a statement, around 9/11 would be a pretty -- pretty important time?

BERGEN: It would be psychologically very disturbing, yeah.

BLITZER: It would be very devastating after what's gone on.

What's your biggest concern right now, General?

GRANGE: Yeah. A few quick things. One is that this is a dedicated enemy, and I think their ability to network to obtain new sources of support. Number two, that they'll conduct some type of sensational attack using weapons of mass destruction or psychological effects or something. And lastly, the Americans' ability to maintain the will, the resolve to take this fight to the enemy, to preempt any harm that may be done to us.

BLITZER: It's sort of the complacency that -- you're concerned like Nic that the American public may just becoming complacent?

GRANGE: Yes. We just need to continue to be on the offensive and to say alert and to take the fight to the enemy.

BLITZER: Weapons of mass destruction. We've seen the tapes, the chemical capabilities, perhaps biological capabilities of al Qaeda and related terror organizations out there, and there is a link between a lot of these groups, isn't there?

BOETTCHER: No, absolutely. There's an interconnectivity and a sharing of different strategies, sharing of different information they have.

But, in terms of WMD with al Qaeda, al Qaeda -- that camp we saw right there -- trucks were seen by surveillance satellites going there before 9/11, before the attack, taking something out, and leaving. That camp -- the materials there were taken somewhere else. Right now, there's no knowledge about where that was taken.

Also, two years ago, Osama bin Laden sent a message -- according to my intelligence sources, sent a message to his cell in Kiev saying, "Buy the chemicals we need for a specific attack." Now that -- that did occur, and it is believed that they were successful in buying something from former Soviet republics.

BLITZER: As you know, Nic, the U.S. government is alleging that Jose Padilla, an American arrested in Chicago as a so-called mule, a carrier -- he had thousands of dollars when he was picked up -- was working maybe on a so-called dirty bomb, a radiological or radiation bomb. Any of those kinds of attacks could make 9/11 look relatively modest by comparison.

ROBERTSON: Certainly, an attack with a chemical agent or, as we've seen in one of the other videotapes, they are making pure TNT.

We also have al Qaeda diagrams from their manual showing how they want to use TNT at the center of a radiological dirty bomb. They have this high explosive, they pack a radiological material around it, and why -- when it explodes, it disperses that radiological material. It would have a huge psychological impact.

BLITZER: It would literally terrorize a lot -- a big portion of this country, indeed the world.

All right, gentlemen. Stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.

By now, you've seen all the video, and you've heard expert opinions on that videotape. Next, we'll find out what you want to know about the recordings. Our panel of experts will do their best to answer your e-mail when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For several days, we've been gathering comments and questions from our viewers about the al Qaeda videotape archives. Let's go to some of those e-mail questions right now.

We have this one from Durban, South Africa. "In your opinion, is bin Laden still alive, and, if so, could he be in Iraq?"

Mike, why don't you handle that?

BOETTCHER: Alive but not in Iraq.

When I took the tapes around to my various sources around the world, they told me -- and they had shifted their attitude. Before, it was, "We think he's alive."

Now they're saying, "We know -- we absolutely believe -- he is alive and in the Northwest territories of Pakistan," the tribal areas, a lawless area where the Pakistani central government does not really exert much central control there.

So it's a lawless area, it's believed he is there, and they are more and more certain now than -- that bin Laden is alive.

BLITZER: Earlier today, Peter, Steven Hatfill, who is at the center of this anthrax letter investigation here in the United States -- he's a so-called person of interest, according to the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft -- spoke about what he thought possibly could be the source of some of these anthrax letters that killed five people in the United States in the fall. I want you to listen precisely to what Steven Hatfill said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. STEVEN HATFILL, FORMER U.S. ARMY SCIENTIST: Saddam Hussein received his weaponizable strains of anthrax from the United States, from the American type culture collection formerly in Rockville, Maryland.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hatfill is referring to -- he's the former U.S. Army scientist in the '80s when there was a relatively good relationship between the United States and Iraq. He did receive some of these so- called anthrax strains. Is it possible that the Iraqis, working with or without al Qaeda, may be responsible for this?

BERGEN: Yeah. I'm not an expert in this area, but that Rockville, Maryland, place was sending these kinds of materials to all sorts of different people. The fact that they were sending to the Iraqis doesn't prove anything either way.

I think that 93 percent of the American people in a survey by "USA Today" on Friday believe there is some sort of Iraq connection to 9/11, which is interesting because there really seems to be so little evidence that there really is. I mean, there seems to be a desire to link Iraq to terrorism in this country. It would -- amongst a lot of people, but there doesn't seem...

BLITZER: There is that meeting in Prague in the Czech Republic between Mohammed Atta, the ringleader, and an Iraqi intelligence official.

BERGEN: But even the Czechs themselves are saying they're not quite sure if that meeting took place, who exactly this intelligence agent was, was he just a businessman. They're backing off the story a little bit.

I think if this administration had really serious proof of an Iraqi connection to 9/11, there wouldn't be a discussion about whether to go to war. This -- the administration would already have done so.

BLITZER: And you're absolutely -- they're desperately looking for such, if, in fact, it exists.

Let's go to another e-mail. Nic, I want you to handle this one.

"My question is: How old are the tapes? How powerful is al Qaeda? Where is al Qaeda training, now that they can't train in Afghanistan?"

That's from Alex in California.

ROBERTSON: Some of the tapes are four years old, and that's one of the concerns of the experts who looked at the tapes, is how many people have been through these training camps, how many people have received this expertise.

One of the things it would seem happened with these tapes is that they've been sent out around the world to other groups, to other cells. So perhaps the al Qaeda operatives don't actually need Afghanistan now. They could -- they have the videotapes, wherever they are. They can practice and rehearse there.

So the capability has sort of been extended out of Afghanistan. They don't have to have that physical environment to train.

BLITZER: We have another e-mail from Houston. General Grange, why don't you handle this one?

"These tapes have shown us that bin Laden's reach is much greater than previously thought, which is disconcerting but not practically useful. What are the most tactically useful pieces of information that we have gained from these tapes?"

GRANGE: I think a lot of the tactics and procedures that you see in the tapes -- a lot of our counterterrorist people knew about them, but now the images bring it home, and we really get to see how they -- how they're operating, but it's the same types of tactics used in places like South America, Europe, and the Far East.

I think what's more important is the demonstrated resourcefulness, the dedication to purpose that these enemies have.

BLITZER: We've got, Mike, a question from Nunya in Budapest, Hungary. "Maybe these tapes are a hoax."

BOETTCHER: Boy, I don't really think so. I mean, you see Peter Arnett with Peter Bergen doing an interview, John Miller from ABC doing the interview. I mean, this was an al Qaeda camera.

Little details matched perfectly with what we know from their intelligence sources down to the door slamming during that chemical testing there. I mean, it matches exactly intelligence that there was a heavy sealed door that slams.

Too many -- too many things in there. It's not a hoax.

BLITZER: And you have vetted these tapes with some of the greatest experts in the world on terrorism.

BERGEN: Absolutely. There's no doubt in their minds. One of our experts has looked at over 200 videotapes that have been seized from al Qaeda houses around the world.

He said the level of sophistication and knowledge that he was able to extract from this material astounded him. He hadn't seen this before. He described it as being part of al Qaeda's memory.

There's absolutely no doubt, and he is one of the world's leading experts on al Qaeda. BLITZER: General Grange, this from Irvine, California.

"If al Qaeda is a guerrilla force with indigenous support in several countries, can it be stopped, suppressed, or eliminated by our military?

GRANGE: We have, I believe, and have trained with special operating counterterrorist forces from around the world the best, and I think with some of our coalition partners, who have great counterterrorism forces as well, that if we maintain our resourcing of these operations, if we stay on the offense, we can continue to chip away at them and defeat them.

BLITZER: But the key is intelligence.

GRANGE: The key is intelligence. It's always what they call in the military the long pole in the tent.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to leave it right there. Gentlemen, excellent discussion. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

That's all the time we have for now. Thanks very much for joining us.

We leave you with one last chilling image. The most recent tapes in the collection are off-air recordings of CNN's and other networks' coverage of the September 11 attacks. Al Qaeda, possibly Osama bin Laden himself, reviewing their own handiwork.

Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Atlanta.

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