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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Bin Laden Releases New Videotape; Pentagon's Attempt to Provide Answers About Missing Explosives Leads to More Questions

Aired October 29, 2004 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now. It's been more than two years since we've seen Osama bin Laden on videotape. But look at this. Within the past hour he appeared on al Jazeera Television and he delivered a direct and ominous warning to President Bush, to Senator Kerry, and to the American people. Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Explaining the explosives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know that there's a lot we don't know.

BLITZER: A Pentagon attempt to provide answers leads to new questions.

Four more days as the campaign's countdown to the next four years, one thing is clear.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you go into that voting booth, you're going to face a fundamental choice.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The voters have a clear choice between two very different candidates.

BLITZER: Terror threats. Does al Qaeda have its eye on this election?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't want to spend a lot of our energy preparing for something that is probably unnecessary.

BLITZER: What's being done to keep you safe at the poll?

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Friday, October 29, 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're reporting today from New York City. For months now people have been talking about a so-called October surprise right before the U.S. presidential election. This is not the surprise many of us had been expecting. Osama bin Laden on a new videotape with a direct and vivid and, yes, very blunt message to the American people. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson is joining us live from London. He's been watching this story unfold. Nic, what do you make of it?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it appears to be if this is Osama bin Laden and there appears to be no reason to doubt that at the moment. The first on-camera message from him. Clearly he appears to be alive. This message essentially of very very political nature criticizing President Bush, criticizing him by saying that when al Qaeda planned the September 11 attacks, they planned them to take place during in the space of 20 minutes. During that time he said President Bush sat and read a story about goats to children in a classroom in the United States instead, he said, instead of doing something about the ongoing attacks.

Now that was clear criticism, but he went on to say the security of the United States is not in the hands of President Bush not in the hands of Senator John Kerry either, but in the hands of the U.S. people. A clear appeal here for the U.S. electorate to be influenced in their decision for who they should vote for president. Very political message.

BLITZER: Nic, I want to play for our viewers who did not watch it, a little clip right now. We'll do this throughout the hour, of precisely what Osama bin Laden said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked. The event that affected me most personally was in 1982 when America gave permission for Israel to invade Lebanon. That built a strong desire in me to punish the guilty. It never occurred to us that he, the commander-of-chief of the country, would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat was more important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Fascinating information over there from Osama bin Laden. Let's get some perspective. Nic Robertson, please stand by in London. Octavia Nasr our Arab affairs editor at the CNN Center in Atlanta is joining us as well. Octavia, what do you make of the fact of his appearance. He was there in that gold robe, no weapons behind him, no one else there. What was your interpretation of the way he looked?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SR. EDITOR, ARAB AFFAIRS: He looked fine, Wolf. And this is what Arab experts are saying. He looks fine. He looks well. He looks like he has aged a bit, but he is certainly sitting there very comfortably talking to the American people as if he is sitting in their living room having a chat with them. What is fascinating here is his fascination of the American people. This is the second time he sends a message to the American people and in both times, he is trying to explain to them why he attacked the U.S. on 9/11. It's going to be interesting to analyze this part of the speech, because this is the second time he does it where he talks directly to the American people and tells them, look, there was a reason why we attacked on 9/11. It was because of the U.S. foreign policy in Arab and Islamic countries, especially, he mentions by name Palestine and Lebanon. And he is trying very hard, I have to say, to get the American people to hear him out.

BLITZER: Stand by, Octavia. I want to bring Nic Robertson back. Was there anything in those excerpts that we saw on al Jazeera, Nic, that would date this videotape, when it might have been shot?

ROBERTSON: The closest we can get to dating this, Wolf, is the reference that he makes to this being the fourth year, going into the fourth year since September 11. Of course, that could have been recorded a few months ago, essentially postdated. We would look when we hear perhaps more of this material for any of time references, but that perhaps is the best one, that it was recorded at least apparently fairly recently, Wolf.

BLITZER: And it Sounded, Octavia, as if in parts he was really trying to embarrass the president of the United States who is only days away from the presidential election here in the United States, especially when he referred to the "My Pet Goat" story that the president was reading on 9/11 in Florida when those terrorists struck the World Trade Center.

NASR: Oh, yes. He went after the president. He went after the former President Bush, Sr. He said that he doesn't have a problem dealing with them, because they are very much like the Arab leaders that the Arab world has. He said they lie, they fabricate things and also they make things up to suit their agendas and he also said that they rule in a monarchy, basically the son takes over from the father. A very direct attack on Bush.

He also told the American people that the president has lied to them basically. He said he told you that we do not like freedom. He said because we like freedom, that's why we want freedom in our land and he gave the example of why didn't we attack Sweden, for example, he said in his speech, basically trying to explain to the American people that if they wanted to attack for the sake of attacking, they would have attacked another nation. He wanted the American people to think about why this nation was attacked, and it could face another attack unless something is done about it.

BLITZER: Octavia, stand by, Nic, stand by. I want to bring in Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent in Washington who has been talking to U.S. officials, getting a sense of perspective, what they're saying about this first videotape from the al Qaeda leader in some two years. What are you hearing, Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. officials that we spoke to said that they are analyzing and evaluating the tape. That they are not making any official statement right now as to its authenticity, but they say there's nothing that jumps out at them that makes them believe that this is not in fact Osama bin Laden, that it's not his voice. They do believe it's legitimate but just aren't saying that officially at this moment. One thing that they will be looking at it is to see if there's any clue or signal in this message that could get an attack going in motion against the United States. As you know, U.S. officials have warned about intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda is planning a spectacular attack on U.S. soil. That is something that obviously is their priority on the agenda, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena, stand by as well. Our senior White House correspondent, John King, is traveling with the Bush campaign in Columbus, Ohio, one of those key battleground states. What are you hearing, John?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just the fact that I'm speaking to you from a political rally site is a reminder of the extraordinary nature of this message from Osama bin Laden coming four days before the election. Because of that, there is no official White House reaction now yet at all. Senior officials telling us that the president, his national security adviser who is traveling with him on this trip to Ohio and other senior officials are trying to decide exactly what they want to say in public because of the sensitivity, not only a message from Osama bin Laden, but a message from Osama bin Laden about the U.S. presidential election four days from that vote.

So, they are taking their time to decide what to say about the tape. What is most interesting, though is the president was informed of the tape a short time ago. I'm in Columbus, he is at a rally in Toledo making his way here shortly. The president decided to go ahead with his speech and not only go ahead with it but to deliver the scathing criticism of Democrat John Kerry saying that Senator Kerry is not the man to take over the war on terrorism right now.

So the president going ahead with his tough terrorism political message even as they decide exactly what to say specifically about this tape.

And Wolf, also perhaps ironic, at his first event in New Hampshire this morning, the president had some of the 9/11 victims, their families on hand for a speech this morning in which he offered his own personal reflections of the lessons of that tragic day, September 11, 2001.

So all this playing out not only a serious security question for the Bush administration and the government, but serious questions as well for the Bush political campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John. We're going to be getting back to you as well. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is over there monitoring developments. Barbara, what are you hearing from your sources at the Pentagon?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this tape did not come as a particular surprise to anyone we have spoken to. They had been watching these days before the presidential election quite closely indeed. Several officials across the government here in Washington had some previous indication prior to the al Jazeera broadcast. There was an understanding of what was in that tape. It had been digested. They knew what was in there.

Now, this comes at a very interesting time of the year, a time on the calendar separate from the presidential election. It is largely believed Osama bin Laden has been hiding in the mountains along the -- Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, very remote, very rugged area. Winter snows are beginning to fall in that region. What U.S. intelligence and military officials know is if bin Laden is planning to get out of those mountains and not spend the winter in the mountains because of his ill health or other reasons, he'll have to start moving soon.

There is every indication we are told in the last several weeks U.S. intelligence and military reconnaissance has again been stepped up along that border. What they are watching for this time of year is to see if bin Laden moves, if he moves down to a lower elevation into one of the cities perhaps where he feels his security would be assured.

Bin Laden is believed to suffer from poor health. So, if he moves, he is going to move with a certain profile, if you will. Trucks, vehicles, medical equipment, the type of thing that intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance might be able to see or discern or listen to in some fashion.

So it's a very, very interesting time of the year. They are watching very carefully. There has been another very interesting development in Pakistan in recent weeks. You will remember, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf conducted a recent purge of the ISI, the Pakistani security services. He put in new leadership because there had been a feeling that that leadership was still sympathetic to al Qaeda and had possibly been sheltering the top leaders. So, if bin Laden is going to move in the few weeks, U.S. intelligence hopes with the Pakistanis they'll finally be able to see them. It may be a very long shot, but people are watching and waiting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you very much. Let's go to the Kerry campaign now. See what the reaction is there. Frank Buckley is covering John Kerry in his campaign. He's joining us now live from West Palm Beach in Florida, another one of those key battleground states. What are you hearing, Frank?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm told right now that Senator Kerry and Kerry's advisers are going over the transcripts of the tape right now to try to see exactly what was said by Osama bin Laden. We do have a statement that was issued by campaign spokesman David Wade who says when it comes to hunting down, defeating and killing the terrorists, every American stands together and al Qaeda should have no doubt America will destroy them.

As you know, Senator Kerry talks about this issue of the war on terror at every campaign stop. He did it again here in West Palm Beach. He was not aware, we were told, of the tape itself and what was on the tape, but here is what he said about the war on terror during this stop here in West Palm Beach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KERRY: I will hunt down and we will capture and kill the terrorists wherever they are. But I remember, but I will remember what every president of all of the last century understood. The United States of America, our beloved country, is stronger. Our troops are more protected. Your taxpayer dollars are less spent and better spent and we have a better chance of being successful in the mission when we lead great and real alliances not when we go it alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: And again, Wolf, we should make it very clear to our viewers that that statement was made by Senator Kerry before the tape came out, before the senator was made aware of the tape, but we just wanted to give you a sense of what he says about the issue of the war on terror and terrorism. We're still awaiting the official word from Senator Kerry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Frank Buckley, thanks very much. Later this hour, we expect to hear from Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a top foreign policy adviser to John Kerry. We'll speak with him shortly.

Christiane Amanpour is joining us now from Paris. She has been monitoring this story for us. Christiane, I want our viewers to listen to this excerpt from what Osama bin Laden said on this videotape broadcast by al Jazeera and then we'll discuss it. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): The event that affected me most personally was in 1982 when America gave permission for Israel to invade Lebanon. That built a strong desire in me to punish the guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Christiane, that reference to Lebanon was intriguing, because I haven't heard Osama bin Laden make many references to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. We've heard a lot to the U.S. occupation as he calls it of Saudi Arabia, but what do you make of that?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, Osama bin Laden has claimed over the years the Palestinian cause as one of the reasons for his attacks against the United States and others. Whether or not that is something that has really moved him, we just don't know. Certainly, he did say that in that speech, in that broadcast tonight. I guess the reason I'm here in Paris is because the leader of the Palestinian cause, Yasser Arafat, is in the hospital behind me, a U.S. -- a French military hospital where they're trying to put a battery of tests on him to find out what is causing his critical health condition here right now.

But the point is as we've heard from terrorists, speeches, whatever public manifestations they've made over the years, that the Israeli/Palestinian dispute is the fuel that fires this discontent and this violence and this terrorism and whether or not Osama bin Laden has always had this in his mind, we don't know. It was quite late in his career as a terrorist that he ever mentioned the Israeli/Palestinian cause.

As you say, he did start with the issue of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, with his complaints about the royal family of Saudi Arabia and only later, after many of these terrorists acts he did use the Palestinian/Israeli dispute as a justification. This is the first time we have heard him specifically mention that specific occasion, which was one of the most brutal and controversial conflicts there in Lebanon, the Israeli invasion and all that happened then of course.

The United States was involved. U.S. troops were in that area at that time. So this is a cause that is taken by all the Muslims around the world whenever they're asked about their grievances, it's always this cause, the Palestinian cause that they use. Many, many people have been saying in the aftermath of Arafat's critical condition that somehow this situation has to be resolved, has to be dealt with or else it's going to spawn ever-increasing cycles of violence and terrorism.

BLITZER: Christiane, you're there in Paris because Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian authority president arrived by plane. He is in a hospital there as you point out. What do we know about his condition? What do we know, what's going to happen there?

AMANPOUR: Well, they're being very tight-lipped. He has come here because they simply could not conduct the tests they needed to do to diagnose precisely what is causing his physical distress. They say he has a low blood platelet count and there are all sorts of reasons why that may be the case, but they couldn't do that in the compound where he was virtually imprisoned for the last three years in Ramallah nor could they do that at Ramallah hospital.

So the French president sent a medically-equipped plane to pick him up from the region today. He was helicoptered out of Ramallah, the first time he's left that area in about three years, and he has come here. There is no word at all from the doctors here and we don't expect any word, from what we're being told by officials, until perhaps later in the weekend perhaps even Monday. But there is a definite sense that this is the end of an era whether he survives physically, they believe that Arafat has spent his political currency.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour reporting for us from Paris. Thank you, Christiane very much. Let's bring in our military intelligence analyst, Ken Robinson. He is here in New York in our studios with us. The timing is of this Osama bin Laden tape is so intriguing, only days before the presidential election here in the United States. I have to believe -- although, we don't know, but I have to suspect it coincides with that in some way.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Past performance predicts future behavior and Osama bin Laden has always been careful about his public information strategy to maintain his own legitimacy. And certainly, it appears that his timing on this is precise and for the very purpose that he knows he will achieve his voice all around the world. It's going to be reported on for the next 24 hours.

BLITZER: We hadn't seen him in, what, more than two years. The earlier videotapes that we saw, we saw him outside with machine guns or whatever in the background, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), or AK-47s. We saw Ayman al Zawahiri, his deputy next to him. This one, he's all by himself. He's dressed in these golden robes and he actually looks pretty good.

ROBINSON: He looks healthy. And the things that are interesting that I was watching for was watching for the use of his arms. Because there had been reporting in the past about him being wounded in Tora Bora. Also looking at the type of clothes and looking at different things. Because there's always been a supposition that he provides hidden messages in these tapes where he is calling for action, because al Qaeda is a distributed network. It's gone to about 60 countries. He is sending a message to the West. And he may also be sending a message to his own people.

BLITZER: If he had been injured before and couldn't move his arms, we can clearly see he is moving both his arms in this videotape. The notion of him sending messages that some sort of terrorist attack could follow this kind of appearance, and he doesn't do it very often. It's been more than two years since we saw him on television like this. How seriously should Americans take this fear that this appearance of his could be on the eve of some sort of terrorist strike?

ROBINSON: Well, Americans -- the issue for Americans is not that they should be living in fear. The issue is that Americans should be prepared, because terrorism is in our future, for the near foreseeable future. And we know that this organization wants to attack America and we know they want to get the body count up.

The most interesting thing I heard was from Barbara Starr, who said that officials in Washington D.C., were aware of the content, which means possibly these messages had been intercepted and already been analyzed, which is interesting in their terms of level of awareness, because everyone has had a heightened sense that there may be something coming next from al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Ken Robinson, thanks very much. We'll continue to watch this story, an important story for our viewers. I want to also tell our viewers that in about 10 minutes we expect John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate specifically to react to this videotape of Osama bin Laden that aired about an hour and 20 minutes ago on the al Jazeera television network based in Doha, Qatar.

We will, of course, show our viewers what John Kerry has to say. That's coming up. Much more coverage of this story.

Al Jazeera airing a new videotape for the first time in some two years from Osama bin Laden addressing the American people. Not an audiotape, but a videotape. What impact will it have on the U.S. presidential race? Coming up, I'll speak live with senior members from both campaigns here in the United States.

Plus, securing the nation's polls. What's being done to keep voting sites safe from terrorism across the United States on Tuesday?

And the Pentagon weighing in on those missing explosives in Iraq. New details on what's becoming a serious campaign controversy. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just less than an hour and a half ago, al Jazeera broadcast a new videotape, a videotape of Osama bin Laden with direct warnings to President Bush, to Senator Kerry and to the American people. We have been reporting extensively on that.

We anticipate hearing directly reaction from John Kerry. That's coming up. We'll bring that to you as we get it.

In the meantime, though, let's turn to some other important stories we're following right now, specifically the hundreds of tons of explosives missing in Iraq. The Pentagon today tried to offer an explanation, but may have raised more questions than it answered. Let's go live to our senior correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it's this controversy over the missing weapons is stretching into a week. The Pentagon is turning away from its idea that these weapons might have been dispersed before the war. And now concentrating on the theory that they may have mostly been destroyed by U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Now that these pictures taken by a Minnesota television station KSTP, seem to show that at least some of the missing HMX explosives still under IAEA seal were at the al Qa Qaa facility on April 18, 2003, the Pentagon is shifting gears. A day after releasing a satellite photograph, meant to lend credence to the theory Saddam Hussein might have trucked away more than 300 tons of explosives days before the war, the Pentagon brought out an Army demolition expert, who describing how he blew up an estimated 250 tons of munitions at the site. But he couldn't say if any of it was the missing explosives.

QUESTION: Can you tell us that that was the same material? Are we talking about the same material?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't have that information.

MCINTYRE: Pearson was there a week before the television crew and did not see any IAEA wire seal, that experts say is the telltale sign the HMX was there on April 18. And Pearson made it clear, he really couldn't tell what specific kind of explosives he destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Off the top of my head, I'm sure there's at least 80 or 90 different types. And whether it's HMX, I couldn't verify. MCINTYRE: The Pentagon argues that even though Major Pearson could shed no light on the missing stockpile, he does show that U.S. troops were busy destroying as much of Saddam's arsenal as possible.

LAWRENCE DIRITA, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We have been able to demonstrate, I think, that that planning was well conceived and extraordinarily well executed by the forces that are over there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Well, critics scoff at that, saying that they are aware of many of the troops had no idea what they were dealing with in the field. Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to scramble for answers. And today, Wolf, officials privately conceded they probably wouldn't be able to piece this together until after the election. And by that time they wonder if anyone will really care -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, at least I will care, and I'm sure you will as well and many of our viewers, certainly will care for some time to come. Appreciate it very much.

Let's get back to our top story right now. That new videotape of Osama bin Laden that aired on al Jazeera within the past hour. Our senior White House correspondent, John King, getting some new information. He is joining us once again from Columbus, Ohio -- John.

KING: Well Wolf, we will hear from the president of the United States shortly. His first reaction to this Osama bin Laden tape in Toledo, Ohio. Mr. Bush due here in Columbus for a rally in a short time, but first, he will deliver a statement first to reporters at the airport in Toledo, Ohio.

We also have the first official reaction from the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, who says the U.S. intelligence community does believe that this tape is indeed authentic, that it is Osama bin Laden speaking on that tape and Mr. McClellan says if there is any actionable intelligence gleaned from this tape, the United States government will act on it.

He says the government is analyzing whether it needs to raise the terror alert level here in the United States. Other sources, of course, saying no plans to do that at this moment. But Mr. McClellan saying they are analyzing the tape to see if raising the threat level would be necessary. And he said that the American people are united to defeat the ideology of hatred bin Laden speaks to on this tape.

Now he also says that he would not address at all the political questions raised by this tape, bin Laden injecting himself, if you will, into the final days of the campaign. Scott McClellan saying he would not talk about the politics, the political implications of this tape at all.

So, Wolf, to recap, we will hear from the president quite soon in Toledo, Ohio.

One more remarkable footnote, as all of this plays out and we await the reaction of the president, here in this hall in Toledo these Republicans are being rallied for the president's appearance using videotapes here, including videotapes mocking Senator Kerry's position in fighting the war on terrorism.

So, as we analyze this tape, as the president prepares to react as the president, obviously political overtones as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, John, while there's no indication at all that the Department of Homeland Security is about to increase the level of security, raise the threat level, if you will, as a result of this videotape, the fact that some people might even be considering that, is that the result of the fact that during earlier appearances, or at least right after earlier appearances of Osama bin Laden, occasionally, there have been terror strikes against various targets?

KING: Right.

In the most recent statements from bin Laden and his deputies, that has not happened. But, in the past, that was a pattern and it was a history. And, certainly, it is a worry of the intelligence community that bin Laden is somehow sending a message, whether it be to sleeper cells or whether it just be to those around the world who sympathize with him that the risk of an attack goes up. Whether the tape contains a direct order or whether it just incites anti-American sentiment, they certainly worry about that.

That's one of the reasons they'll analyze it closely to see if they believe there is any language in it that could be construed as orders. And then they will also of course monitor known terrorist cells or sudden terrorist cells around the world to see if they see any suspicious activity.

BLITZER: All right, John King reporting for us from Columbus, Ohio.

We will, of course, stand by to hear what the president himself has to say. We are also standing by to hear John Kerry. He is about to make a statement on this Osama bin Laden videotape. We'll have that for you as well. Much more on this story coming up.

That's our top story, the missing Iraqi explosives.

Another important story we're following throughout the day, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency said today that the Al-Qaqaa compound in Iraq was one of the nuclear watchdogs' most important sites during the Saddam Hussein era. Mohamed ElBaradei says the explosives stored there were well known to the United States as well.

He spoke with CNN's Liz Neisloss, who is joining us now live from the United Nations with more -- Liz.

LIZ NEISLOSS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Today, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency refused to downplay the importance of the explosives, but he did say he hadn't planned to step into the midst of a campaign season.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEISLOSS (voice-over): Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA's top man, waded right into U.S. politics when he went public on the missing explosives. He denies ulterior motives, calling that issue overhyped.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: The timing is not our choosing. We have an obligation to perform. And it's unfortunate that it is taking a political spin. That is not ours.

NEISLOSS: But timing is also key to who was responsible for the weapons. ElBaradei's agency last checked the material in early March 2003, just weeks before the U.S.-led war.

Recently, Iraq sent ElBaradei a letter, saying the explosives vanished sometime after April 9, 2003. Iraq has given ElBaradei no evidence to support that date.

ELBARADEI: We have really no clue as to when or how these explosives have been or when they have been missing, but obviously we are concerned about it.

NEISLOSS: And that concern was no secret. February 2003, the tense run-up the Iraq war, the IAEA worried in particular about one explosive known only to be at Al-Qaqaa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 14, 2003)

ELBARADEI: We have also continued to investigate the relocation and consumption of the high explosive HMX.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEISLOSS: A potential nuclear trigger, HMX was kept under IAEA seal at Al-Qaqaa, a site weapons inspectors call well known.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEISLOSS: Now, Wolf, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says he has had actually no response yet from the U.S. to his concerns, but he is insisting this is not about a blame game, just fear, he says, that the material is going to fall into the wrong hands -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Liz Neisloss, reporting for us from the United Nations, thank you very much.

Terror tape, a new message from Osama bin Laden to the American people. How will it impact the U.S. presidential election? I'll speak with representatives from both sides.

And broad concern, but no consensus over polling security on Tuesday. We'll show you what is being done and what isn't.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to alert our viewers we're standing by. We expect very soon to hear directly from both the president of the United States, George W. Bush, as well as the Democratic presidential hopeful, John Kerry. They are both going to be reacting to this new extraordinary videotape, Osama bin Laden addressing the American people.

He appeared on Al-Jazeera, Arabic-language television, only about an hour and a half or so ago. We're going to stand by, bring that to you once we get it, reaction from Kerry and Bush.

Let's get some reaction, though, right now from the Kerry campaign.

For that, we turn to Richard Holbrooke, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, also a senior foreign policy adviser to John Kerry.

Thanks very much, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Welcome to New York, Wolf.

BLITZER: You saw the videotape of Osama bin Laden. Listen to this direct reference to the American presidential election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you -- you've had a chance to digest it a little bit. I know you haven't studied it as closely as you used to when you were a full-time diplomat. But what do you make of this?

HOLBROOKE: It's an outrageous attempt to intimidate everybody involved.

The important thing, unfortunately, is that it shows that Osama bin Laden alive and he looks pretty well. He is using at least one of his hands very vigorously. And we've got a real problems on our hands three years after 9/11. He is still out there and still issuing these terrible threats.

BLITZER: Do you see this on as an effort on his part somehow to try to intervene in the U.S. presidential election?

HOLBROOKE: If that's his effort, he's making a huge mistake.

This isn't going to affect the mood of the American public. The U.S. is determined to defeat al Qaeda and its allies and the war against their use of terrorist tactics. And if he thinks it is going to affect anyone, he is wrong.

But I would point out that the tape shows that he is still around. We should have captured him and we haven't. And the other thing it shows, illustrates, a key point, which is that Senator Kerry in his relentless pursuit of terrorism is going to be very aggressive. And the tape doesn't show that, but Senator Kerry's comments continually, his experience should indicate that Osama bin Laden will draw no comfort from a Kerry presidency.

BLITZER: Because the sense is -- and it could be totally misguided -- that before the elections in Spain, as you know, there was a huge terrorist attack to try to affect the political situation in Spain.

HOLBROOKE: What happened in Spain was unique, because the Spanish government blamed it on Basque separatists and it wasn't. And that's what blew up in their face.

The United States is not Spain. We're united in the war against al Qaeda. We're united against this murderer who you've just shown on television. And John Kerry has sworn and pledged it will be his top priority to pursue him and hunt him down.

BLITZER: In all the polls, virtually all the polls, when the American public is asked who do you think can do a better job in the war on terror, Bush scores better than Kerry, as you will concede.

HOLBROOKE: I think that to the extent that polling data is correct, it stems from President Bush's very effective activities right after 9/11.

But the point here about what we've just seen is that Senator Kerry has said repeatedly that we should have closed the door on bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains on the Afghan--Pakistan border in December '01 and January 2002. And had we done so, had we not subcontracted the war against al Qaeda to the warlords in the area, many of whom had been in cahoots with bin Laden until a few weeks earlier, we might have captured him.

Now he is able to send out this vicious threat through Al-Jazeera and everyone else in the world.

BLITZER: Are you concerned, though, that when Americans see this videotape -- it will be all over the news media, as you can imagine, not only today, but in the days to come -- they will be reminded of what happened on 9/11 and they will say, you know what, I better vote for Bush, because he is tougher in dealing with al Qaeda than Kerry?

HOLBROOKE: I don't think so.

I think it also raises a much deeper question. How can this grotesque mass murderer be out there on worldwide television more than three years after 9/11? Why haven't we captured him, if the Bush administration was going to be so effective in the war on terror? President Bush said in the debates that he has rolled up 75 percent of al Qaeda. Well, it sure doesn't sound like it now. And, in Iraq, we have created a new terrorist center in places like Fallujah. And now it turns out that we also have some very serious missing high explosives.

BLITZER: He is referring to that CIA assessment that 75 percent of the al Qaeda leadership, which may be 50 or 60 people, has been rolled up.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLBROOKE: He did not say leadership in all those things.

BLITZER: But that's what he is referring to.

HOLBROOKE: And how does he know?

(CROSSTALK)

HOLBROOKE: And as Secretary Rumsfeld himself said in the famous leaked memo, aren't we creating more terrorists than we're killing?

BLITZER: Briefly, while I have you, these missing explosives in Iraq that's causing quite a bit of a controversy, the Pentagon came out today. They brought a major who was there. He said he destroyed a lot. He wasn't sure, could have been from the IAEA-inspected cache of weapons. It might not have been. He didn't know for sure.

The information is still being assembled. The criticism of John Kerry is that, he has rushed to make this an issue when he doesn't have all the facts.

HOLBROOKE: I think this is just astonishing, Wolf.

The administration doesn't know what happened in Al-Qaqaa, a well-known weapons dump, which you just showed in an earlier part of your program, that the IAEA had described in detail with Secretary Powell sitting in the room at the U.N. Security Council two years ago?

You're saying that now the administration should figure out? The truth is simple. The details are murky, but the truth is simple. The ammunition went missing. It includes the most dangerous high explosives, things that are used to create nuclear bombs, not nuclear weapons, but the implosionary device. Americans may have been killed because of this. The administration lost track of it, until journalists found discovered it.

Then they admitted it. Then they denied it. Then they recalibrated it. That's all silly details. The truth is simple. Tons of the most dangerous weaponry are missing.

BLITZER: But the facts -- all the facts have not been assembled. You're willing to wait until the dust settles, see what actually happened while the Pentagon, the U.S. military, the Iraq Survey Group comes up with some...

HOLBROOKE: My question is much more base than that. Why wasn't al-Qaqaa secured on day one? No one disagrees that it wasn't secured.

The administration says -- Armitage says it was a mistake. The Pentagon says the weapons had been emptied. Are we to believe that 18 months after this terrible event, the Pentagon is now going to look at it because the press has caught up with the story? It's not acceptable, Wolf.

BLITZER: Richard Holbrooke, thanks very much for joining us.

HOLBROOKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll continue this down the road.

We want to hear now from what the presidential campaigns are saying about this new tape from Osama bin Laden.

We just heard, as we just saw, from the Kerry campaign.

Let's bring in Danielle Pletka right now. She is a foreign policy adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign. She's at the campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

Danielle, thanks very much for joining us. I want to play another excerpt from the Osama bin Laden videotape, this one where he makes fun of the president.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): It never occurred to us that he, the commander in chief of the country, would leave 50,000 citizens and the two towers to face those horrors alone because he thought listening to a child discussing her goats was more important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It sounds, Danielle, as he may have watched Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," based on that little clip.

DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I'm glad to know that Michael Moore is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

BLITZER: Well, do you want to give us your bottom-line assessment? You just heard Richard Holbrooke make the case for the Kerry campaign. Make the case for the Bush campaign, your reaction to what we just saw.

PLETKA: I have to tell you, Wolf, Richard Holbrooke used the word astonish. And I have to say, sitting here listening to him, I was astonished to hear him exploiting a tape that has been out barely an hour, using threats against the United States and against the American people to help his presidential candidate in the elections.

The fact is, he is trying, as Senator Kerry is, to mislead the American people into believing that, somehow, there is a silver bullet out there. It is a lie to suggest that we had Osama bin Laden in our clutches. And it is a lie to insinuate to the American people that once he is caught that the war on terror will be over. This is a very broad war and it's one we need to take to the enemy. It's not about propaganda, tricks and games.

BLITZER: But the point he was making is that, here, we look at this videotape. We see Osama bin Laden very much alive, apparently well, dressed in that golden robe out there, making these threats to the American public, nothing specific, but general threats to the American public and the presidential candidates, reminding, he says, the American public that the president's administration, in his words, missed the boat, could have gotten Osama bin Laden at a moment near Tora Bora and didn't do it.

PLETKA: The general who was there, Tommy Franks, has said very clearly, repeatedly, that that is not the case.

My inclination is to believe the people who are there, not the people sitting in their comfortable chairs in investment banks in New York. So, when Tommy Franks says that it is absolutely not the case that bin Laden was in our clutches, I believe him over an investment banker sitting in New York. And I'm sorry.

BLITZER: But the argument is, as you well know, Danielle, that resources were diverted from the war against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to Iraq to prepare for the war against Saddam Hussein, badly needed, at least...

PLETKA: Well, actually, I don't well know that.

I have to tell you, watching this, all I have seen in Afghanistan is one success story after another. I have seen 10 million people register to vote in a free and fair election. I have seen enormous success for the Afghan people. I have seen that most of the leadership of al Qaeda is on the run.

Yes, we have seen a videotape, but the bottom line is -- and there is no disagreement in any part of the international intelligence community about this -- that al Qaeda is in a much worse situation than they were three years ago. The idea that we have diverted from Afghanistan in order to fight in Iraq or that somehow we should want to have Saddam Hussein in power, as Senator Kerry keeps insinuating, is just disgraceful.

BLITZER: What about the other argument that we just heard from Ambassador Holbrooke, that it's 18 months after the war, the Al-Qaqaa facility in Iraq was one of the most valued facilities, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and, even at this point, the Bush administration does not know what happened to those tons of explosives?

PLETKA: I reject that out of hand.

First of all, in 1995, Al-Qaqaa was noticed by the inspectors there. Americans asked for the stash there to be blown up. The inspectors said they weren't even sure it should be part of the sanctions and they weren't going to blow it up. So I have a little bit of a suspicion about the international inspectors.

In addition, 18 months afterwards, I don't think we have a clear idea of exactly what happened. I have been working on Iraq issues for 20 years. My inclination is to believe people who were on the ground. It's not to blame Americans first and go with what the United Nations and "The New York Times" is telling me I ought to go with. I want to know the facts. And Senator Kerry ought to be responsible enough to also want the facts before he flies off the handle and makes accusations.

BLITZER: Danielle Pletka, thanks very much, representing the Bush/Cheney campaign in Washington.

PLETKA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Terror threats and now a new videotape from Osama bin Laden. Does al Qaeda have its eye on this election in the United States? We'll show you what's being done to keep all of us safe at the polls on Tuesday.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Once again, we're standing by to hear from President Bush and Senator Kerry. They're reacting to this latest videotape put out by Osama bin Laden. It's been two years since we actually saw him on videotape. We saw that just under two hours ago. We'll bring you the president and the senator once they speak.

Even before the videotape was released, there has been broad concern about possible terrorist attempts to disrupt the presidential election on Tuesday. But there's no real consensus on what to do about it.

CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has more on securing the voting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Terrorist bombs in Madrid just days before elections, a factor in Chesterfield County, Virginia, decision to station armed police at polling stations on Election Day.

LARRY HAAKE, CHESTERFIELD COUNTY REGISTRAR: I think we're doing what is imprudent. And I think to do nothing is imprudent and irresponsible.

MESERVE: But some say armed police at voting locations could intimidate minorities.

HADI YAZDANPANAH, ISLAMIC CENTER OF VIRGINIA: This could be a step back for democracy, in my opinion.

MESERVE: A sentiment shared by some election officials elsewhere.

REBECCA VIGIL-GIRON, NEW MEXICO SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not Nicaragua. This is not Equatorial Guinea, Africa. This is not El Salvador.

MESERVE: You won't find police at polling places in New Mexico, the secretary of state says, even if there's a terrorist attack somewhere else. Because states and localities run elections and to avoid appearing partisan, the federal government has not issued any security guidance, so each community is balancing security and civil liberties as it sees fit.

GEORGE FORESMAN, NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION: There is no playbook for any of us to go by. We're making this up on the fly.

MESERVE: On September 11, terrorists hit Arlington, Virginia. With that in mind, officials there have tried to find a middle ground.

LINDA LINDBERG, ARLINGTON COUNTY REGISTRAR: Although there's nothing, no known threats, Arlington County, nevertheless, is going to be on the alert.

MESERVE: Poll workers are being instructed on how to communicate in a crisis. And police patrols will be increased, but officers will stay outside polling locations.

LINDBERG: We don't want to spend a lot of energy preparing for something which is probably unnecessary and not going to happen, but, on the other hand, we want to have some contingencies in place.

MESERVE: Homeland security officials say there is no specific intelligence that terrorists plan to strike Tuesday, and some experts believe polling places would be difficult and ineffective targets.

JAMES CARAFANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: This is too big a country, too many voters, too many polling places.

MESERVE (on camera): If terrorists do strike, election officials would have to improvise. Congress could postpone the election, but has said it would not.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we're standing by to hear directly from John Kerry. He has got comments on the Osama bin Laden videotape. We'll air those as soon as we get those. The president of the United States also commenting formally on the Osama bin Laden tape, saying the United States will not be intimidated. We'll hear from both of them.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry just gave an interview to WISN in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, spoke about the Osama bin Laden videotape. Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My reaction is that all of us in this country are completely united. Democrat, Republican, there's no such thing. There's just Americans. And we are all united in hunting down and capturing or killing those who conducted that -- we always knew it was Osama bin Laden.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He goes on to say that...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry.

I hate to interrupt you, but he does go on to say that he is actually saying that the president has misled the American people, but at the same time, says it doesn't matter who becomes president of the United States, whether it is President Bush or you, that it's basically going to boil down to what the American policy is going to be, what our foreign policy will be.

KERRY: Well, let me tell you this: My policy is that there's no such thing as a negotiation with terrorists. Terrorism is going to be hunted down and killed. We are united on that.

I believe I can run a more effective war on terror than George Bush. I'm absolutely confident I have the ability to be able to make America safer.

But we are united in our determination to hunt down and kill the terrorists.

And I regret that when George Bush had the opportunity in Afghanistan at Tora Bora, he didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden. He outsourced the job to Afghan warlords.

I would never have done that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And that was John Kerry speaking with television station WISN in Milwaukee.

Only a few moments ago, the president spoke to reporters before boarding Air Force One in Toledo, Ohio. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Earlier today I was informed of the tape that is now being analyzed by America's intelligence community.

Let me make this very clear. Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this.

I also want to say to the American people that we are at war with these terrorists, and I am confident that we will prevail.

Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president not answering reporters' questions, making, as we all saw, a brief statement, saying the United States will not be intimidated by Osama bin Laden on this new videotape that was released some -- almost two hours ago on the Al-Jazeera Arabic- language broadcast.

The White House also saying that a preliminary view of this tape shows it is in fact authentic. It is Osama bin Laden, the first time in some two years that we have actually seen him on videotape.

Stay with CNN throughout the night, throughout the weekend, as we get ready for the election on Tuesday. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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