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During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this.During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this. [Source: CNN]In an interview with ABC News reporter John Miller, Osama bin Laden indicates he may attack a US military passenger aircraft using antiaircraft missiles. Bin Laden says: “We are sure of our victory. Our battle with the Americans is larger than our battle with the Russians.… We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States, and will be separate states, and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America.” In the subsequent media coverage, Miller will repeatedly refer to bin Laden as “the world’s most dangerous terrorist,” and “the most dangerous man in the world.” [ABC News, 5/28/1998; ABC News, 6/12/1998; Esquire, 2/1999; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright will later note, “Looming behind his head was a large map of Africa, an unremarked clue.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 264] Bin Laden admits to knowing Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters (see June 1996), but denies having met Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef or knowing about the plot itself. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] A Virginia man named Tarik Hamdi (see March 20, 2002) helped set up Miller’s interview. He goes with Miller to Afghanistan and gives bin Laden a new battery for his satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later claim that this battery was somehow bugged to help the US monitor bin Laden. [Newsweek, 8/10/2005] In 2005, Miller will become the FBI’s assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs. [All Headline News, 8/24/2005]

Entity Tags: John Miller, Operation Bojinka, Osama bin Laden, Vincent Cannistraro, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Tarik Hamdi, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multimillionaire considered by the United States to be the prime suspect for the 9/11 attacks, issues a statement through the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, in which he denies responsibility for those attacks. [CNN, 9/17/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] In the statement, which is read out by an Al Jazeera announcer, bin Laden says: “The US government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it. I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons. I have been living in the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and following its leaders’ rules. The current leader does not allow me to exercise such operations.” The statement is signed “Sheik Osama bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 9/16/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] President Bush dismisses bin Laden’s denial. Asked whether he believes it, Bush responds: “No question he is the prime suspect. No question about that.” [White House, 9/16/2001; Baltimore Sun, 9/17/2001] Vice President Dick Cheney says he has “no doubt that [bin Laden] and his organization played a significant role” in the 9/11 attacks. [NBC, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] On this day, bin Laden also faxes a statement to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency, in which he denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). [Guardian, 9/17/2001] Previously, on September 12, he denied any involvement, according to a close aide of his (see September 12, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/13/2001] On September 13, Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban said bin Laden told them he had played no role in the attacks (see September 13, 2001). [Reuters, 9/13/2001] But in mid-December 2001, the Pentagon will release a video which apparently shows bin Laden indicating his complicity (see Mid-November 2001). [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001] However, there will be questions about the authenticity of this film (see December 13, 2001). [Guardian, 12/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Al Jazeera, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to analyst Maher Osseiran, a home video in which Osama bin Laden admits foreknowledge of 9/11 is made around this date, not on a later date suggested by US officials (see Mid-November 2001). Osseiran argues that the video was part of a sting operation run by the US (see January 19, 2001), and that the first part—making the video—was successful, but the second part—capturing or killing bin Laden—failed. [CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] This is supported by a report in the Observer, which will write that “several intelligence sources have suggested… that the tape, although absolutely genuine, is the result of a sophisticated sting operation run by the CIA through a second intelligence service, possibly Saudi or Pakistani.” [Observer, 12/16/2001] Osseiran points out that the main person bin Laden talks to in the video, veteran fighter Khaled al-Harbi, actually left Saudi Arabia on September 21, and therefore presumably met bin Laden shortly after. A video expert also finds that two cameras were used to make the tape, on which footage of the confession is recorded over footage of a downed US helicopter, and that only part of the footage was transmitted by phone line or satellite. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-29; CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] On the tape, bin Laden and al-Harbi discuss events in Saudi Arabia immediately after 9/11. There are no references to events in October or November of 2001, such as the US attack on Afghanistan, which occurred on October 7 (see October 7, 2001), or the attack by the Northern Alliance against Kabul in mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Khaled al-Harbi, Maher Osseiran, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles.Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles. [Source: US Department of Defense]A conversation between Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda spokesman Suliman abu Ghaith, and Khaled al-Harbi, a veteran of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Bosnia, is videotaped. A portion of the taped conversation is later said to be found by the US and will be used as evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. [Unknown, 2001; Guardian, 12/13/2001; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-9] According to a translation released by the Pentagon, the man said to be bin Laden says: “[W]e calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all… (inaudible)… due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is what we had hoped for.” He continues: “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on. It was 5:30 p.m. our time.… Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington.… At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.… After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The release of the tape, which is said to be found by US intelligence officers in Jalalabad, will be a major news story, and the tape will be taken by the media as proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11. President Bush will comment, “For those who see this tape, they’ll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will add, “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt.” [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/16/2001] However, the tape will later be disputed from three points of view:
bullet The accuracy of the translation will be questioned (see December 20, 2001). For example, the man thought to be bin Laden does not say “we calculated in advance the number of casualties,” but “we calculated the number of casualties”;
bullet An analyst will conclude that the tape was actually made earlier as a part of a US-run sting operation (see (September 26, 2001));
bullet Some commentators will question whether the person in the video is actually bin Laden (see December 13, 2001).
In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview al-Qaeda figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April, June, or August 2002). In a 2003 book he will co-write, Fouda will claim that he asked an unnamed al-Qaeda operative who was setting up the interview if the bin Laden video was fake. This person will supposedly reply: “No. The tape, the brothers said—I am not sure whether they left it behind or not—but the Sheikh [bin Laden], yes, was talking to someone from Mecca.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 135]

Entity Tags: Jack Straw, George W. Bush, Khaled al-Harbi, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bush administration (43), Suliman abu Ghaith, Yosri Fouda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in DecemberThe man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in December [Source: Reuters]Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), some commentators question its authenticity, as a number of strange facts about the video soon emerge. For example, all previous videos had been made with the consent of bin Laden, and usually released to the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. This video was supposedly recorded without his knowledge, found in a house in Afghanistan, and then passed to the CIA by an unknown person or group. Experts point out that it would be possible to fake such a video. So many people doubt the video’s authenticity that President Bush soon makes a statement, saying it was “preposterous for anybody to think this tape was doctored. Those who contend it’s a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man.” [Guardian, 12/15/2001] Some commentators will suggest that the person thought to be bin Laden is not actually the al-Qaeda leader. For example, arabist Kevin Barrett will say that the person in the video is “at least 40 or 50 pounds heavier, and his facial features [are] obviously different.” [Capital Times (Madison), 2/14/2006] The man said to be bin Laden also makes some questionable statements in the video:
bullet “I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building…” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The jet fuel spilled from the planes burned up about 10 minutes after impact (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001), the towers’ structure did not melt (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and the towers were not made of iron, but steel. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] Bin Laden had studied civil engineering at university and had experience as a construction contractor. [Burke, 2004, pp. 47; Laden, 2005, pp. xii-xiii] It is unclear why he would think the towers were made of iron.
bullet “We did not reveal the operation to [the brothers who conducted the operation] until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] All the hijackers purchased tickets for the 9/11 flights about two weeks in advance (see August 25-September 5, 2001). The six plot leaders had flight training (see July 6-December 19, 2000, (June 28-December 2000), January-February 2001, and May 5 and 10, 2000), and some of the other 13 are thought to have assisted with target surveillance and casing flights (see May 24-August 14, 2001, August 1, 2001, June 2001 and August 2001).
bullet “Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The opposite is true: the pilots intermingled with the muscle and the teams for the various planes mixed (see April 23-June 29, 2001, April 12-September 7, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001).
There are reports that bin Laden had from four to ten look-alike doubles at the time. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2001; London Times, 11/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kevin Barrett, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism holds a hearing on the global reach of al-Qaeda and hears testimony from several intelligence community officers. One of them is Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI who was involved in several pre-9/11 failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001). Wilshire is described as the deputy chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section. In his opening remarks, Wilshire describes the “worldwide jihad movement,” which is “considered to be legitimate by many of our allies in terms of defense of Islam,” as a “multibillion effort” active in, for example, Chechnya, Bosnia, and the Philippines. Although some of the “tributaries” to the movement are “somehow legitimate,” al-Qaeda is “one of the most significant off-shoots,” and views the US as “the stabilising mechanism that allows the regimes that [Osama] bin Laden views to be corrupt [such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia] and to stay in power.” Wilshire also says that one of bin Laden’s goals was to provoke a “land war in Afghanistan,” although he perhaps did not anticipate it taking its current form. He discusses how al-Qaeda has changed over the years, the bayat oath of loyalty to bin Laden, and numbers of operatives: he puts the organization’s “elite” in the hundreds, but says it also has “small thousands” fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya, as well as “thousands” more around the world, although perhaps “their skill level is not as high.” He also discusses a recently released videotape in which a man thought to be bin Laden said the “muscle” hijackers did not know they were on a suicide mission until the last minute (see Mid-November 2001), and calls bin Laden “very charismatic.” Wilshire adds that radical Islamists have looked at the possibility of setting up training camps in the US, but that it is easier for them to have introductory training in Europe, which was the case of a group of British citizens arrested in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). Finally, he says that al-Qaeda is linked to Abu Sayyaf, which is not just a local Filipino group and falls under “outside influence.” [US Congress. Senate. Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, 12/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Terrorism Operations Section, Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, Tom Wilshire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), a German TV show checks the translation provided by the Pentagon and finds it is flawed. According to Professor Gernot Rotter, scholar of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the University of Hamburg, “This tape is of such poor quality that many passages are unintelligible. And those that are intelligible have often been taken out of context, so that you can’t use that as evidence. The American translators who listened to the tape and transcribed it obviously added things that they wanted to hear in many places.” For example, the sentence translated by Pentagon contractors as “We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy,” is said to be wrong, and the words “in advance” were apparently not said by bin Laden. The sentence “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day” is also said to be wrong and the word “previous” is not said by bin Laden. In addition, the sentence “We asked each of them to go to America” is said to be a mistranslation; it should have been “They were required to go to America.” [Monitor-TV (Germany), 12/20/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Gernot Rotter

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The media reports that Osama bin Laden died of lung problems in the mountains of Tora Bora in mid-December. The report, which quotes a Taliban leader who allegedly attended bin Laden’s funeral, is originally published in the Pakistan Observer, and then picked up by Fox News. According to the Taliban leader, bin Laden was suffering from a serious lung complication and succumbed to the disease. He also claims bin Laden was laid to rest honorably near where he died and his grave was made as per his Wahabi belief. About 30 close associates of bin Laden, including his most trusted and personal bodyguards, his family members, and some “Taliban friends,” attended the funeral. A volley of bullets was also fired to pay final tribute to him. The Taliban leader claims to have seen bin Laden’s face before the burial and says, “he looked pale… but calm, relaxed, and confident.” When asked where bin Laden was buried, the leader says, “I am sure that like other places in Tora Bora, that particular place too must have vanished.” [Fox News, 12/26/2001] A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to issue media statements after his alleged death (see, for example, November 12, 2002). At the time this report becomes public, other accounts suggest bin Laden is alive, has just escaped from the battle of Tora Bora, and is fleeing pursuers (see December 8-14, 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ramzi bin al-Shibh.Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]It is originally reported that Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda interviews 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 associate Ramzi Bin al-Shibh at a secret location in Karachi, Pakistan, in either June [London Times, 9/8/2002] or August. [Guardian, 9/9/2002] Details and audio footage of the interview come out between September 8 and 12, 2002. The video footage of the interview al-Qaeda promised to hand over is never given to Al Jazeera. [Associated Press, 9/8/2002] Both figures claim the 9/11 attacks were originally going to target nuclear reactors, but “decided against it for fear it would go out of control.” Interviewer Fouda is struck that KSM and bin al-Shibh remember only the hijackers’ code names, and have trouble remembering their real names. [Australian, 9/9/2002] KSM, who calls himself the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee and refers to bin al-Shibh as the coordinator of the “Holy Tuesday” operation, reportedly acknowledges “[a]nd, yes, we did it.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 38] These interviews “are the first full admission by senior figures from bin Laden’s network that they carried out the September 11 attacks.” [London Times, 9/8/2002] Some, however, call Fouda’s claims into doubt. For example, the Financial Times states: “Analysts cited the crude editing of [Fouda’s interview] tapes and the timing of the broadcasts as reasons to be suspicious about their authenticity. Dia Rashwan, an expert on Islamist movements at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said: ‘I have very serious doubts [about the authenticity of this tape]. It could have been a script written by the FBI.’” [Financial Times, 9/11/2002] KSM is later variously reported to be arrested in June 2002, killed or arrested in September 2002, and then arrested in March 2003. After this last arrest report, for the first time Fouda claims this interview took place in April, placing it safely before the first reports of KSM’s capture. [Guardian, 3/4/2003; CTV Television, 3/6/2003] Bin al-Shibh also gets captured several days after Fouda’s interview is broadcast, and some reports say he is captured because this interview allows his voice to be identified. [Observer, 9/15/2002; CBS News, 10/9/2002] As a result, Fouda has been accused of betraying al-Qaeda, and now fears for his life. [Independent, 9/17/2002] As the Washington Post states, “Now Al Jazeera is also subject to rumors of a conspiracy.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2002] Yet after being so reviled by al-Qaeda supporters, Fouda is later given a cassette said to be a bin Laden speech. [MSNBC, 11/18/2002] US officials believe the voice on that cassette is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes said it is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002] It will later be revealed that details of the interview were told to the CIA in mid-June 2002, which directly resulted in bin al-Shibh’s arrest a few months later (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama bin Laden, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Al-Qaeda, Yosri Fouda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A truck bomb kills 19 people, mostly German tourists, at a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. It is later claimed that al-Qaeda is behind the attack, and that the suspected bomber speaks with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) by phone about three hours before the attack. [Associated Press, 8/24/2002] In June 2002, al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman abu Ghaith will say that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing (see June 22, 2002).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Suliman abu Ghaith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

October 6, 2002: Al-Qaeda Attacks Oil Tanker

The Limburg after the attack.The Limburg after the attack. [Source: NAVSEA]Al-Qaeda conducts a suicide bombing against a French oil tanker, the Limburg. The attack takes places in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen. One crew member is killed and over 90,000 barrels of oil leak into the sea. The attack is similar to the one on the USS Cole almost two years before (see October 12, 2000) and is planned by one of the same people, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. [BBC, 10/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 153]

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An explosion lights up the sky on the island of Bali, Indonesia.An explosion lights up the sky on the island of Bali, Indonesia. [Source: Agence France-Presse]A car bomb detonates in front of a discotheque at Kuta Beach, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, starting a fire that rages through a dozen buildings. A backpack-mounted device carried by a suicide bomber explodes in another Kuta Beach discotheque. 202 people are killed and 209 are injured. Eighty-eight of those killed are Australian, while most of the rest are Indonesian. A much smaller device explodes outside the US consulate in nearby Denpasar, causing only minor damage and no casualties. No group claims responsibility, but Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia, is believed to be behind the bombings. [New York Times, 10/13/2002; New York Times, 10/14/2002; BBC, 2/19/2003] Hambali, a key leader in both al-Qaeda and JI, is said to have been involved. He will be arrested in 2003 and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). [Chicago Tribune, 12/7/2003] Three alleged JI operatives, Ali Gufron (a.k.a. Mukhlas), Imam Samudra, and Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, will be arrested in Indonesia and sentenced to death in 2003 for their roles in the Bali bombings. Ali Imron, brother to both Gufron and Amrozi, will be sentenced to life in prison. [New York Times, 9/19/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2003] JI operatives Dulmatin, Azhari Husin, and Noordin Mohammed Top also are said to have major roles in the bombings. Husin will be killed in a police shootout in 2005, while Dulmatin and Top remain at large (see October 6, 2005 and After). It will later turn out that the US was given a “stunningly explicit and specific” advanced warning that Hambali and JI were planning to attack nightclubs in Bali (see August 21, 2002).

Entity Tags: Ali Gufron, Azhari Husin, Dulmatin, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Imam Samudra, Ali Imron, Hambali, Noordin Mohammed Top, Jemaah Islamiyah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following six attacks by different radical Islamic groups in Tunisia (see April 11, 2002), Pakistan, Yemen (see October 6, 2002), Kuwait, Bali (see October 12, 2002), and Moscow, a new audio message is released by a man said by some to be Osama bin Laden, although the identity of the speaker will be disputed (see November 29, 2002). The voice on the tape outlines a principle he says he and his allies are using: reciprocity. He comments: “If it pains you to see your victims and your allies’ victims in Tunisia, Karachi, Failaka, and Oman, then remember that our children are murdered daily in Palestine and Iraq… If it pains you to see your victims in Moscow, then remember ours in Chechnya. How long will fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning, and widowing be our sole destiny, while security, stability, and happiness is yours? This is injustice. The time has come to settle accounts. Just as you kill, so you shall be killed; just as you bomb, so you shall be bombed. And there will be more to come.” [Laden, 2005, pp. 173-5]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The release of an audio message by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see November 12, 2002) sparks several publications to run stories about the authentication of the voice on the tape. These articles make several points about voice analysis of apparent bin Laden recordings:
bullet Machine analysis: Some aspects of voice identification are done my machine. Voice authentication software measures the acoustic qualities of a person’s voice, such as pitch, loudness, basic resonances, frequency, and amplitude. [New Scientist, 11/13/2002; Slate, 11/15/2002] This produces spectrographic information and can also be used to look for specific features of a voice, such as a nasal quality. In addition, every person creates the same sounds using a slightly different set of basic pitches, so the set of frequencies in bin Laden’s vowels, like those in “ea” from “fear,” will be marginally different from anyone else’s. By examining this frequency detail for every vowel and comparing them to previous examples, a machine analysis can tell if they are the same and were all said by him. [Slate, 11/15/2002] However, “People hardly ever pronounce the same word the same way twice, even in the same utterance,” says Robert Berkovitz, a speech analyst with Sensimetrics Corp. [CBS News, 11/13/2002]
bullet Human analysis: Some aspects of voice identification are done by humans, who are, according to Slate, “very good at doing the kind of thing most people do subconsciously—telling if someone comes from a particular region by recognizing basic vowel and consonant qualities.” For example, a human analyst can tell whether the “Ye” sound in “Yemen” is of the right length and stress for bin Laden’s dialect. [Slate, 11/15/2002] Experts listen to previous recordings of bin Laden, and compare them syllable by syllable. [New Scientist, 11/13/2002; Slate, 11/15/2002] Experts can also verify whether words on a tape generally match those uttered by someone of bin Laden’s age and educational background. [Slate, 11/15/2002]
bullet Quality of tape: According to Slate, the November tape is “allegedly very noisy and possibly went down a phone line at some point.” [Slate, 11/15/2002] However, the New Scientist reports, “Voice analysis experts say the quality of the recording appears good enough to determine if the recording is genuine.” It also quotes Steve Cain of Forensic Tape Analysis, a company that received snippets of the tape from US media, who says, “It seems like it is at least clear enough and there’s enough amplitude of that unknown speaker’s voice that if you had a known sample of bin Laden it would be possible.” [New Scientist, 11/13/2002]
bullet Splicing: Analysis can determine whether a tape is spliced together. Potential red flags include hitches in timing and rhythm, removal of background noise, and different pitch to accommodate for differences in background noise. [Slate, 11/15/2002]
bullet It makes no difference to voice analysis what language a recording is in. [CBS News, 11/13/2002]
bullet Uncertainty: The New Scientist quotes Tomi Kinnunnen, an expert in computer analysis of speech at the University of Joensuu, Finland, as saying: “There is always the possibility of error.… But if you have a clean sample with little noise, you can quite reliably say [who it is].” [New Scientist, 11/13/2002] However, according to Slate, human and machine analyses can be “formidable,” but “neither type of analysis can say with 100 percent certainty that the speaker on the tape is bin Laden or anyone else.” [Slate, 11/15/2002] CBS finds that intelligence analysts are convinced the tape is from bin Laden, but “they will never be sure,” because “Computer voice analysis lacks the accuracy of fingerprint or DNA identification and can be hamstrung by a skilled impersonator or low-quality recording.” “You can say with some probability, but you can never be sure,” says Kenneth Stevens, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology expert on speech analysis and synthesis. “Where there’s a combination of strong motivation and relatively weak science, there’s an opportunity for deception,” adds Berkovitz. “You can’t put the voice in a slot and have it come out saying, ‘This is Joe Smith.’” [CBS News, 11/13/2002]
bullet One analyst, Matsumi Suzuki of Japan Acoustic Lab, Tokyo, says that, although the recording seems genuine, the speaker sounds ill. [New Scientist, 11/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Matsumi Suzuki, Al-Qaeda, Forensic Tape Analysis, Tomi Kinnunnen, Japan Acoustic Lab, Sensimetrics Corp, Robert Berkovitz, Osama bin Laden, Steve Cain

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The authenticity of a new audio tape purportedly made by bin Laden, in which he praises recent attacks in Bali, Kuwait, Yemen and Moscow (see November 12, 2002), is disputed by Swiss voice analysts. US officials believe the voice is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in Switzerland, one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes, is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/13/2002; BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002; Toronto Star, 12/16/2002] Two weeks after it was broadcast, a British newspaper publishes the complete text of a “letter to the American people,” purportedly written by bin Laden. [Observer, 11/25/2002] However, “diplomats [are] skeptical about the authenticity of the document.” [Guardian, 10/15/2002] The institute will not continue to analyse bin Laden’s speeches (see February 12, 2003).

Entity Tags: Dalle Molle Institute, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Secretary of State Colin Powell obtains an advance transcript of a new audio tape thought to be from Osama bin Laden before it is broadcast on Al Jazeera, but misrepresents the contents to a US Senate panel, implying it shows a partnership between al-Qaeda and Iraq. [CNN, 2/12/2003] Following Powell’s initial claim the tape exists, Al Jazeera says that it has no such tape and dismisses Powell’s statement as a rumor. [Associated Press, 2/12/2003] However, later in the day Al Jazeera says that it does have the tape. [Reuters, 2/12/2003] It is unclear how Powell obtains the advance copy, and Counterpunch even jokes, “Maybe the CIA gave Powell the tape before they delivered it to Al Jazeera?” [CounterPunch, 2/13/2003] In his testimony to the Senate Budget Committee Powell says, “[Bin Laden] speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] Powell’s spokesperson, Richard Boucher, says that the recording proves “that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein seem to find common ground.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 2/12/2003; Washington Post, 11/12/2003] However, although bin Laden tells his supporters in Iraq they may fight alongside the Saddam Hussein, if the country is invaded by the US (see November 12, 2002), he does not express any direct support for the current regime in Iraq, which he describes as “pagan.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] A senior editor for Al Jazeera says the tape offers no evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. “When you hear it, it doesn’t prove any relation between bin Laden or al-Qaeda group and the Iraqi regime,” he argues. [ABC News, 2/12/2003] Several news reports also challenge Powell and Boucher’s interpretation. For example, CNN reveals that the voice had criticized Saddam’s regime, declaring that “the socialists and the rulers [had] lost their legitimacy a long time ago, and the socialists are infidels regardless of where they are, whether in Baghdad or in Aden.” [CNN, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 11/12/2003] Similarly, a report published by Reuters notes that the voice “did not express support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein—it said Muslims should support the Iraqi people rather than the country’s government.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Richard A. Boucher, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Al Jazeera

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Swiss voice analysts at the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence decline to examine a new recording issued by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see February 11 or 12, 2003 and February 12, 2003). The institute previously analyzed a speech made by a man thought to be bin Laden and concluded that the speaker was not actually him (see November 29, 2002). The institute says that the previous analysis was done at the request of a French TV channel and was “mainly motivated by pure scientific curiosity.” It also says that the poor quality of that recording coupled with the limited number of voice examples meant that it was unlikely the recording could ever be properly authenticated. [Swissinfo (.org), 2/12/2003] However, US officials tell CNN that “this tape was of much better quality than the previous one presumed to be from bin Laden, which Al Jazeera broadcast in November.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] The institute does not analyze any later tapes thought to be released by bin Laden.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Dalle Molle Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” [Popular Science, 2/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Tom Owen, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence.The Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence. [Source: Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence]An analysis by Swiss researchers casts doubt on the authenticity of over a dozen of the more recent communications allegedly made by Osama bin Laden. According to a 2009 article in the American Spectator (see March 2009), the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Manno, Switzerland, which does computer voice recognition for bank security, compares the voices on 15 undisputedly authentic earlier recordings of bin Laden with the voices on 15 more recent recordings that have been attributed to the al-Qaeda leader. The researchers find that all of the more recent, alleged bin Laden recordings clearly differ from each other and from the genuine earlier recordings. This would therefore indicate that these more recent recordings have been faked. In contrast to the Dalle Molle Institute, the CIA found all of the recordings to be authentic. Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, will comment, “It is hard to imagine what methodology might support [the CIA’s] conclusion.” [American Spectator, 3/2009] The American Spectator will be the only publication to report this analysis. An analysis by the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in November 2002, of an audio recording allegedly made by bin Laden around that time, concluded that the recording was likely a fake (see November 29, 2002). [Guardian, 11/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Dalle Molle Institute, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, publishes an article entitled “Osama bin Elvis” in the American Spectator arguing that Osama bin Laden is dead. “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama bin Laden,” writes Codevilla. He cites as evidence apparent differences in the facial features of people said to be bin Laden in video messages, problems with voice analysis—an independent Swiss facility found a recording the US attributed to bin Laden was not actually by him (see November 29, 2002), clear changes in bin Laden’s rhetoric after 9/11, problems with the “confession” video (see Mid-November 2001), and numerous reports of his death. According to Codevilla, if bin Laden’s death were popularly acknowledged, it would have serious policy ramificiations for the US. [American Spectator, 3/2009]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Angelo Codevilla

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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