CIA, FBI Authenticate New Al Qaeda Video
The CIA and FBI late Wednesday authenticated a disturbing new al Qaeda videotape which warns the next terror attack will dwarf 9/11. “The streets will run with blood,” and “America will mourn in silence” because they will be unable to count the number of the dead, a man claims on the video. Further claims on the video: America has brought this on itself for electing George Bush who has made war on Islam by destroying the Taliban and making war on Al Qaeda.
ABCNEWS obtained the tape from a source in Waziristan, Pakistan over the weekend. The network has withheld airing it, initially citing concerns over its authenticity.
One senior federal official alleged ABCNEWS is now holding back from broadcasting any portion of the video out of fear it will be seen as a political move by the network during election week. One ABC source, who demanded anonymity, said Thursday morning, the network was struggling to find a correct journalistic “balance.” “This is not something you just throw out there while people are voting,” the ABC source explained. A second ABC source told DRUDGE: “We continue to report this story aggressively.”
As I noted when this story broke yesterday, I’m not really sure what the political implications are. It could easily break either way.
I tend to agree with Donald Sensing as to the importance of the tape as a counter-terror tool. Al Qaeda advertises its strategy, not its tactics. They never warn of an imminent attack.
Update (1311): WaPo’s Howie Kurtz has an interesting examination of the backstory: “Alleged Terror Tape Gives ABC Pause.”
“We’re not quite there to broadcast something that would be quite frightening,” investigative reporter Brian Ross said yesterday. “I’d love to have the exclusive, but first we’d like to get it right.” ABC was put in the awkward position of defending its insistence on fully checking out the story after the Drudge Report posted a huge online headline: “ABC News Holds Terror Warning Tape.”
A network producer obtained the tape over the weekend from an intermediary in Pakistan — who charged a $500 transportation fee — and ABC’s New York headquarters got a feed of the video Monday, network executives said. They said they sent copies to the FBI and CIA, which have been unable to identify the speaker — who says he is an American and is brandishing automatic weapons — after comparing his voice to those of known terrorists. ABC hired two linguists who concluded that English was not the speaker’s native tongue. For example, he cited the country of Yemen as “the Yemen.” “The dilemma is that we have an individual identified only as ‘Assam the American’ — we have no idea who that is,” said Christopher Isham, ABC’s chief of investigative projects. The unidentified man addresses his threats to “my fellow countrymen.”
In weighing the evidence, ABC staffers are mindful of the problem at CBS News, which has apologized for rushing on the air with disputed documents about President Bush’s National Guard service. Ross and other ABC staffers say they believe that a Bush administration official leaked the story to Internet gossip Matt Drudge as a way of pressuring the network into airing the tape, which would heighten concerns about terrorism in the final week of the president’s reelection campaign. They note that whoever gave the information to Drudge had a transcript of the tape.
It strikes me as far more likely that the same people who sold ABC the tape–for only $500!–got it to Drudge. After all, the tape was obviously made in expectation that it would be broadcast before the U.S. election. With ABC showing uncharacteristic concern for getting the story right, the source likely got impatient.