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Dec 16, 2004

More on the New OBL Tape

Let’s talk about all this now with CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. He is in Washington this morning.
Peter, first your take of the significance of this particular — or this latest bin Laden tape?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, three things. This is the fastest turnaround that I can call from any bin Laden audiotape or videotape. I mean, he’s reacting to events that happened 10 days ago, made the tape, got it out to his supporters and now on the Internet.

This is the fastest turnaround that I can recall of any kind of statement from bin Laden reacting to a news event. It indicates to me a certain degree of security. After all, the chain of custody of these tapes is the one way to find bin Laden. He obviously feels secure enough that he can release a number of these tapes.

Another thing I’d point out, Rick, is this, by my count, this is the 29th videotape or audiotape we’ve heard from either bin Laden or his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, since 9/11. It’s extraordinary that the chain of custody of these tapes have not been traced back.

After all, they’re releasing these tapes very frequently: on average, once every six weeks. Yet, it seems that American intelligence agencies and other intelligence agencies are not capable of tracing back the source of these tapes.

SANCHEZ: He seems to have his sights on creating some type of dysfunction within Saudi Arabia, with the people who live in Saudi Arabia. How effective can he be?

And is there already a — is there already something going on in Saudi Arabia that maybe we don’t know about because we don’t have enough reporters there to tell us about it? You have a sense of this, Peter, do you?

BERGEN: Well, you know, we interviewed bin Laden on CNN in ’97, and his principal gripe at the time was really the Saudi royal family. And he’s been very consistent about it. His main political goal is overthrowing the Saudi royal family.

This tape is part of a pattern of other statements he’s made. That project certainly has not been fruitful to date, but certainly bin Laden’s followers have destabilized the kingdom. They’ve jacked up the price of oil, which is a major strategic success for them, by attacking Saudi oil installations and to some degree attacking oil installations in Iraq.

Certainly, his followers have created a great deal of instability. Now we’ve had something like 20 attacks from them, directed at Americans, westerners, oil workers, and also, of course, the Saudi security forces.

SANCHEZ: These latest incidents, the protests that we understand — the protest march, in fact, that is planned and some of the incidents that we’ve been talking about in the last couple of days, where there have been shootings, is this part of what he’s trying to do, or is he reacting to it? Which comes first?

BERGEN: Well, that’s an interesting question. There are other opposition leaders, obviously, who are intent on overthrowing the Saudi government. One of them is based in London, Dr. Saad al-Fagih, who runs something called the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. He has called for protests in the past in the streets of Riyadh, and those protests have happened.

If, indeed, these protests go forward today in Saudi Arabia, this is pretty extraordinary. Public demonstrations do not take place in Saudi Arabia. There are no rights for free speech or free assembly in the kingdom.

So all of this does not necessarily bode particularly well for the Saudi royal family.

SANCHEZ: Peter Bergen with his insight, following the story for many, many years now. Good enough to join us here and share some of that with us. Peter, we thank you for that.

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