Bin Laden - Is He Dead Or Alive?

Newsweek/July 29, 2002
By Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff

President Bush says he wants Osama bin Laden dead or alive. But which is he? The U.S. government's top terrorism experts are divided. Many intelligence analysts believe the Qaeda leader still lives because electronic intercepts have not picked up the kind of "chatter" that would be expected if he had been killed. "I don't think his people could keep a secret," says Rep. Saxby Chambliss, a member of the House intelligence committee. Senior intelligence officials believe his extended absence from public view is not persuasive evidence of his death. "Is he capable of lying low? Absolutely," an intelligence official says.

Yet last week the FBI's highest-ranking antiterror official, Dale Watson, told a law-enforcement conference his personal view (without hard evidence) is that bin Laden is dead. Some officials think the egomaniacal Saudi would have wanted personally to rally his troops by now. Still, White House officials were not pleased by Watson's comments. During a secret 4:30 p.m. videoconference of intelligence chiefs from around the government, the newly installed National Security Council antiterrorism chief, John Gordon, grumbled, "What is this all about?" (Watson was not on-line to hear the rebuke.) Many officials say it would be dangerous to assume that bin Laden is dead. "We have to assume he's alive and act accordingly," says an intelligence source. Indeed, recent intelligence suggests new Qaeda attacks are in the works, though particulars are scant. "It's clear they've got operations in the can," an official says.

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