Somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden probably is smiling -- maybe even with a clean-shaven or reconstructed face.
The architect of mass murder on several continents, the man whose fanaticism, cruelty and leadership have changed the world, has surfaced once again on a new audiotape first aired Thursday on the al Jazeera television network.
The new audiotape marks the 19th time since the attacks of Sept. 11 that bin Laden, the mastermind of the deaths of thousands of Americans and others around the world, has spoken to the world.
Each time, somehow, bin Laden has found a way to smuggle his words and threats from his hideouts in remote Pakistan and Afghanistan and get them to al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
After the new tape, one thing was clear.
"He's alive," said Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief who is now an ABC News consultant. "And some of us had begun to doubt that because we hadn't received an audio or a videotape in 13 months."
What's also fairly clear from bin Laden's continued survival is that he has found a place to hide.
"He's fundamentally alive because he exists in a sanctuary in Pakistan," said former U.S. Army Gen. Jack Keane, now an ABC News consultant.
Keane, deputy chief of the Army when the hunt for bin Laden began, said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was essentially powerless in the remote tribal areas where bin Laden hides.
"There's no rule of law there," Keane said. "There's no police there. There's no enforcement of government authority. There's no true Pakistani authority there. And they are in a sense protected. In every sense of the word, it is a sanctuary."
On the new tape, bin Laden heaps contempt on President Bush, who once pledged to get him "dead or alive," and directly threatens Americans with fresh attacks. Our homeland security preparations, he boasted, mean nothing to him. He says he is patient and will strike again.
"Those operations are under way," bin Laden announced in Arabic. "And you will see them in your midst as soon as they are done, Allah willing."
Clarke said bin Laden's reappearance now was ominous.
"He's saying that attacks will take place very soon in the United States," Clarke said. "That's very specific. That's not the kind of thing that he says, I think, lightly."
Americans may be frightened by the tape -- but they also may wonder why bin Laden remains at large despite an intensive U.S. manhunt.
A former senior officer of the U.S. Special Forces, who spoke to ABC News on condition that his identity be concealed and his voice disguised, said one reason for the failure to decapitate al Qaeda was that the U.S. military bureaucracy got in the way.
"We can't act quickly enough," the officer said. "And that is a geographic or a structural problem, but it's also a bureaucratic problem because you got too many layers."
He added that top al Qaeda leaders and other so-called high-value targets -- such as al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar -- had been spotted since Sept. 11.
"Zawahiri and Mullah Omar, in separate instances, were observed going into a certain location," the officer said. "This is what we call actionable intelligence. And there were conventional Special Forces teams in the area."