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.
'He Exists in a Sanctuary'
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."
'We Can't Act Quickly Enough'
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."
But killing or capturing bin Laden and his top lieutenants is a job exclusively designated to a special task force, variously known as Task Force 121 or Task Force 626. No one else can do the deed. And the go order, this officer said, can be a long time coming.
"When you get an actionable intelligence, then that intelligence has to be confirmed," he said. "Once confirmed, then there is a planning cycle that's entered into, three courses of action. Courses of action have to be approved at higher headquarters. Coordination with other elements has to be made. And then, of course, it has to be approved at the highest levels of our government. Well, in this world, people don't stand still that long, particularly people who … know they're being hunted."
In a sense even today, more than four years after Sept. 11, the gloves aren't entirely off in the fight against al Qaeda.
"The Pakistanis certainly are encouraged to do it," Keane said. "The Pakistanis will tell us they are doing it. But the facts speak for themselves."
'Satisfactory Living Conditions'
The former senior officer of the U.S. Special Forces who spoke to ABC News anonymously suggested bin Laden might be living fairly comfortably right now.
"If he's living in the village -- and he probably does move around to different villages and different homes; they have lots [of] money, and there's lots of money in that area, in any event -- I think he's eating very well," the former officer said. "I think he's probably got more than ample and satisfactory living conditions."
He said his old colleagues thought bin Laden might be trying to disguise himself.
"One hears from friends and colleagues and so on that he has changed his appearance significantly, maybe even had some reconstructive facial surgery, shaved," he said. "I think in my own personal opinion, that's why we have not seen a video of him in well over a year."
Clarke says that bin Laden's direct command of al Qaeda may be weakened by his isolation, but that may be a small consolation.
"He probably doesn't have much of an operational capability left," Clarke said. "But how much does it take? It took 19 people to do 9/11."
ABC News' Terry Moran originally reported this story for "Nightline" on Jan. 19, 2006.