Exclusive: U.S. Expects Bin Laden Message Near Election
Analysts: OBL Could Speak Out in an Effort to Prove His Relevance
By PIERRE THOMAS
Oct. 30, 2008
Multiple senior government officials tell ABC News the intelligence community is anticipating a message from Osama bin Laden before or just after the presidential election.
As we race toward Election Day, sources say a number of intelligence analysts have concluded it is critical for al Qaeda's top leader to be seen or heard, if only for public relations purposes. Those analysts believe that if bin Laden is not heard from, he runs the risk of being considered irrelevant or impotent. The U.S. intelligence community has some indication that there is some confusion among Islamic radicals about their leadership.
According to sources, the full weight of the intelligence electronic eavesdropping and human sourcing is right now desperately looking for any hint of a bin Laden statement. So far there is only rumor, no hard evidence a message is coming, officials said.
Interestingly, the U.S. government may be the reason why bin Laden could have some problems getting a message out, officials suggested to ABC News.
The United States is engaged in an intensive effort to disrupt the use of the Internet by Islamic radicals. Message boards and Web sites have been targeted. Some officials believe that if bin Laden is not heard from, some will conclude he may be dead.
Another source cautioned against such speculation, suggesting that bin Laden is most concerned about his own safety at the moment, and might increasingly fear for his life.
The sources tell ABC News the U.S. government is quietly engaged in a high-tempo moment attacking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where U.S. officials fear the terrorists have found a safe haven from which to stage plots against Afghanistan, Pakistan and throughout the world, including the West.
A review of published reports about drone attacks in the tribal region suggests the United States may have more than tripled the number this year, compared to 2007, especially in recent months. One official tells ABC News, "We have killed a lot of senior leaders. They [radicals] are having a really bad month."
Another source agreed, noting that in recent weeks the No. 4 ranking leader in all of al Qaeda had been killed in a drone attack. The source said the hit, which was reported in The New York Times, was a huge deal and was surprised it had not gotten more play. The game plan is simple, the officials said. Keep al Qaeda off balance and scrambling.
There had been growing fears, not based on any specific intelligence, that al Qaeda has been likely plotting to attack the United States before the election, or during the transition to a new presidency. Homeland security officials are calling it a Period of Heightened Alert, or POHA, which ABC News first reported in last summer.
Sources confirm that there is an intensive effort all across the U.S. government to play offense. As of now, there is still no specific, credible evidence pointing to an imminent attack on the U.S. homeland. But that's clearly not stopping the government from being incredibly active at what it sees as a critical moment.
In 2004, bin Laden released a message in the days just before the election. Though some believe that the message affected the outcome in favor of President Bush, exit poll data do not support that notion. Among voters who called the tape "very important" in their vote, Kerry won, 53-47 percent. Among those who called it either very or somewhat important, the vote was 50-50. It was among those who called it unimportant that Bush won, by 56-43 percent.
ABC News' Gary Langer contributed to this report.