With Osama Bin Laden Videos, U.S. Is Managing the Message

By presenting a frail, fallible bin Laden, U.S. counteracts al Qaeda message.

ByABC News
May 8, 2011, 6:23 PM

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2011— -- The U.S. government's calculated effort to release just five videos of Osama bin Laden is its attempt to turn around the propaganda war.

With the videos, including one of the gray-bearded terrorist huddled in a blanket watching himself on television, the United States is hoping that the few minutes of video will help shatter a decade of mythmaking.

"This shows the reality. This man is not a fighter. This man is not carrying his AK-47. He is an individual that is isolated, living with women and children," 40-year CIA veteran Charlie Allen said.

Click here to watch the 5 Osama bin Laden home videos released.

Allen said the clips of bin Laden, including his missed cue and the lights going out, all serve to debunk the image bin Laden worked years to create.

"I think the administration has done a very intelligent thing," he said. "The whole view is to try to take away some of his mystique, some of this great idea that is a great spiritual leader of al Qaeda globally."

Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Jack Cloonan echoed Allen's assessment.

"The first image that we were talking about is trying to say, 'Look, this isn't the guy that you think he is. He isn't the leader. He doesn't look young. He doesn't look vibrant,'" Cloonan said. "And if we were trying to encourage recruitments, given what's happened in the so-called Arab Spring, I don't think that is the image that would entice people to join, frankly."

Even without the release of the bin Laden tapes, there are indications that his message was already losing influence throughout the Arab world. In the past months there have been popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya, all calling for democracy not bin Laden's radical version of Islam.

According to former acting CIA director John McLaughlin, these uprising do not play into al Qaeda's plan.

"They're on the losing end of what's going on in the Middle East," McLaughlin said. "No one's carrying around al Qaeda placards on the streets in places like Egypt and Tunisia."

Cloonan said there may be a larger narrative behind the United States' decision to release the tapes.

"We believe, and very strongly, that some level of the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was," Cloonan said. "If he was living in this compound for five, six, or seven years, somebody -- some elements of the ISI had to know that. So we put this image out. We see him in his living room, and I think that's the message. 'Come on guys. Fess up. If you knew he was there, come on. Tell us.'"

The videos that were released to the public are only a small fraction of the material now in the possession of the United States. A government official said the amount of files could fill a small college library.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour," President Obama's National Security adviser, Tom Donilon continued to refine the story of what happened during the raid.

"He didn't surrender, and moved away from our forces," Donilon said. "You know, and at that point, he's a threat to our forces. Given the technique that we know and our forces made an absolutely appropriate judgment."

On Monday, John Brennan, another of Obama's national security advisers told the press that bin Laden was "engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in."

Bin Laden was not armed and the White House has revised claims that he lived in a mansion and was shielded by women. Experts say they believe that the early reports that have subsequently been corrected were just the fog of war, and not efforts to spin information as propaganda.