Newsday: Pentagon releases new bin Laden video

May 8, 2011

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials Saturday released five videos seized in last week’s raid that show sharply contrasting images of Osama bin Laden: A commanding leader with a black beard speaking directly to the camera, and a hunched-over man with an unkempt gray beard watching himself on a small television set.

The U.S. government released the videos at an unusual Saturday briefing at the Pentagon at which it said its review so far of a large cache of materials clearly shows that bin Laden was still in charge of al-Qaida.

The video release also provides further proof that bin Laden is dead and is a direct attack on the heroic image that the al-Qaida leader “jealously guarded” and presented to the rest of the world, according to a senior intelligence official.

“The videos make clear that bin Laden remained active in al-Qaida terrorist propaganda operations, especially in shaping his own image,” the official said.

The videos appear to show that the image bin Laden put forward was literally made up.

In the four videos bin Laden taped either as statements or as practice for statements for public distribution, his beard is dyed black, a point the official cited during the briefing. His beard was gray at the time he was killed, the official said.

In the fifth clip, bin Laden can be seen touching his gray untrimmed beard. That video shows him channel surfing for news about himself on TV. But bin Laden quickly changes channels when an image of President Barack Obama appears on the screen.

The videos were selected by U.S. officials from a trove of material and released without audio to avoid spreading bin Laden’s word, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The videos represent the first items publicly disclosed from the cache of computers, hard drives, paper records and handwritten notes collected from the compound in Pakistan where U.S. commandos killed bin Laden.

“The materials reviewed over the past several days clearly show that bin Laden remained an active leader in al-Qaida, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group,” the official said. “He was far from a figurehead. He was an active player.”

The official declined to say whether the materials showed any links between bin Laden and any disrupted plots that occurred in recent years, or whether he had contacts with Pakistan’s government.

Analysis have not yet confirmed where or when most of the videos were made, the official said. The video of his formal statement was made some time between Oct. 9 and Nov. 5, 2010, the official said.

But a brown armoire in the background of one clip appears similar to an armoire seen at the compound in Abbottabad, the official said. And the videos appear to be highly unlikely to have been in the possession of anyone other than bin Laden.

The most striking clip shows an unvarnished bin Laden, huddled under a blanket with a remote in his right hand clicking through stations looking for videos of himself.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the videos show bin Laden’s “hypocrisy.”

“It’s almost like he’s the Wizard of Oz,” said King, comparing bin Laden to the old man hiding behind the curtain as he operates an intimidating but artificial head.