October 28, 2004


Alleged Terror Tape Gives ABC Pause: News Division Delays Airing Video as FBI, CIA Evaluate (Howard Kurtz, October 28, 2004, Washington Post)

It has all the makings of an incendiary story: a chilling pre-election videotape featuring a supposed member of al Qaeda, declaring in English that "blood will run red in the streets of America."

The problem, say ABC News executives, is that they can't determine whether the tape, obtained by a producer, involves a real threat -- or even the identity of the figure on it, a man wearing an ammunition belt and a headdress that obscures his face. The network enlisted the aid of the FBI and CIA but still can't authenticate the 75-minute videotape.

"We're not quite there to broadcast something that would be quite frightening," investigative reporter Brian Ross said yesterday. "I'd love to have the exclusive, but first we'd like to get it right."

ABC was put in the awkward position of defending its insistence on fully checking out the story after the Drudge Report posted a huge online headline: "ABC News Holds Terror Warning Tape."

A network producer obtained the tape over the weekend from an intermediary in Pakistan -- who charged a $500 transportation fee -- and ABC's New York headquarters got a feed of the video Monday, network executives said. They said they sent copies to the FBI and CIA, which have been unable to identify the speaker -- who says he is an American and is brandishing automatic weapons -- after comparing his voice to those of known terrorists. ABC hired two linguists who concluded that English was not the speaker's native tongue. For example, he cited the country of Yemen as "the Yemen."

"The dilemma is that we have an individual identified only as 'Assam the American' -- we have no idea who that is," said Christopher Isham, ABC's chief of investigative projects. The unidentified man addresses his threats to "my fellow countrymen."

This makes it seem almost certain that Osama is dead--otherwise wouldn't he star in their big pre-election show?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 28, 2004 10:46 AM

"This makes it seem almost certain that Osama is dead--otherwise wouldn't he star in their big pre-election show?"

Yes -- IF you assume that the tape is an al Qaeda production....

Posted by: curt at October 28, 2004 11:22 AM

"Assam the American". Nice. Well Assam, back in 1962 we had a singer named Ray Stevens, who had a hit song called "Ahab the Arab". I can't for the life of me remember if he was a good guy or bad guy. I long for the days of old.

Posted by: AllenS at October 28, 2004 11:45 AM

Drudge is now reporting that the CIA and FBI have authenticated the tape, and it appears to be from al Qaeda:
"The tape appears to be from al-Qaeda's media liaison organization. It has a banner crediting the Sahab Production Committee. The speaker refers to Bin Ladin and Zawahiri as "our leaders" and praises the 11 September attacks. ... Videotape message likely produced in late summer '04 due to references to current events such as the 9/11 Commission."
Of course, ABC is debating whether to air it, as it might affect the election.

Posted by: jd watson at October 28, 2004 11:49 AM

"Of course, ABC is debating whether to air it, as it might affect the election."

That is, until they figure out if it can help Lurch. Then they'll air it on the double.

Posted by: Oswald Booth Czolgosz at October 28, 2004 11:54 AM

UPDATE: Some facts about Ahab the Arab. He had the hots for a lady named Fatima. When the Sultan caught Ahab in Fatima's tent, he was POed. So Ahab and Fatima jumped on Clyde the camel and they made their gettaway. Ahab was then known as the "sheik of the burnin' sand". Not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but what the hell.

Posted by: AllenS at October 28, 2004 12:14 PM

Quite a week SO FAR -- botched effort by NYT/CBS/UN to swing the election, al Qaeda's (?) effort to do the same, Arafat dead or dying, and Red Sox win a World Series (under a total lunar eclipse). Plenty of time left for more drama.

Posted by: curt at October 28, 2004 12:31 PM

>Plenty of time left for more drama.

After all we've gotten so far, I don't need or want any "more drama".

Posted by: Ken at October 28, 2004 12:37 PM


except Arafat assuming the role of a 'good terrorist'..

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at October 28, 2004 1:17 PM

Seriously, if this is an authentic tape and its the best they can do this week, we're kicking ass. Hope voters get this. Looks to me like we lose OH but can still win if we take CO and one of the Rustbelt states.

Sad to lose NH.

Posted by: JAB at October 28, 2004 7:48 PM

We haven't lost NH yet.

Posted by: Genecis at October 29, 2004 11:41 AM