Two days before the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush’s domestic security advisor dismissed Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden as “virtually impotent.”
Frances F. Townsend said a video statement from a curiously dark-bearded Bin Laden -- released Thursday -- was genuine and made recently, but she described it as little more than a propaganda device.
In the video, Bin Laden compares the Iraq war to Vietnam and praises the actions of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, who killed nearly 3,000 people by crashing planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Townsend said on “Fox News Sunday”: “Let’s remember almost six years now since September the 11th, we have not seen much of Bin Laden.” She noted this was the third audio or video released of him in as many years. “This is about the best he can do. This is a man on the run, from a cave, who is virtually impotent other than these tapes.”
Bush on Saturday said the tape was a “reminder of the dangerous world in which we live.”
Townsend’s assessment of the terrorist leader -- which she repeated almost word for word in an appearance on CNN’s “Late Edition” -- echoed remarks made last week by the newest GOP presidential hopeful, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who said that Bin Laden was “more symbolism than anything else.”
On Sunday, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) shot back on ABC’s “This Week,” arguing that Bin Laden remained a dangerously charismatic figure with a broad Internet reach and that he must be captured.
“He continues to communicate, he continues to lead and he continues to be a symbol for them of leadership in this radical hatred and evil radical Islamic extremism,” said McCain, who is also seeking the Republican presidential nomination; he pledged that if elected, “I’ll get him. I’ll get him. And we’ve got to get him.”
Kerry, who unsuccessfully challenged Bush for the White House in 2004, said Bin Laden’s video was testimony to “the failure of this administration to capture and kill him.”
“Here’s a man who is sending tapes, influencing the region, influencing and recruiting terrorists, who is still directing from Afghanistan and from Pakistan attacks against the United States,” Kerry said. “And we have some Republican candidates for president who think it’s insignificant? That should disqualify them from being president in the first place.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) expressed concern on “Late Edition” that the Iraq war was taking resources away from the hunt for Bin Laden.
“Every time I see that fugitive terrorist on television taunting America, I think of how wrong this president was in turning away from going after that murderer who murdered our citizens, and moving into Iraq and not having any way of getting us out, while this guy keeps dyeing his beard, apparently, and making new tapes,” she said.
Intelligence experts are analyzing the video for clues to Bin Laden’s health and whereabouts.
There has been speculation about his suddenly dark beard and whether he might be wearing a fake one after having shaved to disguise himself.
Experts are also working to determine whether the tape was released as a signal to Al Qaeda followers to launch another attack, Townsend said.
“There’s nothing overtly obvious in the tape that would suggest that this is a trigger for an attack,” she said. “We haven’t seen to date the use of an audio- or videotape as a trigger for an attack, so we start from that premise.”