BILL HEMMER: A bit earlier today, we heard a new warning from Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, urging jihad against Israelis over the offensive in Gaza, but there is no videotape of bin Laden's threat. One still picture over his voice. Why is that significant? Steve Emerson, Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of "Jihad Incorporated," my guest now. Steve, good evening.
STEVEN EMERSON: Good evening.
HEMMER: When is the last time we heard from him?
EMERSON: May of last year. Again, it was an audiotape, verified to be him, but very curiously, this was the fourth audiotape in three and a half years. No videotapes during that period indicating…
HEMMER: So we went for six or seven months without hearing from him? Was that a change or was that significant?
EMERSON: Yes, I think – I expected to hear from him during the Mumbai attacks, because it was LeT – Laskhar-e-Taiba – that perpetrated the attack, and that, of course, is a group trained by Al Qaeda. He didn't say anything. In this particular tape, he waited 18 days after the conflict started, I think, just to prove his relevance, and also to do fundraising, and to let the word out that Iran is not the only player in the world standing up to the United States.
HEMMER: Did he reference Mumbai in this message today?
EMERSON: No, he did not – and that's particular.
EMERSON: Well, because one would have thought that – one half of the tape was his challenge to the U.S. saying, "You haven't defeated me. I'm still around, we still are carrying out operations." I would have thought he would have listed the operations, the suicide bombing in – against the embassy in Yemen, the Mumbai attacks, the one in Pakistan. He didn't mention any of this.
HEMMER: You mentioned eighteen days since the Gaza offensive broke out. Is there significance to that too? A suggestion, that maybe it's hard for him to get a tape out?
EMERSON: Maybe it is hard for him to even find out what is going on, and then, of course, to get a tape out. Considering that it is eighteen days to get an audiotape out, can you imagine how difficult it would be, if not impossible, to get a videotape out, unless he was trying to cover up his physical condition, which you alluded to before the break, which we could speculate that he is in declining health and has been for a while, as evidenced by his health – the listlessness of his voice – plus the fact that he has been rumored to be on dialysis or to have a kidney problem for the last eight years.
HEMMER: To that end, they said he had no energy and sounded isolated that may prove your point there, too. Why no videotape? It clearly would be a way to track him down easier, but if you are suggesting that the last four messages he has given has all been on audio, and maybe a still picture of him, and that's it.
EMERSON: Well, that's an interesting question. I mean, to get a videotape, he has got to actually have some sort of a camera, and an ISD line or broadband access. It can't be a regular telephone line because we know there are websites – bin Laden websites – where his tape appeared. So I think it's because he's afraid of being tracked, having it "walked back," so to speak, to determine where he is, and also because he's so isolated. No one expected this, that he could be in a cave for eight years and not surface, even though there have been reports of him talking to Ayman al-Zawahiri in intelligence reports, that he would actually be that disciplined.
HEMMER: Now we know what people like you listen to in these tapes and that's code words or any sort of language that might be some sort of a clue. Was there any here?
EMERSON: Well, I felt his challenge – first of all, one, his message to the Palestinians is "Don't surrender, and don't sign a cease-fire." That's because he was losing out to Iran, which was calling the shots. Number two, he needed to make himself relevant. He hasn't been relevant basically for the last eight months, and this is the best way of doing it, and three, I think there have been enough rumors floating around in the region and in intelligence. I know I received a report from MI-5 last year saying that they were certain that he was 90% dead. It didn't reflect all the analysis but a lot of them. Maybe he was afraid that this was seeping in.
HEMMER: You said something about Iran there. Are you suggesting he is in competition with Iran for either attention or money?
EMERSON: Absolutely. Well, he couldn't compete with money. And Iran has lost a lot of money because of the oil crash and everything else, but he certainly – al Qaeda has operated a cell in Gaza in the last year, which was a coup for him, but of course, Iran really controls Hamas and funds them to the tune of 90%. Here, Hamas was basically rousing up the Arab world, going against all of the established leaders, asking the masses to revolution and also calling for Hamas to keep fighting. That's the same message he delivered today, but eighteen days late.
HEMMER: Steve Emerson, thank you for your expertise. Good having you on.
HEMMER: Thank you Steve, out of Washington.