ASHINGTON, Nov. 18 — United States
intelligence officials have concluded that a recently recorded
audiotape that was broadcast on an Arab television network
last week is genuine and contains the voice of Osama bin
Laden, apparently ending months of debate in the government
over whether the elusive terrorist leader is still alive.
An American intelligence official said today that an
"extensive analysis" of the audiotape conducted over several
days had convinced intelligence experts that the tape "almost
certainly" contained the voice of Mr. bin Laden.
No evidence that the tape is a hoax could be detected, but
intelligence officials say 100 percent certainty is impossible
given the poor quality of the recording.
The tape, on which the voice said to be Mr. bin Laden's
makes several references to recent terrorist attacks, was
recorded sometime within the last several weeks. It has been
examined by experts from the Central Intelligence Agency and
the National Security Agency.
"The intelligence experts do believe that the tape is
genuine," said Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman.
The assessment today that it really is Mr. bin Laden's
voice on the tape came after several days in which officials
had offered more guarded assessments of the tape's
Officials said the more definitive judgment was the result
of an accumulation of evidence that was all pointing in the
same direction, ranging from the opinions of linguists and
translators at the C.I.A. and N.S.A. and Qaeda detainees
familiar with Mr. bin Laden's voice, as well as a digital
analysis of the tape that indicated it had not been altered.
"At this point, there is no evidence to indicate and no
reason to believe that the tape was manufactured or altered,"
an intelligence official said.
The technical analysis included the use of voiceprint
matching, which consists of electronically comparing past
samples of Mr. bin Laden's voice with the voice on the
audiotape. Officials said that the voiceprint was not a 100
percent match, but that it came close.
One obstacle to making an even more definitive voiceprint
match was the poor quality of the recording on the tape.
American experts believe that Mr. bin Laden's message was
recorded or rerecorded over a telephone line at some point.
United States intelligence officials said outside technical
experts had been brought in to help in the process of
determining the tape's authenticity.
The more definitive statement about the tape clearly shows
that the United States intelligence agencies, once divided
over whether the Saudi exile had survived last year's war in
Afghanistan, has now reached a consensus that he is still at
"One of the messages that I think bin Laden is trying to
get out, both to his supporters and to the world, is `I'm
alive,' " said Senator Richard C. Shelby, the Alabama
Republican who is vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
The tape offers the first hard evidence of that since last
December, when Mr. bin Laden was overheard in intercepted
radio transmissions giving orders to Qaeda fighters in the
Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. As time passed without any
hard evidence that he had survived the American bombing
campaign in Afghanistan, some counterterrorism experts in the
government came to believe that he was dead, and President
Bush said publicly several times in recent months that he did
not know whether Mr. bin Laden was dead or alive.
The Saudi exile's re-emergence has prompted a new round of
questions about the amount of progress the United States has
made in the global campaign against terrorism, and whether the
administration has been distracted from fighting Al Qaeda by
its focus on a possible war with Iraq. Late last week, leading
Democrats in Congress, including the Senate majority leader,
Tom Daschle, said the failure to find Mr. bin Laden had called
into question the antiterror effort. "We can't find bin Laden,
we haven't made real progress in finding key elements of Al
Qaeda," Mr. Daschle said.
The administration has dismissed the criticism, and
officials say a series of recent operations in which senior
Qaeda operatives have been captured or killed underscored the
progress they have made in disrupting the terror network's
But administration officials acknowledge that the bin Laden
tape may be a sign that Al Qaeda is planning another wave of
attacks against American and other Western