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CIA looks for signals in Bin Laden video

by : Tony Allen-Mills
Monday November 1, 2004 - 19:59

by Tony Allen-Mills, Columbus, Ohio

UNRELEASED portions of a new videotape from Osama Bin Laden were being examined by American intelligence officials yesterday as election campaign strategists vowed to prevent the Al-Qaeda leader’s surprise re-emergence from disrupting the final two days of the presidential race.

The Central Intelligence Agency and other government officials were searching for signs that Bin Laden may have been seeking to trigger a terrorist attack in the hope of disrupting President George W Bush’s bid for re-election on Tuesday.

One American official was quoted as saying that even if Bin Laden gave no obvious sign of an impending outrage, his inflammatory reappearance at a critical juncture in a tight presidential campaign might encourage his supporters to act. “Having him show up and lay a catalogue of grievances at the feet of the American government is incitement,” the official said.

Only short passages from the 18-minute tape were broadcast by Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite network. But they triggered a scramble in both election camps as Bush and Senator John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, weighed the impact of a terrorist scare on the final days of the campaign.

Both sides acknowledged that they could not predict with confidence how Bin Laden’s intervention would affect the race.

The latest Newsweek poll, conducted over three days and completed after Bin Laden’s video address, put Bush six points ahead of Kerry. Other national opinion polls showed Bush leading Kerry by 49% to 46% on average.

However, polls in swing states suggested a neck-and-neck race. Although Bush was ahead in Florida - where victory by 537 votes sent him to the White House in 2000 - Kerry maintained a narrow lead in the hotly contested states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Kerry also moved ahead yesterday in polls in Wisconsin and Minnesota. A projection of the result in the electoral college that chooses the president confirmed that the result is too close to call, with Bush on 270 votes and Kerry on 268.

With a near tie in the electoral college count, the four votes held by Hawaii assumed an importance that had not been foreseen until recently. Dick Cheney, the vice-president, will depart for Honolulu today in the hope of taking advantage of an apparent swing to Bush.

Al Gore, the former Democratic candidate, is in Hawaii trying to shore up Democrat support along with Kerry’s daughter, Alex.

After an initial exchange of barbed insults over the Bin Laden tape, it appeared that both sides were edging away from confrontation yesterday for fear of being accused of exploiting the threat of terrorism.

In his first response on Friday, Kerry had repeated his charge that incompetence by Bush had allowed Bin Laden to escape from the mountains of Tora Bora after the American invasion of Afghanistan.

Campaigning in Ohio on Friday night with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California governor, Bush called his rival’s comments “especially shameful in the light of a new tape from America’s enemy”.

Kerry later backed away from the Tora Bora charge and insisted that Americans were “absolutely united” in their determination to destroy Bin Laden.

Democrats had long feared that a last-minute terrorist scare would nudge undecided voters to Bush. But some aides argued that Bin Laden’s appearance helped Kerry more because it would remind Americans of the president’s failure to catch him.

With two days left, both candidates used celebrity appeal to mobilise supporters and attract any remaining swing voters. Kerry was joined by Bruce Springsteen in Ohio and Florida, and Bush appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the popular Republican governor of California, at one of the rowdiest events of his campaign.

Schwarzenegger had been reluctant to campaign for Bush for fear of alienating the moderate Democrats who have supported him in California. But the former Austrian muscleman agreed to make an appearance in Ohio, where he won his first world bodybuilding title.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/articl...



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