- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The CIA has conducted a detailed analysis of the videotape of its Feb. 4 killing of three suspected al Qaeda members and determined one of the targets was over 6 feet tall and was wearing Arab garb.

Analysts measured the man's height based on his relations to other objects in the video and determined he was "considerably taller than the people around him," said a U.S. official. Another official put his height at "well over 6 feet."

U.S. officials contend in interviews that the analysis buttresses the Bush administration's conclusion that a Hellfire missile from a CIA-operated Predator drone killed three al Qaeda members, not innocent villagers. Local villagers in the Zhawar Kili region of Afghanistan have told Western reporters that peasant scavenagers were killed. Their heights are reported as under 6 feet tall.

Immediately after the strike, the CIA thought it might have killed Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the September 11 attacks on America. The United States has obtained a sample of DNA from a relative that will be used to identify bin Laden if he is killed or captured.

The U.S. Central Command dispatched a team of Army soldiers to the snowy strike site in a former al Qaeda terrorist training camp, the senior administration official said. The team collected human remains and other evidence, which are now being analyzed in the United States.

"We certainly don't collect remains at every bombing site," said the senior U.S. official.

Subsequent intelligence collection, however, failed to confirm that the remote-controlled Predator had killed the world's most wanted man.

The CIA now believes it killed a prominent al Qaeda member. A military official told The Washington Times last week he believes the strike killed one of the group's finance directors, based on a review of the drone's video and other intelligence.

Administration officials at this point cannot rebut accounts offered by local villagers that the Hellfire attack killed three scavengers. Relatives have supplied the three men's names to reporters. The Afghans say the three had trekked to the mountain location to collect scrap metal for resale in Pakistan.

However, U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the Predator's video say no one tracked by the pilotless plane appeared to be scavenging. Instead, a tall man in a light-colored robe seemed to be conducting meetings while other figures were providing security.

"He's a big guy dressed in white, taller than the rest of them," said the administration official. He said a CIA analyst showed his height at "over 6 feet," perhaps 6-foot-4, the same height as bin Laden. Several other al Qaeda leaders are believed to be over 6 feet, including Egyptian surgeon Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 terrorist.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the ongoing task of finding and attacking small pockets of al Qaeda means the United States sometimes must act on intelligence "that has gaps in it."

"That's the nature of the business that we're in," Mr. Wolfowitz said Sunday on Fox News Channel. "I think it would be important, because we're going to continue operations in Afghanistan for a long time, to understand that we've made judgments based on intelligence that isn't 100 percent perfect. If you wait for 100 percent perfect intelligence, a lot of bad guys are going to get away."

The United States obtained bin Laden DNA from a family member who was residing here last year, the administration official said. The wealthy family owns a huge Saudi Arabian construction company. Some family members have attended American colleges.

But officials say the government does not have a file of DNA for all senior al Qaeda people. One official said such a collection would be a near-impossible intelligence feat.

If the remains collected in Zhawar Kili are not bin Laden's, they may serve as part of a repository for possible future matches, officials said.

The CIA operated Predators over Afghanistan before September 11. The plane hovered around one of bin Laden's favorite mosques near Kandahar and actually spotted him one day. At that point, however, the plane had not been equipped with the Army's Hellfire anti-tank missile.

At the Pentagon yesterday, a defense official told reporters that while al Qaeda has been severely disrupted, it has the ability to activate plans already in place to attack the United States.

"They're very patient," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They will not hestitate to hold off for six months to a year. Right now I think they're still in the process of trying to relocate, to find themselves safe places to operate. That may take them months, if not years, and hopefully we'll stop them from doing it."

This official said the Taliban's eviction from power in Kabul dealt bin Laden's group a severe blow from which it cannot recover.

"The benefits of Afghanistan cannot be underestimated," the official said. "Being on the run, moving, not having a safe haven, clearly [they] cannot operate the way they did before."

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