- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

While the media cast Enron as either political or financial scandal, one story remains constant: Osama bin Laden is still the bad guy with a ready audience. Thus, the Osama Watch continues, for better or worse.
On Tuesday, an ABC News report claimed the CIA had concluded "bin Laden had slipped the noose" and "remains one step ahead of the United States, his terror network still intact."
The terrorist had escaped Afghanistan on a ship in December and even left a tape-recorded message to confuse U.S. forces, ABC said, basing its report on "an intelligence analysis sent to the CIA director" and pronouncing the event "a major setback to the war on terrorism."
With few blockbuster headlines these days, this is strong stuff. The story was picked up, embellished in print and broadcast around the world.
But it's all wrong, according to the CIA.
"ABC News reported on the evening of Jan. 14 that the CIA believes Osama bin Laden has 'escaped from Afghanistan and has gone beyond Pakistan,' most likely by sea. This is incorrect," said CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. "We have reached no such conclusion. ABC did not contact the agency about this allegation before airing it."
The dust-up may come down to a single word, though. One source said the CIA was irked over the network's multiple use of the word "concluded," which lent considerable gravitas to their report. But ABC is not backing down.
"We stand by our story," spokeswoman Cathie Levine said yesterday.
ABC is not the first to theorize that bin Laden has floated away. Their report only adds to the complex web of media intrigue.
On Jan. 12, the Debkafile, an Israeli intelligence analysis Web site (www.debka.com) reported that bin Laden, his family and thousands of al Qaeda fighters had "made good their escape from Afghanistan through the illicit sea route created by Lebanese-Iranian superterrorist Imad Mughniyeh" hidden inside containers aboard six to eight cargo vessels.
Debka was succinct: The time was the first week in December, the ship in question was a ferry boat, the eventual destination was "a Persian Gulf port, one of the Yemeni or Saudi Red Sea ports, the Horn of Africa or East Africa."
The report concluded, "These discoveries make it clear that Iran was up to its neck in the al Qaeda escape conspiracy."
Meanwhile, the oft-incestuous relationships of broadcast news continues. CBS has laid exclusive claim to one more bin Laden "smoking gun" by airing portions of a six-hour al Qaeda videotape last night. The network claimed it had "obtained a videotape that shows followers of Osama bin Laden training for terrorist attacks around the world" and that the tape would make its "debut."
In reality, the tape was first obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. from a former U.S. Special Forces soldier now advising the Afghan military and aired Sunday night. CBS simply outbid rival networks for the rights to air the footage.
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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