JIM LEHRER: A most chilling videotape was made public today. The pentagon released a tape of Osama bin Laden discussing the successful attacks of September 11. Administration officials said it makes clear that bin Laden was the mastermind behind the operation. Ray Suarez begins our report.
RAY SUAREZ: The tape bore a label indicating it was made on November 9. Administration officials wouldn't reveal exactly how or when they got it, except to say it was found in a house in Jalalabad after anti-Taliban forces moved in. The U.S. Government translated the Arabic conversation and provided subtitles. The tape, which has a home video quality, shows bin Laden sitting on the floor in a bare room in a house in Kandahar. With him are several other men, including two aides and an unidentified cleric, or Sheikh. Bin Laden, identified on screen as UBL, made it clear he planned the September 11 attacks.
Bin Laden says, "We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. Due to my experience in this field I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only." (Translated) "This is all that we had hoped for."
The Sheikh replies, "Allah be praised."
Osama bin Laden continues: "We were at - (inaudible...) -- when the event took place, we had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on." (Translated) "It was 5:30 PM our time. I was sitting with Dr. Ahmed Abu-al-Khair. Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington. The news continued and no mention of the attack until the end. At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center."
Again, the Sheikh replies: "Allah be praised."
Bin Laden continues: "After a little while they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center." "The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it."
Now the Sheikh continues: "I listened to the news and I was sitting. We didn't - we were not thinking about anything, and all of a sudden, Allah willing, we were talking about how come we didn't have anything, and all of a sudden the news came and everyone was overjoyed, and everyone, until the next day in the morning was talking about what was happening. And we stayed until 4 o'clock listening to the news, every time a little bit different. Everyone was very joyous and saying, 'Allah is great. Allah is great. We are thankful to Allah. Praise Allah.'" "And I was happy for the happiness of my brothers. That day the congratulations were coming on the phone non-stop." (Translated) "The mother was receiving phone calls continuously, 'Thank Allah. Allah is great.'"
RAY SUAREZ: An aide to bin Laden, identified as Sulayman or Abu Guaith, expressed joy at learning of the attacks. "I was sitting with the Sheikh in a room. Then I left to go to another room where there was a TV set. The TV broadcasted the big event. The scene was showing an Egyptian family sitting in a living room. They exploded with joy. You know when there's a soccer game and your team wins; it was the same expression of joy. There was a subtitle that read 'In revenge for the children of Al Aqsa: Osama bin Laden executes an operation against America,' so when I went back to the Sheikh," meaning Osama bin Laden, "who was sitting in a room with fifty to sixty people, I tried to tell him about what I saw, but he made a gesture with his hands, meaning, I know, I know."
Bin Laden responds: "He did not know about the operation. Not everybody knew. Muhammad," that is, Attah, "from the Egyptian family" meaning the Al-Qaida Egyptian group - "was in charge of the group."
The Sheikh replies: "A plane crashing into a tall building is out of anyone's imagination. This was a great job. He was one of the pious men in the organization. He became a martyr. Allah bless his soul."
Bin Laden speaks: "The brothers who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation, and we asked each of them to go to America. But they didn't know anything about the operation - not even one letter." (Translated) "But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there, just before they boarded the planes." Then he said, "Those who were trained to fly didn't know the others. One group of people did not know the other group. We were at a camp of one of the brother's guards in Kandahar. They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building, so I said to them, 'Be patient. The difference between the first and the second plane hitting the towers was 20 minutes.'" (Translated) "And the difference between the first plane and the plane that hit the Pentagon was one hour."
The Sheikh responds: "They" - that is the Americans - "were terrified, thinking there was a coup."
RAY SUAREZ: At the beginning of the meeting, the cleric thanked bin Laden for the operation and said it was a great success. And bin Laden said the attacks helped recruit followers. "In Holland, at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last eleven years. I heard someone on Islamic radio who owns a school in America say, 'We don't have time to keep up with the demands of those who are asking about Islamic books to learn about Islam.'" (Translated) "This event made people think about true Islam, which benefited Islam greatly."
RAY SUAREZ: The tape, which was about an hour long, included other footage besides the meeting. Bin Laden's forces are seen at the site where a U.S. helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan in October. They displayed various parts of the aircraft for the camera. At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the tape provided insights into bin Laden and his actions.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I suppose one can come away from looking at not just this tape, but his general behavior over time, he clearly has a large network. He clearly has a well-financed network. It covers many, many countries across the globe. He's a careful planner. They also are clearly able to put things in compartments and let only certain people know certain things. He's also perfectly willing to do almost anything anyone can imagine to kill people. Do I expect that he has other plans? Sure. Do I expect that he has places he thinks he might be able to go, someplace other than where he is if that becomes uncomfortable? Sure, I suspect that.