SPENCER MICHELS: The latest communication allegedly from bin Laden was posted on a Web site that functions as a digital message board for Islamic radicals. In the hour-long audio recording, bin Laden praised last week's attack on a U.S. consulate in Saudi Arabia which killed five consular employees. None was American.
OSAMA BIN LADEN (Translated): We hope that God will bless the Mujahadeen who stormed the American consulate in Jiddah. How can they want to enjoy safety while they inflict destruction and killings on our people in Palestine and Iraq?
SPENCER MICHELS: Bin Laden also called for the ouster of the Saudi royal family. Six weeks ago, just before the U.S. presidential elections, a bin Laden video surfaced.
In it, a formally dressed and seemingly fit bin Laden took direct responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks for the first time. Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked about the al-Qaida leader this morning.
COLIN POWELL: We're going to continue to hunt for him until he is captured and brought to justice. But let's wait and see the authenticity of this tape, and give our intelligence communities time to really examine it, make sure it is bin Laden.
It appears to be. But what he's trying to do is to incite. And he's on the run, and he will be brought to justice eventually, I'm confident.
SPENCER MICHELS: But last week Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff said that the search for bin Laden and his top deputy, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, was at a near standstill.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARAFF: I know that he is alive, but I don't know where he is. And we don't know where he is since many months.
SPENCER MICHELS: Both men are thought to be hiding in the Pakistani tribal lands along the border with Afghanistan. The tribes are thought to be aiding bin Laden and his followers. .. American troops and clandestine operators continue to hunt the al-Qaida leaders in Eastern Afghanistan.
But Pakistan has forbidden the Americans to cross the border to pursue the enemy in retreat. They have also denied reports that the CIA has established bases in Pakistan to facilitate the search for bin Laden.
JIM LEHRER: More on the state of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida now, from Daniel Benjamin, a director for transnational threats at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He co-authored "The Age of Sacred Terror" about the rise of al-Qaida.
And Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit; he recently authored "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror."
Mr. Scheuer, first, how do you read the significance of this tape today?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: In several ways, sir. Bin Laden has returned in this message to where he started. He started in Saudi Arabia as a dissident against the al Saud family. And he comes back today kind of full circle to where he started.
He was once a peaceful dissident, only turning to violence after American troops were deployed there for the first Gulf War. Clearly he wanted to support, there were demonstrations scheduled to occur in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis arrested all of the would-be demonstrators.
So I think bin Laden wanted to put his oar in the water today in order to reassure people within the kingdom that he was well aware of the police state that's being run by the Saudis, and that he intends to at some point rid the country of that family.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. Benjamin, that there was a very targeted type of audience here of the people in Saudi Arabia?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Very much so. And I think that by and large we often interpret bin Laden's messages as being directed towards us, and they're almost always towards part of the Muslim community. I agree with a lot of what Michael said.
I would add that most of the attacks that we have seen in Saudi Arabia since May of 2003 when the violence broke out has been less than successful, I think, from the Jihadist perspective, and that is that most of the people have been killed have been either Muslims or at a minimum non-Americans.
And bin Laden may have been trying to give a bit of a moral boost to those groups for trying at least to attack the Jiddah consulate.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Mr. Scheuer, I know both of you guys are tired of answering the question I'm now going to ask you both, beginning with you. Where is this guy, Osama bin Laden? Why can't anybody find him?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Well, he's certainly on the border somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: No question about that?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Not in my mind, sir, but I'm a bear of little brain, I could be wrong. But he lives in an area that has the highest mountains on earth, the most rugged terrain; populations on both sides of the border are friendly to him for a number of reasons.
He has stood by the Afghans since the Soviet invasion in 1979. He is amongst a culture that values perhaps more than anything protecting their guests. And he is not withstanding what American politicians say the really only credible leader in the Islamic world and certainly the only heroic figure in the Islamic world.
For that assortment of reasons, I think he's very difficult to find, and I think there's going to be a certain amount of serendipity if we do capture him.
JIM LEHRER: Dan Benjamin, how do you think he - or do you know how he gets these recordings done and gets them distributed and gets them on the Internet? How does that all happen?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: I don't know the specific logistics, but I assume it's not too terribly hard for him to make an audio tape wherever he is and then have a series of couriers pass it on one to the other and then it finally is delivered to say the al Jazeera bureau in Peshawar or somewhere else in Pakistan.
I don't think that is the most difficult thing that he has on his plate right now.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to what Michael Scheuer just said about why he can't be found?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Well, I think Michael actually covered most of it.
I would add that bin Laden probably had something of a -- of an advantage in that we diverted intelligence and special forces resources to another theater, to Iraq, and during that lull in the activity in 2002, 2003 and probably continues to this day, he was able to essentially set up an awful lot of early warning systems in the various villages among loyalists who could warn him of movements that were directed at him.
So I think he's probably got a pretty good personal security setup going.
JIM LEHRER: What can you add, Mr. Benjamin, to what Spencer Michels said in our opening piece about what Pakistan is or is not allowing the United States to do in the search for bin Laden?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Well, actually one hears a lot of conflicting things about this. I was speaking to one government official the other day who was actually expressing some surprise that the Pakistanis had been as helpful as they have been.
It is true that President Musharaff is walking a tight rope, and that he has within his own country many, many people who are very supportive of bin Laden and therefore people who also really don't want to see the United States operating on Pakistani soil.
And he needs to be careful not to overstep there. It's very hard without being on the ground or deep in the government to know exactly where the red lines are.
JIM LEHRER: What do you know about the red lines, Mr. Scheuer?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: I know, sir, that I would have lost my pension because I would have bet President Musharaff would not have done half of what was he has done for us so far. Pakistan's national interests are not remotely the same as those of America on the issue of Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan.
And I entirely agree with Mr. Benjamin. President Musharaff is about one step ahead of the locomotive, and he's gone just about as far as he can go. And I think the fact that the Pakistani military has taken more casualties than our military in Afghanistan speaks to that issue.
I also support, Mr. Benjamin is exactly right, the war in Iraq, whatever the threat was from Saddam, and I'm not an expert on that at all, sir, but it broke our back in terms of counter terrorism.
JIM LEHRER: Now, speaking of broken backs, what's your reading of the state of al-Qaida, the organization that Osama bin Laden supposedly heads as we speak?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Well, I would think that today's message having been produced to accord with the specific event that was to occur in Saudi Arabia and to note the occurrence of the attack on the American consulate in Jiddah should give pause to people who argue that he is somehow disconnected from his organization and doesn't have command and control.
I think we've hit al-Qaida very hard, the U.S. Special Forces and especially the clandestine service of the United States. But al-Qaida is much bigger than most of our policy makers and politicians give it credit for, and it has a tremendous ability to replicate at the leadership level. And so I think there's still a very big threat to the United States.
I think Secretary Powell hit it right on the head today when he said that bin Laden was trying to instigate, bin Laden has always seen that as his role, his major role, is to instigate other Muslims. Secretary Powell also had it exactly dead wrong when he said that bin Laden is on the run. Bin Laden is comfortably ensconced somewhere, sir, he's not moving from rock to rock and cave to cave.
JIM LEHRER: Is he running al-Qaida, is he calling the operational shots?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: I think to the extent that he has ever wanted complete command and control over the organization, I think he does in those areas, specifically the al-Qaida forces targeted on the United States.
The second thing on the distribution and management of funding, and the third thing I think he's directly in control of the apparatus that takes care of media presentations.
JIM LEHRER: Does that jibe with your understanding of what's going on, Dan Benjamin?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Pretty much. I would add to that, though, that there's al-Qaida the core group and there is al-Qaida, if you will, the Jihadist movement. And there's an awful lot going on that transcends that core group, and that's something that we really need to be very worried about.
There are an awful lot of militant groups, militant operatives out there who were inspired by what bin Laden did on 9/11 and who saw the invasion of Iraq in much the same way that al-Qaida does, which is an example of U.S. ambitions to repress and even destroy Islam, however much we may have seen ourselves as liberators.
And this has galvanized this movement tremendously. And the ideology is spreading; we see people who have had no connection with al-Qaida in the past wanting to adopt the ideology, and indeed the tactical approach. So there is al-Qaida, there is bin Laden and there's a lot more than that to grapple with.
JIM LEHRER: On the specific threat of al-Qaida to targets in the United States, Dan Benjamin, how would you read that as we speak tonight?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Well, of course this is the $64,000 question. And it's very hard to come up with an intelligent answer, because there's so much we don't know.
The fact is most of the prosecutions that have been carried on since 9/11 have been against wannabes, against people who were inspired by what bin Laden had done and who were caught somehow either trying to make their way to Afghanistan to get some training or coming back, or even just talking about different kinds of operations.
We have uncovered very little real operational activity directed by al-Qaida from abroad in the United States. Now that means one of two things, either it's not here or we can't find it.
JIM LEHRER: How would you answer that, Mr. Scheuer: It's not here or we can't find it?
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Mr. Lehrer, I don't think we've found it. But there is a tendency in the last several years to think that if they haven't attacked us they can't. And I think that's probably incorrect.
The borders to the United States remain pretty much open to whoever can summon up the moxie to cross them illegally. And bin Laden has been at this now for the better part of 20 years; he's a patient man, and his al-Qaida itself and many of its affiliates are very much middle class, upper middle class people who are well educated, could get a visa into the United States to go to university, to work here.
So absence doesn't mean the absence of threat. It just means we haven't found them, sir. And I think it's in some ways a tribute to their being a very professional organization, and not one that's easily intimidated.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Gentlemen, we'll leave it there. Thank you both very much.
MICHAEL SCHEUER: Thank you, sir.