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Context of '2007: Swiss Researchers Question Authenticity of Later Bin Laden Messages'

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Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles.Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles. [Source: US Department of Defense]A conversation between Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda spokesman Suliman abu Ghaith, and Khaled al-Harbi, a veteran of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Bosnia, is videotaped. A portion of the taped conversation is later said to be found by the US and will be used as evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. [Unknown, 2001; Guardian, 12/13/2001; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-9] According to a translation released by the Pentagon, the man said to be bin Laden says: “[W]e 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… (inaudible)… 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. This is what we had hoped for.” He continues: “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. It was 5:30 p.m. our time.… Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington.… At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.… 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.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The release of the tape, which is said to be found by US intelligence officers in Jalalabad, will be a major news story, and the tape will be taken by the media as proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11. President Bush will comment, “For those who see this tape, they’ll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will add, “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt.” [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/16/2001] However, the tape will later be disputed from three points of view:
bullet The accuracy of the translation will be questioned (see December 20, 2001). For example, the man thought to be bin Laden does not say “we calculated in advance the number of casualties,” but “we calculated the number of casualties”;
bullet An analyst will conclude that the tape was actually made earlier as a part of a US-run sting operation (see (September 26, 2001));
bullet Some commentators will question whether the person in the video is actually bin Laden (see December 13, 2001).
In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview al-Qaeda figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April, June, or August 2002). In a 2003 book he will co-write, Fouda will claim that he asked an unnamed al-Qaeda operative who was setting up the interview if the bin Laden video was fake. This person will supposedly reply: “No. The tape, the brothers said—I am not sure whether they left it behind or not—but the Sheikh [bin Laden], yes, was talking to someone from Mecca.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 135]

Entity Tags: Jack Straw, George W. Bush, Khaled al-Harbi, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bush administration (43), Suliman abu Ghaith, Yosri Fouda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following six attacks by different radical Islamic groups in Tunisia (see April 11, 2002), Pakistan, Yemen (see October 6, 2002), Kuwait, Bali (see October 12, 2002), and Moscow, a new audio message is released by a man said by some to be Osama bin Laden, although the identity of the speaker will be disputed (see November 29, 2002). The voice on the tape outlines a principle he says he and his allies are using: reciprocity. He comments: “If it pains you to see your victims and your allies’ victims in Tunisia, Karachi, Failaka, and Oman, then remember that our children are murdered daily in Palestine and Iraq… If it pains you to see your victims in Moscow, then remember ours in Chechnya. How long will fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning, and widowing be our sole destiny, while security, stability, and happiness is yours? This is injustice. The time has come to settle accounts. Just as you kill, so you shall be killed; just as you bomb, so you shall be bombed. And there will be more to come.” [Laden, 2005, pp. 173-5]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The authenticity of a new audio tape purportedly made by bin Laden, in which he praises recent attacks in Bali, Kuwait, Yemen and Moscow (see November 12, 2002), is disputed by Swiss voice analysts. US officials believe the voice is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in Switzerland, one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes, is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/13/2002; BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002; Toronto Star, 12/16/2002] Two weeks after it was broadcast, a British newspaper publishes the complete text of a “letter to the American people,” purportedly written by bin Laden. [Observer, 11/25/2002] However, “diplomats [are] skeptical about the authenticity of the document.” [Guardian, 10/15/2002] The institute will not continue to analyse bin Laden’s speeches (see February 12, 2003).

Entity Tags: Dalle Molle Institute, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Swiss voice analysts at the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence decline to examine a new recording issued by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see February 11 or 12, 2003 and February 12, 2003). The institute previously analyzed a speech made by a man thought to be bin Laden and concluded that the speaker was not actually him (see November 29, 2002). The institute says that the previous analysis was done at the request of a French TV channel and was “mainly motivated by pure scientific curiosity.” It also says that the poor quality of that recording coupled with the limited number of voice examples meant that it was unlikely the recording could ever be properly authenticated. [Swissinfo (.org), 2/12/2003] However, US officials tell CNN that “this tape was of much better quality than the previous one presumed to be from bin Laden, which Al Jazeera broadcast in November.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] The institute does not analyze any later tapes thought to be released by bin Laden.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Dalle Molle Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” [Popular Science, 2/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Tom Owen, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence.The Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence. [Source: Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence]An analysis by Swiss researchers casts doubt on the authenticity of over a dozen of the more recent communications allegedly made by Osama bin Laden. According to a 2009 article in the American Spectator (see March 2009), the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Manno, Switzerland, which does computer voice recognition for bank security, compares the voices on 15 undisputedly authentic earlier recordings of bin Laden with the voices on 15 more recent recordings that have been attributed to the al-Qaeda leader. The researchers find that all of the more recent, alleged bin Laden recordings clearly differ from each other and from the genuine earlier recordings. This would therefore indicate that these more recent recordings have been faked. In contrast to the Dalle Molle Institute, the CIA found all of the recordings to be authentic. Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, will comment, “It is hard to imagine what methodology might support [the CIA’s] conclusion.” [American Spectator, 3/2009] The American Spectator will be the only publication to report this analysis. An analysis by the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in November 2002, of an audio recording allegedly made by bin Laden around that time, concluded that the recording was likely a fake (see November 29, 2002). [Guardian, 11/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Dalle Molle Institute, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, publishes an article entitled “Osama bin Elvis” in the American Spectator arguing that Osama bin Laden is dead. “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama bin Laden,” writes Codevilla. He cites as evidence apparent differences in the facial features of people said to be bin Laden in video messages, problems with voice analysis—an independent Swiss facility found a recording the US attributed to bin Laden was not actually by him (see November 29, 2002), clear changes in bin Laden’s rhetoric after 9/11, problems with the “confession” video (see Mid-November 2001), and numerous reports of his death. According to Codevilla, if bin Laden’s death were popularly acknowledged, it would have serious policy ramificiations for the US. [American Spectator, 3/2009]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Angelo Codevilla

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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