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Business As Usual After Osama Tape

Osama Bin Laden audio tape
The United States does not plan to raise the security threat level because of a new tape of Osama bin Laden on which he says al Qaeda is planning attacks, counterterror officials said Thursday.

The White House firmly rejected bin Laden's suggestion of a negotiated truce. "We don't negotiate with terrorists," Vice President Dick Cheney said. "I think you have to destroy them."

Counterterror officials said they have seen no specific or credible intelligence to indicate a coming al Qaeda attack on the United States. Nor have they noticed an uptick in terrorist communications "chatter," although that can increase or decrease dramatically immediately before an attack.

The audiotape, released by the Qatari television network Al-Jazeera, brought new attention to the al Qaeda leader after a yearlong absence of public statements.

Analysts say the 10-minute audio recording had a stamp dated Dec. 5, 2005, on it when it arrived at the Arab network al Jazeera, and believe it was recorded on or around that date, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart. It also had a specific reference in it to a story in the British press last November, which at least confirms to CIA analysts that Bin Laden was alive on that date.

Read a CBS News translation of the Osama bin Laden tape

The national terror threat level currently stands at yellow, the middle of five grades, signifying an elevated risk of attack. The government has raised the alert level to orange, signaling a high threat risk, seven times since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The tape, which Al-Jazeera said was recorded this month, represents bin Laden's first public communication since December 2004. Since then, al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, has served as the terror network's public face.

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer who tracked bin Laden for 10 years as part of a unit he created, told CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer that this

The important thing about bin Laden, Scheur says, "is that the coordination between what he says he's going to do and what he does is very nearly 100 percent over the past decade. He's a very deadly serious man."

But another terrorism expert interviewed by CBS News disagrees.

"Osama bin Laden is trying to show the world he's still relevant. I think he's not still relevant," former FBI agent and terrorism expert Christopher Whitcomb said on Friday. "Al Qaeda is not the group that most people assume it is."

The Bush administration response to the latest bin Laden tape is dismissive, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Plante, particularly of bin Laden's offer of a truce. It also scoffed at his claim that strong security precautions had nothing to do with the fact that there has not been an attack since Sept. 11.

"Our nation has been protected by more than luck," Cheney said. "It is no accident that we haven't been hit in more than four years. We've been protected by sensible policy decisions, by decisive action at home and abroad."

CIA analysts verified the recording as bin Laden's voice. They offered no details about how they reached that conclusion, but in the past the agency has verified authenticity in part by comparing new recordings with earlier messages.

It was the timing of the communiqué that interested analysts most, reports Stewart. It comes less than a week after a CIA-ordered strike in Pakistan against bin Laden's top deputy Ayman Zawahiri, which apparently missed him but may have killed several other high ranking Al Qaeda leaders. Some officials believe bin Laden may have released the tape now to try and reassure the al Qaeda rank and file after the attack.

Others, however, like Whitcomb, think the tape was just a long time in transit and simply bin Laden's way of reasserting control.

"It gets everyone to talk about him," Whitcomb told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "He's arguably the best-known face in the world."

Or maybe not.

Terrorism experts think it's interesting that Bin Laden did not show his face and speculate that may be because he has significantly changed the way he looks, reports Stewart.

Cheney said that, because "they didn't have the ability to do anything on video" and because it had been so long since bin Laden had been heard from, the tape showed that al Qaeda has been hobbled.

He said the tape's significance depends in part on whether it is determined to have been produced in recent days or weeks or pieced together from the more distant past.

Homeland Security officials alerted states about bin Laden's comments in a routine call Thursday morning, Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said.

"The operations are being prepared and you will see them in your own backyard as soon as they are ready with the leave of Allah," bin Laden said on the tape.

It's just talk, said Whitcomb.

"It's not chilling to me in any way. How many tapes have we seen, 18, a dozen? There's been nothing in 4½ years" since Sept. 11, Whitcomb said.

Scheuer said the offer of a truce is "very similar to one he made to the Europeans about two years ago. They paid no attention to what he said and then, thereafter, al Qaeda did attack twice in London. I think it would be foolish not to take this as a very serious threat to the United States."