Al Qaeda videotapes obtained by CBS News show that a serious, comprehensive and deadly terrorist training program was carried out in Afghanistan, reports CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton.
The tapes, which were made before Sept. 11 and before al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan were overrun, show what appear to be poison gas experiments carried out on dogs. In one scene, three dogs apparently exposed to chemical agents are seen writhing and twitching before they succumb to the effects of the agent.
Colonel Randy Larsen of the Anser Institute for Homeland Security has studied chemical and biological weapons for years. What he saw on these tapes was instantly familiar.
Larsen says, "There is enough data there for me to say this is some sort of chemical warfare agent. This looks like a nerve agent."
"When you see people immediately falling down, or animals immediately falling down, twitching like that, looking like they are in agonizing pain, choking for breath, that is clearly a sign of a chemical agent of some sort."
Another videotape is a how-to manual on bomb-making. A man, whose face is unseen, gives detailed instructions on how to create powerful explosives with easily obtainable chemicals; like a television cooking show, it includes tips on how long to mix the ingredients.
The instructional videos on bomb making means that new recruits don't have to travel to training camps in places like Afghanistan to learn how to kill. The purpose of the animal experiment tapes is more mysterious, and more chilling. Unlike al Qaeda videos seen in the past, these do not appear to have been made for public consumption.
Experts say the images suggest Osama bin Laden's organization was indeed trying to develop a chemical-weapons arsenal.
However, according to Larsen, "Chemical weapons can threaten a hundred people or a thousand people. It's not going to kill the population of a large city. You need to understand it would be a great terror weapon. Imagine what this would look like on the even news if you had a 100 people on the subway system rolling around like that dog."
Meanwhile at the Pentagon, CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports that U.S. officials insist the tapes do not, at first glance, tell them anything they don't already know about al Qaeda and its relentless quest to kill Americans.
Well before Sept.11, CIA director tenet warned Congress Osama bin Laden's "operatives have trained to conduct attacks with toxic chemicals."
What the tape does not reveal is whether al Qaeda had progressed beyond these grisly experiments to the development of actual chemical weapons that could be used, not just to kill a tethered dog, but to poison large numbers of people.
U.S. troops have searched some 60 sites where al Qaeda was suspected of working on weapons of mass destruction. They found traces of crude chemical agents, but according to General Tommy Franks, the commander of the war in Afghanistan, there was no evidence bin Laden's men succeeded in developing a true chemical weapon.
Franks says, "As of today to my knowledge we have not yet identified evidence of weaponized weapons of mass destruction. That is to say any sort of experimentation having been turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Haven't seen it."
But the fact that there is no evidence al Qaeda has succeeded in making what the American military would consider a chemical weapon is not particularly reassuring.