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U.S. Stingy on bin Laden Evidence - 9/11

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Tuesday October 30 4:46 PM ET

U.S. Stingy on bin Laden Evidence

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - While Britain's prime minister asserts there's a flood of evidence against Osama bin Laden, the Bush administration has released only a trickle for public consumption.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, too, said Tuesday, ``There is accumulating a very large, mounting body of evidence.'' He cited new information on al-Qaida gleaned from ``arrests in over 40 countries.''

Some analysts say it is time for President Bush to lay out more of this evidence, suggesting it might help ease growing public misgivings, especially in Muslim countries, about the war in Afghanistan.

``I think they're making a mistake not to do so,'' said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. ``Even if we can't say which conversations were heard by whom, at what time, you can find some way to sanitize the information and still make your case pretty concrete.''

Polls show that most Americans are satisfied that a link exists between the Sept. 11 attacks and bin Laden and his al-Qaida network. But the same is not true in the region, where the view is widespread that the United States has not made its case.

More than a month after Secretary of State Colin Powell promised a bill of particulars, the administration still holds back the evidence. Officials say much of the specific information could compromise intelligence methods and sources.

At the same time, they cite what they contend is the obvious: demonstrated links between some of the hijackers and al-Qaida, prior testimony tying bin Laden to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, a videotaped threat from him that may be seen as an admission of guilt.

``In terms of evidence, I think now ... you have Osama bin Laden and his partisans appearing in public and virtually claiming responsibility, admitting that they did this terrible attack on Sept. 11,'' Boucher said.

The debate comes at a time when polls suggest Americans are evenly split on another issue involving release of information: whether the government is telling people what they need to know about anthrax.

Administration officials have failed to establish a link between the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax outbreaks, although they have not ruled out the possibility.

In addition to briefing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the administration has provided confidential information to other NATO allies and to Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Blair, in a Tuesday speech in London, defended the U.S.-led campaign as morally just. ``The intelligence evidence, a flow when I first drew attention to it on the third of October, is now a flood confirming guilt,'' Blair said.

On Oct. 3, Blair's office released documents that, while not naming names, said one of bin Laden's ``closest and most senior associates'' was responsible for detailed planning of the Sept. 11 attacks. The documents also suggested bin Laden told associates shortly before Sept. 11 that he had a major operation against America in preparation.

U.S. officials say information gathered since then further reinforces their case, even if they can't disclose all of it.

Anthony Blinken, a National Security Council official in the Clinton administration, said the Bush administration should be more forthcoming. ``The more information they release,'' Blinken said, ``the better off we'll be in the public diplomacy campaign.''

At the same time, Blinken, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he recognizes the difficulty: disclosing too much can compromise people still in place as well as intelligence methods.

He recalled intercepts of bin Laden in the 1990s based on the cell phone he was using. After it was publicized, bin Laden stopped communicating in such a fashion, and ``that ended that channel of information,'' Blinken said.

Shibley Telhami, a professor of government and Middle East specialist at the University of Maryland, cites the importance of protecting intelligence sources. ``We know a lot of this information is based on intercepts, is based on financial information, is based on all sorts of information that would be undermined,'' he said.

He said an effort to provide more information might help. But he said overcoming basic mistrust of the United States among Muslims will be difficult ``even with more direct evidence.''

``I think it's just a reflection of the gap in trust that is not going to be bridged very quickly in the midst of a crisis,'' Telhami said.

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