Don't blame the Times for the satphone "leak."

Media criticism.
Dec. 21 2005 7:03 PM

Don't Blame the Washington Times

For the Osama Bin Laden satellite phone "leak."

(Continued from Page 1)

[Osama Bin Laden] uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "He's in high spirits," says a Taliban security chief, Mulla Abdul Mannan Niazi.

Japan's Daily Yomiuri quoted the Time revelation later that month (Dec. 30), and Time repeated its finding 20 months later in its Aug. 24, 1998, issue (newsstand date Aug. 17—four days before the Washington Times story). The news hook for the Time article was the Aug. 7, 1998, African embassy bombings by al-Qaida. From Time's lede paragraph:

He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones and gives occasional interviews to international news organizations including TIME and CNN.

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(If you're paying close attention, you'll note the similarities between Time's wording and that of the later Washington Times story.)

Who else had the story? On Aug. 20, 1998, the day President Clinton bombed Bin Laden in Afghanistan, then-CNN producer Peter Bergen appeared on his network as a talking head. He had interviewed Bin Laden in Afghanistan in March 1997 and portrayed the Bin Laden gang as technologically savvy, saying:

They scanned us electronically to make sure we didn't have any kind of tracking device; they're very concerned about anybody who might meet bin Laden, might have some tracking device from some intelligence agency. These people are fairly sophisticated. The guy has a fair amount of money. He communicates by satellite phone, even though Afghanistan in some levels is back in the middle ages and a country that barely functions. Bin Laden has been able to function fairly well there.

On Aug. 21, 1998—the same day the Washington Times story appeared—Deutsche Presse-Agentur ran a story citing a report in Islamabad's Daily News. It said that minutes before U.S. missiles hit the terrorist camps, Osama Bin Laden had called for a continued jihad through Ayman Al-Zawahiri. From the Deutsche Presse-Agentur story:

Osama bin Laden, described by President Clinton as a "pre-eminent" terrorist, however denied that he was behind the August 7 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa which prompted the missile attack, the paper said, quoting his Egyptian confidant, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Zawahiri conveyed Osama's "message" to the daily's correspondent in Peshawar using a satellite phone "somewhere in Afghanistan," barely 30 minutes before the missile attack was launched against his "terrorist base" in Khowst in eastern Afghanistan.

The Philadelphia Daily News gives the terrorist's name a unique spelling in this Aug. 21 account:

Unlike the highly secretive Carlos and other typical bomb-throwers, bin Landen doesn't get his hands dirty.

His tools are computers, fax machines, satellite phones and a terrorist network with a global reach.

The next day, Aug. 22, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman obliquely refers to Osama Bin Laden's satphone in a column about jihadists, writing:

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