Exploded Satellite Was To Track Osama Bin Laden
CBS EVENING NEWS CBS TV
PAULA ZAHN: America's justification for a strike on a pharmaceutical plant
in Sudan two weeks ago is now being questioned by some experts. U.S.
officials have revealed few details of
the strike in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania. But the New York Times reports some statements have proved to be
inaccurate or misleading. Such as,
the plant was apparently not a high-secret facility. The plant did produce
commercial products, including medicine. And alleged terrorist leader Osama
Bin Laden's financial role in the
plant was apparently overstated. Still, U.S. officials say the target was
the right one. And they say Bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire, poses a
direct threat to the U.S. Tracking his
activities has not been easy. And Jim Stewart tells us, that effort recently
met a major setback.
JIM STEWART: On the face of it, you'd think there was no connection between
those August 7th explosions at two U.S. embassies in east Africa and this
explosion one week later off
the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. But private intelligence analysts now
believe that the spy satellite aboard that doomed Titan-4 missile was
destined to listen in on the private
conversations of Osama Bin Laden. The very man believed responsible for the
JAMES BAMFORD [Satellite Intelligence Expert]: It would have given us a much
better opportunity to eavesdrop on communications in that area of the world.
Because that satellite was
designed to be placed over Africa. And one of its target areas would have
been the Middle East and Afghanistan.
STEWART: Analysts say Bin Laden, although he lived among Afghanistan's
revolutionary leaders in a rugged country, was particularly vulnerable to
such eavesdropping. He
conducted much of his business using encrypted cell phones and fax machines
over a private satellite channel. Just the sort of communications the new
Mercury spy satellite, with it's
football field-sized antenna, is designed to pick up.
JOHN PIKE [Satellite expert]: He can use couriers that can move money around
in bales of $100 bills. But at the end of the day, they're going to have to
use some modern communications
technology, and we can track him when he does.
STEWART: Counter-terrorism experts at the C.I.A. and National Reconnaissance
Office have been pouring over Bin Laden intercepts from older satellites
ever since the World Trade
Center bombing, when the arrest of the bomb maker in that case, Ramses
Youseph, led them straight back to Bin Laden. The man who bankrolled the
whole thing. All of which explains
why finding Bin Laden and keeping up with his communications remains such a
high priority. And why losing that billion-dollar spy satellite two and a
half weeks ago off Florida is
causing such a major headache for the U.S. intelligence community.
Jim Stewart, CBS News, Washington.
7:00 PM AUGUST 29, 1998