The New York Post
November 14, 2002, Thursday

Copyright 2002 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.  
The New York Post 

November 14, 2002, Thursday

SECTION: All Editions; Pg. 008

LENGTH: 452 words


BYLINE: NILES LATHEM Post Correspondent

WASHINGTON - U.S. intelligence agencies are employing an exotic forensic science that can turn a few mumbled words into detailed patterns like a fingerprint on a computer to determine whether terror master Osama bin Laden is dead or alive.

Analysts at the CIA and the National Security Agency are comparing the voice purporting to be bin Laden's on a recent audio cassette, given to the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera, to other recordings of bin Laden diatribes to determine whether it's authentic.

The process is known as voice-print identification or acoustic analysis and is considered so accurate that it has been used as evidence in more than 7,000 criminal cases across the country since it was first developed for police in the late 1960s. "It is very accurate. All you need is about 15 words to make a match," Steve Cain, head of Forensic Tape Analysis Inc. in Lake Geneva, Wis., told The Post in a telephone interview.

The science is based on the premise that every person has individual voice characteristics based on the construction of one's mouth, nasal cavities and larynx.

"The likelihood that two people - even siblings - would have all their vocal cavities the same size and configuration is very remote," Cain added.

To match the voice on the latest bin Laden tape to others, the intelligence agencies are using sophisticated software that measures frequencies and amplitude of similar words and phrases used in each tape recording.

The software translates what is being heard on the tapes into "prints" that can be seen on spectrographs.

Cain said the types of high-speed computers and programs available to the CIA and NSA are much more sophisticated than what is being used by law enforcement - making the process quicker and more reliable.

Cain also said the CIA would need an Arabic translator familiar with the nuances of bin Laden's Saudi speech and linguistic patterns to help in this case.


What the audiotape delivered to Al-Jazeera tells U.S. intelligence analysts:

1. Osama bin Laden is alive.

2. He recorded his anti-Western diatribe two weeks ago.

3. Portions of the message were given at different times, and some statements were made or recorded over the telephone.

4. Bin Laden doesn't want to reveal his appearance, either because he is seriously ill or has changed his looks.

5. Some of his sentences were short, and at times he appeared out of breath, a possible indication he is sick.

6. The tape was delivered to Al- Jazeera in Pakistan, a country where bin Laden is likely hiding.

7. He is likely signaling that a new major terrorist strike - possibly in Europe - is imminent.