December 10, 2002
The most recent Osama Bin Laden tape recording is a fake, according to Swiss voice recognition experts, who are 95 percent sure the voice in the tape is that of an impostor.
A respected Swiss institute specializing in voice recognition technology analyzed the recent tape alleged to contain the voice of Osama Bin Laden and found that the voice was most likely that of an impostor. The apparently fraudulent tape came out shortly after a 4,000 word letter allegedly written by Bin Laden appeared in Saudi Arabia.
A French television channel, France 2, commissioned the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence (IDIAP) of Martigny, Switzerland, to analyze the tape, which was first aired on November 12 by the Arabic language television network, Al-Jazeera. The IDIAP, which is affiliated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, specializes in speech and speaker recognition research.
The tape, which was delivered to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera, was said to provide the first concrete evidence that Bin Laden is still alive because it mentioned attacks that occurred as recently as October 28. The tape was reportedly recorded over the telephone. The voice on the tape praised recent attacks including the siege of a Moscow theatre by Chechen rebels, the bombing of a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, and the Bali bombing.
Voice analysis tests done of the tape indicated the speaker was an impostor, according to HervÃ© Boulard, the institute’s director. Boulard, told France 2 that he was 95 per cent certain that “it has not been recorded by Bin Laden.” Boulard, who previously worked with the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California, said there was a 5 percent risk of error in the institute’s conclusion that the latest tape is a fake.
Regarding the poor sound quality of the recent tape, Boulard said: “Many of our 20 [test] recordings were also of poor quality. Some were very good, some very bad, but our results were all positive except in one case.”
France 2 provided IDIAP with one hour of authenticated videotape recordings of Bin Laden. IDIAP created a computerized model of Bin Laden’s voice from the authentic recordings. To verify the reliability, scientists tested that model with recordings from Bin Laden and others that were not. IDIAP compared the voice on the tape with 20 authentic recordings of Bin Laden. Boulard concluded that all the voices except that on the tape in question belonged to the same person, noting the statistical software he used has a margin of error of around five percent, France 2 reported.
While Boulard says the tape does not appear to be the voice of Osama Bin Laden, the margin of error precludes absolutely certainty. “In order to have an irrefutable conclusion, you would need around 100 recordings of Bin Laden,” IDIAP’s researcher Samy Bengio told Swiss radio.
The IDIAP study concluded: “It is difficult to agree with some US officials saying that it is 100 percent sure that it is Bin Laden. When addressing a problem with a scientific perspective (as opposed to a political approach), one has to be ready to also accept the uncertainty of the results.” The Swiss results challenged U.S. intelligence agency reports that the voice on the tape was Bin Laden’s.
I asked Pentagon spokesman Dave Lapan if U.S. intelligence agencies believe the latest Bin Laden tape is genuine. Lapan said, “Although it could not be confirmed with 100 percent certainty, the assessment from the intelligence community is that the tape is genuine.” He added that he was “not aware of a different analysis from another country.”
A French news magazine, L’Express, recently reported that Bernard Gautheron, director of the phonetic testing laboratory in Paris, had concluded there was a “very strong probability” that the Al Jazeera tape was genuine.
Qatar, the home of Al Jazeera is a small emirate in the Persian Gulf described as the “nerve center of a war against Iraq.” The Emir of Qatar, who provided funding to start Al Jazeera, has also provided the U.S. military with a command center and spent more than $1 billion building the Al Udeid Air Base for U.S. warplanes. Seven hundred members of the U.S. Central Command are currently in Qatar for Exercise Internal Look, a war game to test the systems that would be used in a war against Iraq.
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