In deciding to publish its case against the Afghanistan-based terrorist, the administration concluded that international support for its planned military, diplomatic and economic retaliation is more important than the intelligence secrets that might be compromised.
"We are hard at work bringing all the information together--intelligence information, law enforcement information--and I think in the near future we'll be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack," said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
The remarks, echoed Sunday by other top administration officials, signaled that the White House is seeking support for its anti-terrorist efforts from a broad coalition of nations: its usual allies as well as countries the U.S. would not normally approach for such backing.
For most of the nearly two weeks since hijacked airliners sliced through the World Trade Center in New York, smashed into the Pentagon near Washington and crashed in Pennsylvania, the administration has been engaged in an internal debate about the release of evidence. Proponents of secrecy warned that a detailed report would reveal too much about the way the intelligence was gathered and the sources that provided it.
But on Sunday, Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, interviewed on network TV talk shows, indicated that the argument has been settled in favor of disclosure.
"We have very good evidence of links between known Osama bin Laden-Al Qaeda [terrorist network] operatives and what happened on Sept. 11th," Rice said. "Of course, we're going to be laying out a case and making a case. We're going to be making a case to allies and friends. . . . We will be making a case to the American people."
Although Rice insisted that the administration will "do nothing that jeopardizes the investigation that is ongoing here," another administration official said it is crucial to convince people abroad--particularly in the Muslim world--that the U.S. focus on Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is justified before launching military action against them.
In other developments Sunday:
• The Taliban government in Afghanistan claimed that it no longer knows where Bin Laden is. Chief Taliban spokesman Abdullahi Mutmain said emissaries of the regime have been unable to locate Bin Laden to deliver a carefully worded edict to "encourage" him to leave Afghanistan at a time of his choosing. In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld scoffed at the report. "They know where he is," Rumsfeld said.
• Powell said the administration is reexamining a Ford administration executive order prohibiting assassination by U.S. agents to determine whether it will inhibit efforts to bring Bin Laden to justice. At the same time, Rice, Powell and Rumsfeld said that the Al Qaeda network is far more dangerous than Bin Laden himself, and that the campaign against terrorism will continue even if Bin Laden is eliminated.
• Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested that the administration's promised retaliation for the terrorist attacks might not be "a large-scale war of the conventional type." At the same time, he insisted that if U.S. forces attack Afghanistan, they will not become bogged down like the Soviet army did in the 1980s. "I can assure you that our military will have plans that will go against [the Taliban's] weaknesses and not get trapped in the ways that previous armies have gotten trapped in Afghanistan," he said.
• Rice said the administration already has all the authorization from the United Nations that it needs to take military action against Al Qaeda. "The United States has the right to self-defense," she said in response to calls from Russia, Egypt, Iran and some other countries for U.N. supervision of the anti-terrorist effort. "That is fully recognized in international law." However, she said, the U.N. might be asked to help locate and freeze the terrorists' financial assets.
• Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell all said the administration is getting good cooperation from the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, even though much of the public in both countries is sympathetic to Bin Laden. Powell denied published reports that the Saudis turned down his request to use a strategically located air base in the desert kingdom.
• The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad early today confirmed the arrival of a small U.S. military delegation in the Pakistani capital. Embassy spokesman Mark Wentworth said the delegation would meet with the Pakistani military.
• President Bush made no public comments Sunday. At Camp David with his wife, Laura, he watched shortly after 10 a.m. as a drumroll sounded, the Marine Band played the national anthem and four Marines in dress uniform raised the U.S. flag to full staff for the first time since Sept. 11. The flag hung limp in the still air.
In their remarks, Rice and Powell said much of the evidence against Bin Laden and Al Qaeda has been gleaned from investigations of the suicide attack on the U.S. guided-missile destroyer Cole last year, the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 1993 car-bomb assault on the World Trade Center.
"This terrorist network has a history," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday." "After all, Osama bin Laden was indicted for the bombings of American embassies abroad. We know that they were connected to the Cole."
Nevertheless, the production of concrete evidence can be crucial. After the Clinton administration launched cruise missiles at a factory in Sudan that Washington said was producing chemical weapons, the Sudanese government claimed the target was a pharmaceutical plant. The administration's evidence was ambiguous and widely disbelieved.
But a generation earlier, the Kennedy administration convinced the world that Soviet offensive missiles had been installed in Cuba by sending its U.N. ambassador, Adlai E. Stevenson III, to the Security Council with aerial photographs that proved the point.
Although Powell said the evidence will be published "in the near future," a senior State Department official said later that no timetable had been established.
"We are just starting the work of looking at what we can make public," the official said. "There is a lot of classified information that people are starting to look at." He said the CIA and other intelligence agencies are preparing the report.
Powell, interviewed on both NBC's "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week," and Rumsfeld, interviewed on CBS' "Face the Nation," agreed that the fight against terrorism goes far beyond Bin Laden.
"Let's not just focus on Osama bin Laden," Powell said. "It would be nice to see him brought to justice, but that won't end it. It's the whole network that has to be ripped out and brought to justice. That's why it isn't strictly a military operation. It is an operation that covers financial activity, information activity, protection of borders, shutting down the ability of people to move easily from country to country."
Powell said the United States would not go to war to change the Taliban government in Afghanistan, even though it is high on Washington's list of "rogue" regimes.
"With respect to the nature of the regime in Afghanistan, that is not uppermost in our minds right now," he said. "It wasn't 15 days ago, and it isn't right now. Except to the extent that the Taliban regime continues to support Osama bin Laden."
Times staff writers James Gerstenzang and Doyle McManus in Washington and Tyler Marshall in Islamabad contributed to this story.