Washington Two days before the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush's domestic security adviser dismissed al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden as "virtually impotent."
The comments by Frances F. Townsend came three days after a new videotape of bin Laden appeared, with the terrorist leader comparing the Iraq war to Vietnam and praising the actions of the 19 airline hijackers who caused the deaths of almost 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
Townsend said the taped statement released by an oddly dark-bearded bin Laden was genuine and recently made, but she described it as little more than a propaganda device.
"Let's remember almost six years now since September the 11th, we have not seen much of bin Laden," she said on "Fox News Sunday," noting that this was the third audio or videotape released of him in as many years. "This is about the best he can do. This is a man on the run, from a cave, who is virtually impotent other than these tapes."
President Bush on Saturday said the tape was a "reminder of the dangerous world in which we live."
But Townsend's assessment of the terrorist network leader - which she repeated, almost word for word, in a later appearance on CNN's "Late Edition" - echoed remarks last week by the newest GOP presidential candidate, former Tennessee Sen. Fred D. Thompson, who said in response to the latest videotape that bin Laden was "more symbolism than anything else."
Sunday, Sens. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., shot back on ABC's "This Week," arguing that bin Laden remains a dangerously charismatic figure with a broad Internet reach who must be captured.
"He continues to communicate, he continues to lead and he continues to be a symbol for them of leadership in this radical hatred and evil radical Islamic extremism," said McCain, who also is seeking his party's presidential nomination. If elected to the White House, McCain continued, "I'll get him. I'll get him. And we've got to get him."
Kerry, the Democrats' presidential candidate in 2004, called bin Laden's most recent appearance testimony to "the failure of this administration to capture and kill him."
"Here's a man who is sending tapes, influencing the region, influencing and recruiting terrorists, who is still directing from Afghanistan and from Pakistan attacks against the United States," Kerry said. "And we have some Republican candidates for president who think it's insignificant? That should disqualify them from being president in the first place."