WASHINGTON – The Senate's top Democrat said Thursday that the failure of U.S. authorities to capture Usama bin Laden raises questions about "whether or not we are winning the war on terror."
Sen. Tom Daschle's remarks came as intelligence analysts concluded that a new audiotape almost certainly contained bin Laden's voice and is proof that he is alive.
"We can't find bin Laden, we haven't made real progress in finding key elements of Al Qaeda," the South Dakotan said. "They continue to be as great a threat today as they were one and a half years ago. So by what measure can we claim to be successful so far?"
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States has made "tremendous progress" in the terror fight.
"We have dismantled his terrorist network, and we are going to continue tracking down these trained killers and their leaders and their networks wherever they are, and bringing these people to justice."
President Bush called President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Phillippines, whose government said Thursday authorities had captured a leader of an Al Qaeda-linked militant group that planned to use trucks laden with explosives to bomb the U.S. Embassy, the Manila stock exchange and other targets.
"The president expressed appreciation for President Arroyo's leadership in combating terror in the Philippines and pledged continued U.S. support for her government's efforts," McClellan said.
Daschle, meeting with reporters, said authorities should do a better job of finding where bin Laden's message came from.
"It seems he has the ability to move at will," Daschle said. "It's been a long time. 9-11 was more than year ago, and we have yet to find him."
A technical analysis of the tape was still under way Thursday, and officials said they still think that it was bin Laden's voice but they have not confirmed that.
Lawmakers and the Bush administration are worried that the new tape is a signal that more terror strikes are imminent.
"He's alive. We have to work on that assumption, and we are," said a senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity Wednesday.
Other U.S. officials were more conservative, saying they believe it probably came from bin Laden. They left open the possibility, however slight, that it is a hoax.
But all said they were treating the tape as a real message from Al Qaeda's missing leader, even as the CIA and National Security Agency conducted a technical analysis of the tape aimed at further authenticating it.
"They can't get to 100 percent certainty, but they're sure," the official said. The official, who participated in a high-level briefing by CIA and NSA officials, said analysts were trying to determine whether bin Laden placed cryptic messages in the recording to order followers into action.
Homeland security director Tom Ridge, during an appearance before a State Department gathering Thursday, referred to "bin Laden's remarks over the past 24 to 48 hours." It was an offhanded remark, and it was not clear whether he was speaking on the basis of information not yet made public.
Later, Ridge spokesman Gordon Johndroe said he did not believe the homeland security director was attempting to confirm that the voice on the tape that of bin Laden. Johndroe did say, nonetheless, that the administration is concerned about the message on the tape.
Bush said he was taking the taped message "very seriously."
"Whoever put the tape out has put the world on notice yet again that we're at war," the president said Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
The tape appears to be the first confirmation in a year that bin Laden is alive.
The speaker on the tape sounds undeterred by the loss of bin Laden's home in what was Taliban-ruled Afghanistan or by the death and capture of several of his closest lieutenants.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said special attention is being paid to "what might be signaled" on the tape, while FBI Director Robert Mueller said the existence of the tape "does and should put us on greater alert."
"There may be individuals in the United States we do not know about who could commit attacks," Mueller said.
Counterterrorism officials have said that if bin Laden is alive, they believe he is probably in a remote, mountainous area of Pakistan along the country's border with Afghanistan. American officials have never confirmed rumors that bin Laden was wounded or suffering some kind of kidney ailment.