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White House Fears Bin Laden Sending Coded Messages in Press Statements

The White House is asking American television networks not to broadcast videotaped messages from Osama bin Laden in their entirety. Bush administration officials say the suspected terrorist mastermind may be using these recorded messages to issue orders to his supporters.

The appeal to the networks came from the President's National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice.

In a conference call with broadcast executives, she raised concerns about the videotapes. White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says she told them Osama bin Laden may by using these recorded messages to secretly communicate with other terrorists.

"At best, Osama bin Laden's message is propaganda, calling on people to kill Americans," he said. "At worst, he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks."

Mr. Fleischer says the Bush administration is acting on a suspicion, not hard evidence. He says Osama bin Laden may be using some kind of code to reach his followers, because the means of communication between Afghanistan and the outside world are limited.

"One way to communicate outside of Afghanistan to followers is through western media," he said.

The White House spokesman stresses the Bush administration is not censoring the news. He says Ms. Rice urged broadcast networks to "exercise judgement."

"We live in an open society," said Mr. Fleischer. "We live in a free society. These are requests."

A videotaped message from Osama bin Laden was made available to networks Sunday a few hours after U.S.-led forces launched strikes on terrorist and Taleban military installations in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for his al-Qaida organization appeared in a subsequent tape released Tuesday. The videos were originally provided to the independent Arabic news channel al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar.

The response to the White House request came within hours in separate written statements from U.S. television networks. All promised to review incoming feeds before airing them and to use editorial judgement in deciding what to broadcast. CNN said its policy is to avoid airing any material that might facilitate terrorist attacks. CBS News vowed to inform the public without jeopardizing American lives.