Why the CIA Commissioned the Maker of GI Joe to Create an Osama bin Laden Action Figure
In 2005, the CIA approached the creator of GI Joe with a novel idea – make an action figure of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Ronald Levine, who had earned his fame with GI Joe and other Hasbro classics, took on the task, kept top secret, of creating an action figure that could serve not only to spread goodwill among the people of Afghanistan but also teach them bin Laden was evil.
The prototype Levine designed featured a very realistic looking Osama bin Laden whose face was painted with a special heat-responsive finish that turned bin Laden’s ‘ordinary face’ into a devil face.
Code named ‘Devil Eyes,’ the project never actually took off, and according to the CIA, only three prototypes of the action figure were ever made.
“To our knowledge, there were only three individual action figures ever created, and these were merely to show what a final product might look like,” CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani explained. “After being presented with these examples, the CIA declined to pursue this idea and did not produce or distribute any of these action figures. Furthermore, CIA has no knowledge of these action figures being produced or distributed by others.”
Yet, the question remains, why were the action figures created in the first place?
Since the Cold War, US secret operations have included ‘influence operations’ or non-violent and often wacky ways to turn the enemy’s people against them or gain goodwill for Americans.
Before the US invaded Haiti in 1994, for example, operatives handed out soccer balls to the local kids.
“It made them feel good about Americans,” a former CIA official said about the soccer ball giveaway. “We were there trying to prepare the way for the military.”
The bin Laden action figure started off as a similar attempt to win over the people of Afghanistan by giving kids school supplies and gifts, including the sinister looking action figures.
Arturo Munoz, a former CIA agent, said it is not uncommon that a covert influence operation does not work out or gets nixed entirely, like the bin Laden figures ultimately did in the mid-2000’s.
“Some of these [operations] have been considered successful and some have not been successful,” he said, stressing that he was, of course, only talking about those covert ops which are declassified and he can comment on.
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