Here’s a riddle: What has a red face, black markings and bright green eyes? Osama bin Laden! At least according to action figurines of the terrorist leader commissioned by the CIA.
True. Around 2005, the agency began secretly developing the figurines for dispersal in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Though the mini Osamas look normal initially, the faces were painted with a heat-dissolving material that peel off to reveal the demon-looking incarnation of the formerly most wanted man on Earth. The goal? Scare children and their parents at the sight of these pint-size monstrosities—code named “Devil Eyes”—and thus diminish support for the real bin Laden.
Another quirky twist? To craft and produce the figurines, the CIA turned to toy maker Donald Levine, who was largely behind creation of the G.I. Joe toys that first hit shelves in 1964. The man clearly had a real gift for over-the-top patriotic dolls.
This tactic to win hearts and minds of a particular population, dubbed as “influence operations,” saw its heyday in the Cold War. The CIA published literature, created radio stations, underwrote concert tours, bankrolled seminars, disrupted communist youth festivals and even dropped propaganda leaflets from balloons. Balloons of freedom, that is.
Little is known about the kind of influence operations the CIA has run since 9/11, though “Devil Eyes” is known to be part of a larger effort goodwill-building effort. Because what builds trust better than sinister plastic dolls.
The details are shadowy at best; it’s still unclear just how many toys were produced and whether any were ever actually delivered. The CIA claims to know only of three, while another source connected to the project alleges there were hundreds. We can only hope there are some very scared little boys in Karachi, nervously eyeing their Osama bin Demon dolls on their bookshelves as they try in futility to go to sleep.