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U.S. drops doctored photos of bin Laden on Afghanistan

By Macrobat in News
Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 09:33:03 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

This has got to be one of the strangest things I've seen to come out of our conflict in Afghanistan. In an attempt to demoralize the enemy, the U.S. is dropping leaflets with doctored photos of bin Laden to imply that he's left them to go partying somewhere in the West. The photo makes him look like a cross between Dean Martin and Frank Zappa.

It's one thing when the U.S. propagades speculation or dubious claims, or even when a propaganda arm cobbles up something that at least sounds like it could be true; but this is so obviously fake that it has to backfire on American credibility. This almost looks like a hoax (especially since the writing on the leaflets is in English), but I've seen stranger things. Just not very many.

Asked whether the leaflet could be used by some to say the United States is willing to doctor or make up things -- as has been alleged about the videotape found in Afghanistan by the United States -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had not thought about the possibility

--obviously not. By this point, world opinion of the war in Afghanistan may be low on the Pentagon's list of concerns, but what's the point of telling a lie that is all but certain to be found out immediately?

The only possible explanation is that the intended targets, the al Qaeda resistance, are not sophisticated enough to realize that the photo is a fake. That explanation doesn't hold water. Even if an Afghan soldier hasn't ever seen a computer capable of photo manipulations, that doesn't mean they don't know such things can be done. That, combined with a disinclination to believe anything that comes from America, makes this a pointless exercise and a waste of paper.


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The leaflets are
o Propaganda--just war as usual 23%
o An embarrassment to America 37%
o Proof that bin Laden would look pretty snazzy, if he cleaned up a bit 39%

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U.S. drops doctored photos of bin Laden on Afghanistan | 40 comments (37 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Could be effective (3.83 / 6) (#2)
by TheophileEscargot on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 08:02:13 PM EST

First, it just shows him in Western dress without the beard. It's not like he's been mutated or anything.

Secondly, it does make a good point. Up until recently he was supposed to be some fundamentalist superman who would die in a defiant blaze of glory. He wasn't supposed to run away.

Bottom line, it makes a good point visually: bin Laden has abandoned them. Isn't that what good advertising is supposed to do?

I really don't think the Taleban are going to notice the suit is somewhat old-fashioned. The third world lags significantly behind in fashion terms anyway.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

Visual statements (4.75 / 4) (#7)
by Macrobat on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 08:29:54 PM EST

True, but there's a thick line between making a point visually and stretching credibility past the breaking point. If I were going to make a visual statement, I'd do a before-and-after set with that picture of bin Laden firing an automatic rifle on one side, and the same picture with him silhouetted out (maybe with a question mark) on the other, with a caption like, "where is the brave fighter NOW?" It would make the same point just as bluntly, but not be open to accusations of dishonesty. But that's just me.

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

under the skin (none / 0) (#35)
by angelplasma on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 12:58:15 AM EST

Though I can see the value of your concept, an idea such as this one, which was designed (however crudely) to discredit bin Laden on a culturally offensive level, might ultimately be more effective than the idea that he's somewhere other than the proverbial front-line, especially when considering that a man like bin Laden would rarely, if ever, be found there. It's like taunting a person vs. slandering their hero. A taunt may be distracting, and even disconcerting, but well-constructed slander will eventually work its way underneath skin and weaken a belief system's foundation.

[ Parent ]
Maybe it's a ploy to get him to appear? (4.00 / 5) (#3)
by Toojays on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 08:04:18 PM EST

Perhaps this has come about because the US has run out of places to look for bin Laden. If this propaganda is taken seriously then it could prompt bin Laden to make an appearance somewhere to boost morale. The US might eventually hear about this; it would give them a new place to search for him.

Of course, this assumes that the bad guys don't get CNN . . . which IMHO is a pretty stupid assumption. And it does pretty much destroy the credibility of the US government. Personally I think this alone outweighs any good which could come of it.

Ummm... (none / 0) (#29)
by chrome koran on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 08:55:25 AM EST

"Of course, this assumes that the bad guys don't get CNN . . . which IMHO is a pretty stupid assumption."

You think the remaining al-Qaeda fighters trying to survive in Afghanistan have access to CNN? Or have time to sit around watching/reading it?

[ Parent ]

Penny wise, Pound foolish - if at all true. (3.33 / 3) (#5)
by jabber on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 08:07:05 PM EST

I completely understand the need for propaganda. Hell, I think that the entire field is fascinating.. I fail to see the reasoning behind English text.. NOBODY, not even our own CIA, is stupid enough to think that Afghani migrants know English. Unless CNN doctored the photo further, to make it more comprehensible for the American public, which is just pathetic.

To doctor a photo of bin Laden resonates with the people who said that the latest video tape of him, the one where he effectively admits to having architected the attack on the WTC, as being a Western frame-up of the man.

Sure, the more ignorant al Quaeda troops in Afghanistani caves may be demoralized by it.. So what?? Iraq, Iran, Lebannon, and everyone else now knows that they can trust no 'proof' that comes out of Washington.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

I think we had this before... (4.33 / 3) (#6)
by TheophileEscargot on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 08:13:26 PM EST

...the CIA assume that most US citizens do not speak Pashtu or Arabic, and helpfully translate the propaganda back to English before giving it to the media.

They're not quite that stupid.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Makes ya wonder... (3.85 / 7) (#9)
by makaera on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 10:18:39 PM EST

...about the validity of the phrase "military intelligence". I mean first the US Gov. tries very hard to prove that we did NOT doctor a videotape of bin Laden. Then it doctors a photo of bin Laden. Up to this point I've supported most of the actions taken by the US Gov. This, however, is too stupid to be believeable. When I first heard about it I thought it was a hoax. I wish it was. How can you hold the high moral ground while doing things like this? There is a need to propoganda, but in this situation, America needs to use the truth.

"Ninety rounds in there," Joel Andrews said. "If you can't take it down with 90 rounds, you better turn in your badge!" -- from Washington Post

I wonder too... (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by bobzibub on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 11:31:32 AM EST

To me, this begs the question: if the US gov is willing to lie to advance its policy objectives, and one of its other policy objectives is to convict these people, how will this affect the court cases? Wouldn't this leaflet be "exibit A" for the Defense?

[ Parent ]
doublespeak (none / 0) (#28)
by statusbar on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 06:28:48 AM EST

From the article:

    "The whole premise of bin Laden's activities in the world are premised on lies and the fact that people will say things, like you just said they might say, is true," he said.



[ Parent ]

Actually, it Will be Fairly Effective (2.33 / 3) (#10)
by aitrus on Sat Jan 05, 2002 at 11:16:33 PM EST

How rational do you honestly believe these fighters are? If you answered anything short of delusioned, you need to do some reading. One of two things will happen; one - bin Laden will recognize this is happening and show himself through parts of the fighting areas to keep morale. Two - no one will see him, except by word spread from the higher ups, and will have less confidence and morale, while bin Laden is on the run. In any case, I hope they printed that second card in arabic, and in large quantities.

how rational? (4.33 / 3) (#12)
by enterfornone on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 12:41:35 AM EST

There are lots of people who beleive in weird shit but are still considered rational.

These people beleive they are fighting for something greater than Bin Laden. Even if he did desert them, they are (in their minds) fighting for Allah, not for him.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]

How rational do you believe any soldier is? (3.75 / 4) (#14)
by svampa on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 07:17:31 AM EST

Once I heart a militar this:

If you want a man to run voluntary against a firing gun, you must make him get drunk. Drunk of alchohol, or patriotism, or discipline

Exchange patriotism for any-ism.That is, any feeling of being part of a group threated by the others. Emotions, irrational thougth.

Don't get missed, marines are not very different from talibans soldiers, better weapons, better trained, less fanatics because they don't have to risk their lifes so ofen. That's all.

The speach of hate against USA of a base taliban soldier is not very different of the speach of hate of USA sodier. And speach of high level militars are as irrational as soldiers, but more elaborated.

I'm not bashing USA army, I think most solidiers all over the world are similar. You can't hope a man to forget every has leanrt about killing other people is bad, and the fear of death, if you don't add irrational feelings

What about civil people?

Histeria against Al-Qaeda, talibans etc in USA is not very different from histeria against USA in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Both are ready to believe any thing bad from the other side, truth of fake.

Now they have lost the war, their loyalty to Ben Laden is lingering, so this ridiculous propaganda may be effective. Althoug they don't like USA, they are wishing to believe anything that makes them forget any loyalty to Ben Laden.

[ Parent ]
As rational as anyone else (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by Macrobat on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 02:26:01 PM EST

Well, I've never been in the military myself, but I've counted among my friends men and women from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. A couple of them struck me as a little too gung-ho, but most of them didn't. One of them said that, in presidential elections, he always votes for the candidate he thinks is least likely to get the U.S. into war, because then he'd be the one fighting it. That said, he was willing to fight if the country was attacked and American lives were in danger, so he was nobody's coward, either.

I asked a woman in the Army what she'd do if she were ordered to do something grossly against her moral judgement, like kill a baby or napalm a village of farmers. She was pretty short about it: "I'm just following orders" is not an acceptable excuse in the military. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but people aren't robots, and the Army doesn't want them to be.

If the full exposure you've had to the military mindset is a handful of pithy quotations, you are as guilty as anyone of making irrational, emotional judgements about an entire class of people. How enlightened is that?

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

irrational doesn't mean stupid or crazy (none / 0) (#24)
by svampa on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 09:22:54 PM EST

I've been in the army, like most men in my country, and I know people that is in the army, and they are absolutly normal people.

But we are in peace. To be ready to die and kill for cause, your country, your religion, there must be an irrational component. It's not good for the war that soldiers wonder why are they figthing, it's not good even for the soldier in the battle field in the middle of bombs and death to wonder "what hell am I doing here?". None sacrifices his own life being too rational.

I don't mean they are irrational persons, and that the whole day they are absurd guys. But in war time, people must believe without rational doubt that their country is right, and enemy deserves hate. And soldiers are in the first line, so they must be more convinced. But as long as the war goes on and soldiers are in the middle of a war they are more irrational. And as far as I've seen, some kind of irrational thougths are more common among militars than among other grups.

And yes, armies want robots. If they could be made, they would build robots that pilot planes, that fight in the ground, that pilot submarines, like in Star wars. Day by day weapons are more complex and automatic and depend less upon the courage of men, upon their decision of sacrifice their own life for a cause, or even upon the their training to keep calm in danger. Day by day to be a soldier is more just a carreer, a professional than a man ready to sacrifice his own life for his country. Death in war is more a calculated risk than a sacrify, so it needs more rational people ans less irrational feelings

Anyhow this is a little off-topic. It would be a good idea to submit a story about rational/irrational behavior of men in war, militars and civils, and all with the background of this war. My English is not good enough to do it

[ Parent ]
Pots 'n' Kettles (2.50 / 2) (#19)
by Macrobat on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 02:06:26 PM EST

How rational do you honestly believe these fighters are? If you answered anything short of delusioned, you need to do some reading.

That's funny, they said the same thing about you.

Honestly, making sweeping generalizations like that about an entire class of people shows the same lack of critical thinking that leads people to follow causes blindly and fanatically.

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

It will backfire (3.66 / 3) (#21)
by theboz on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 03:49:17 PM EST

I predict we will eventually see a bin Laden tape with him holding up one of these pamphlets as proof that the U.S. is a bunch of liars and not to be trusted.

It makes you wonder whose brains are on autopilot in D.C. because it is so obvious these things are a bad idea.

[ Parent ]

credibility (3.28 / 7) (#11)
by gregholmes on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 12:01:06 AM EST

You're missing the point. Have you never heard of psychological warfare?

We don't want "credibility" with al-Queda; we want to defeat them. If this creates even a tiny amount of doubt in a few people, then good. It has done it's job.

Casts doubt on WHOM?! (4.66 / 3) (#13)
by snowlion on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 05:08:22 AM EST

I think it'll deepen people's doubt about anything the US has to say.

I believe I've heard that the CIA faked the exit of the Shah from the US, in a video tape, too. I don't know much about it, but it's relatively reputable; CIA brass were talking about it on TV, and how they did it, got make up artists and what not.

There is good reason to doubt anything coming from the white house or pentagon; They have a history of doing it.

I'm against the idea of any government that tries to shape opinions; That's not the governments job, especially if it claims to be a democracy. I'm especially against the idea of a government blatantly manipulating people with lies, friend or foe. It casts poorly on the speaker.

Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]
faked videos (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by janra on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 02:03:18 PM EST

Speaking of faked videos... have you seen the movie "Wag the Dog"? (Excellent film, by the way)

To distract attention from a scandal, news footage is faked about a crisis - not only that, but a song is created and inserted into the 1930's section, a 'popular movement' is started, and a hero is created. Really makes you wonder how much of the news is real and how much is spin...

Excellent movie, I highly recommend it.

Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
again, missing the point ... (none / 0) (#23)
by gregholmes on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 09:20:14 PM EST

You are not the audience for this photo.

It was created for an audience of wacky terrorists hiding in the hills. It wasn't created to score political points anywhere; to entertain CNN website visitors, or for any other purpose.

This isn't a government communique to the civilized world. It is a psy-op.

No other government that matters would fail to understand this, so our "credibility" with anyone who matters isn't at issue here.

[ Parent ]
Two points, though (none / 0) (#34)
by Macrobat on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 05:19:34 PM EST

First, it doesn't matter who the intended audience is; the actual audience is now the entire world. And, believe it or not, there are "governments that matter" (Pakistan comes to mind, as does about every other middle-eastern country) who are at best reluctant to help the U.S. wage a military campaign in the region. This act is unlikely to sway them from their positions now, but quite possibly will influence their decisions in future conflicts.

Second, as I've noted elsewhere, this is just as likely to strengthen the resolve of the "wacky terrorist" you mentioned as it is to weaken it. They're not predisposed to believe anything the U.S. says in the first place, and now that they see that a popular figurehead has been clumsily lampooned, their dislike of America has to have grown by just that much more. So, from a psy-op standpoint, it's also a weak move.

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

I prefer the Cadillac (3.25 / 4) (#15)
by guet on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 07:21:03 AM EST

this is nothing, they should be using this picture, from his youth.

Remind anyone else of "Air America"? (2.50 / 2) (#17)
by avdi on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 01:43:41 PM EST

You know, the scene where the CIA spook is trying to explain to the pilots how dropping giant condoms on the enemy forces will demoralize them by convincing them that Americans have huge dicks?

Now leave us, and take your fish with you. - Faramir
Obvious caricature to me. (3.00 / 2) (#22)
by Apuleius on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 05:00:57 PM EST

It seems to me the leaflet's readers are expected to understand that the picture is a caricature. Nevertheless, the PSYOPS guys would have been better off choosing a pen & ink caricature instead.

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
Agreed (none / 0) (#25)
by bobpence on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 10:34:55 PM EST

Clear and brief - it was not meant to be understood as a real picture, but a drawing would have been better at getting the point across: "The murderer and coward has abandoned [you]." When one finds the "only possible explanation" one needs to search further.

There are also concerns about an ad that took liberties with the facts surrounding Mohammed Atta. The one factual error that ABCNews.com cites (http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/abc/20020104/ts/leaflet020104_1.html) - saying that Atta could not make a plane take off, when in fact he did obtain a commercial pilot's license - suggests that the issues are coming from people looking to take exception. That said, clearly the U.S. government needs to give more attention to detail and think more about how people will react.

Bob Pence
"Interesting. No wait, the other thing: tedious." - Bender
[ Parent ]
I don't think it's a waste (3.00 / 2) (#26)
by zachusaf on Sun Jan 06, 2002 at 11:34:10 PM EST

Yes, I agree that the pictures were of a poor quality and could backfire on the US, but you have to understand this is war. You do what you can to win. Its easy to sit here in front of a computer and snub your nose, but if this "waste of paper" saves 1 american or british life, then I disagree that it was "pointless" or a "waste of paper."
http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/afjobs /bl3c2x1.htm

"Backfire" != "Doesn't work" (none / 0) (#33)
by Macrobat on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 04:56:42 PM EST

That's why I said "backfire" and not simply "fail." If it backfires, we could be worse off than if this particular operation had never been attempted. It may well strengthen the resolve of our enemies to see the level to which we have stooped in an attempt to demoralize them. It may also cause potential allies to question our credibility and motives, making the current (or future) operations politically more difficult to mount. And this could lead to greater loss of life.

The likelihood of this seems to be, IMHO, at least as high as the likelihood of any possible gain, but both seem much less likely than the null case.

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

What about innocents? (none / 0) (#39)
by t0rment on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 12:13:33 PM EST

but you have to understand this is war. You do what you can to win.

Sounds like Hitler to me.

. - = [ t 0 r m e n t ] = - .

Anyone can become angry--that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; this is not easy.

- Aristotle
[ Parent ]
Psychological Warfare (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by steve m on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 05:01:26 AM EST

Don't get confused here, the target audience is the enemy fighters - yes the picture isn't great, but so what - the whole point it to put some FUD into the enemy. its not a new tactic, have a look at this

Gullibility quotient (1.00 / 1) (#30)
by chrome koran on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 09:14:51 AM EST

"...but this is so obviously fake that it has to backfire..."

Then again, so are those TV ads for the psychic hotline with Cleo...and look how many supposedly educated Americans spend hundreds of dollars on phone calls to them anyway. Never underestimate the capability of a human being to accept the absolutely ludicrous when it dovetails nicely with something they were already thinking...

True, but... (none / 0) (#32)
by Macrobat on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 04:28:55 PM EST

I always wondered exactly what the typical education level of the folks who give money to enterprises like madame Cleo's was. I suspect a large portion of non-degreed folks is represented there. (Of course, that's not to say that the college alum crowd is immune either, they just seem to go for stuff with more elaborate packaging that late-night 900-number ads.)

But this doesn't even dovetail with what the Afghanis were already thinking, so far as I can tell. Even if some of the Taliban didn't think too highly of him, I find it hard to believe that any of them were saying to themselves, "Oh, he's probably out partying in some European disco right now."

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

Not me... (none / 0) (#36)
by chrome koran on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 09:37:08 AM EST

I admit I don't know what the average Abdul in Afghanistan is thinking either, but...

If I was hiding in a cave, freezing my ass off, without a shower or a decent meal in at least five or six weeks, with the US dropping bombs all around me night and day, and little hope of escaping with my life, and NO hope of victory, AND the guy who kept telling me about the glorious struggle we were involved in was nowhere in sight...I just might start to wonder WTF he is exactly...whether that thought is rational or not. The conditions don't really lend themselves to rational thought processes at that point - they lend themselves to an unending cycle of despair, anger, fear, sadness and resignation.

Don't give me that crap about they are happy because they know he escaped either...No grunt in any army ever thought like that. Find the most respected generals (by their troops) in history, Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Washington, Patton, etc., and you'll see they got that respect by leading the charge. THAT is the only thing a grunt respects in a general my friend. I don't think the leap to believing bin Laden is safe and comfy in a posh hotel is as much of a stretch as you think...don't think for a second they don't know how wealthy he is.

In fact, I'm not sure it's not true myself...In my experience, people with hundreds of millions of dollars rarely seem to pay the price for anything they do, they just get a little plastic surgery, a new identity and a Bentley and disappear to the French Riviera...Think about that before you call it all silly. Thought about it? Good. I don't believe it either! But it isn't as much of a stretch as you first thought is it?

[ Parent ]

Um... (1.00 / 1) (#31)
by epepke on Mon Jan 07, 2002 at 04:07:52 PM EST

If this is psychological warfare, why is the pamphlet in English only? Tokyo Rose didn't broadcast in Japanese. I know that Afghanistan has only a 36% literacy rate, but the English literacy rate is probably way lower. What, are we going to drop Berlitz books, too? This isn't rocket science. It's just another thing that makes me think those in charge are idiots which, all things considered, is probably a good thing.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

I would suspect ... (none / 0) (#40)
by gregholmes on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 12:54:53 PM EST

...that the copy CNN has is either a prototype or a "Press Version". Since the story doesn't really say, who knows? I wouldn't automatically assume such a silly error, as you seem to.

[ Parent ]
The more propoganda the better... (1.00 / 1) (#37)
by SPYvSPY on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 09:59:47 AM EST

Have you ever seen bin Laden's recruiting videotape with the (obviously) doctored explosion of the USS Cole? It was created because the designated cameraman on the day the Cole was bombed slept in (or pussed out). You have to fight lies and deception with more lies and deception. Who cares whether the Arab world believes our propoganda? The only population that matters is the one back in America. Those pictures are meant for Western eyes.

As soon as this bin Laden guy blows over, the Arab world will retreat back into its pathetic and irrelevant victim complex.

By replying to this or any other comment in this thread, you assign an equal share of all worldwide copyright in such reply to each of the other readers of this site.

How intelligent. (none / 0) (#38)
by t0rment on Tue Jan 08, 2002 at 12:00:28 PM EST

Yea lets all live a lie. I look forward to that. I mean, my life means nothing to me, I AM A DRONE. All I care about is what people tell me I should care about.

Please... more propaganda is better.. I don't think so.

As soon as this bin Laden guy blows over, the Arab world will retreat back into its pathetic and irrelevant victim complex.

Prove it! This is nonsense, the only thing you show with the statement is that you don't care, and don't really want to know whats going, because if you did, at least you would have shown proof of this. The whole Mid-East crisis is extremely intricate. And it's completely stupid to try to over simplfy the reality of whats going on over there.

. - = [ t 0 r m e n t ] = - .

Anyone can become angry--that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; this is not easy.

- Aristotle
[ Parent ]
U.S. drops doctored photos of bin Laden on Afghanistan | 40 comments (37 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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