Sometime in the mid-2000’s, the CIA flirted with a novel way to turn kids against terrorism – an Osama bin Laden action figure.
The toys were painted with a special heat-dissolving material that turned bin Laden’s ‘ordinary’ face into a sinister, red-faced devil creature. Code named ‘Devil Eyes,’ the figures were designed by the man behind the uber-popular figure of war, G.I. Joe, and intended as a covert “influence operations” aimed at encouraging parents and kids to see bin Laden as a villain.
Before being approached by the CIA, toy designer Donald Levine had earned billions for Hasbro with his G.I. Joe action figure, originally created in the 60’s. He also had the contacts in China to get a the toys made.
Although hesitant at first, Levine ultimately took up the CIA’s offer to create the bin Laden figure. First, he designed his own mock-up and stuck the head on a body of another figure. An artist in China then took the rough idea and, using actual photos of bin Laden, created an image of bin Laden in plastic that looks strikingly like the actual man.
From that point on, accounts vary. According to the Washington Post, one source said that a shipment of the prototypes was sent to the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2006. The CIA however insists that the toys never made it that far and the project was nixed long before that.
“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 said. “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.”
The maker of the action figures, Levine, has since passed away, likely taking the mystery of how many bin Laden figures were actually made with him. A spokesperson for the family, however, made it clear Levine was motivated by patriotism and love of his country to work on the CIA’s covert op.
Levine “was a dedicated Patriot and proud Korean War veteran. When called on, he was honored to assist our country,” the family member said of the man responsible for creating both the G.I. Joe and Osama bin Laden action figures.