Creepy 1:6 Scale OBL Action Figure Intended to “Spook” Children—NOT Inspire Them
For Don Levine, a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War, former executive of Hasbro Toys, and co-creator of America’s iconic GIjOE action figure, that first phone call from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) must’ve struck him as quite extraordinary. After having spent over half a century of his life creating toys that entertained and inspired millions of children (and later too, adults), Levine must’ve been stunned when the voice on the other end of the line suddenly began asking for his help, not to inspire millions yet again—but to REPULSE them.
Indeed, in a surprising story published today by The Washington Post (TWP), it was revealed that Levine (now deceased) had worked secretly with the CIA to create a 12-inch, 1:6 scale action figure of Osama Bin Laden (OBL) for use in an oddly contrived propaganda scheme designed to discourage young children and their parents from idolizing and following the world’s most infamous terrorist leader. Prototypes of the unusual (and never-produced) action figure utilized a special “heat-dissolving” face paint that when handled, was easily peeled away, revealing what a CIA spokesman described as OBL’s “Demon Eyes.” TWP reporter, Adam Goldman, provides the following additional intel on this bizarre toy idea:
“Beginning in about 2005, the CIA began secretly developing a custom-made Osama bin Laden action figure, according to people familiar with the project. The face of the figure was painted with a heat-dissolving material, designed to peel off and reveal a red-faced bin Laden who looked like a demon, with piercing green eyes and black facial markings. The goal of the short-lived project was simple: spook children and their parents, causing them to turn away from the actual bin Laden.
The code-name for the bin Laden figures was “Devil Eyes,” and to create them, the CIA turned to one of the best minds in the toy business…Donald Levine, the former Hasbro executive who was instrumental in the creation of the wildly popular G.I. Joe toys that generated more than $5 billion in sales after hitting the shelves in 1964. The CIA’s interest in Levine was twofold: He had an eye for toys and a vast network of contacts in China, where the bin Laden action figures were ultimately manufactured. Levine had done business there for nearly 60 years and had the means to have the action figures discreetly developed and manufactured.“
“Levine died last month at age 86, after a lengthy battle with cancer. In response to questions about his work on the bin Laden toys, his family said in a statement:
‘Don Levine was a dedicated Patriot, and proud Korean War veteran. When called on, he was honored to assist our country.’
There’s a dispute over how many of the figurines, if any, were ultimately delivered. A person with direct knowledge of the project in China said hundreds of the toys — one of which was seen by The Washington Post — were made as part of a pre-production run and sent on a freighter to the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2006. The CIA, while not disputing that it had commissioned the bin Laden figures, said the project was discontinued shortly after the prototypes were developed.
‘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.’
Regardless of how far the “Devil Eyes” project proceeded, it appears to have borne all the hallmarks of what are known in intelligence parlance as “influence operations.” As part of its covert action programs, the agency has for decades tried to win the hearts and minds of local populations or turn them against a particular ideology. Beginning around 2006, the CIA began developing an Osama bin Laden toy to counter his influence.”
Absolutely fascinating. Think of it, a major governmental “intelligence”agency considers using TOYS to counter the very real dangers of very real terrorists. What a bizarre/weird/wonderful(?) concept! Maybe someone working for the CIA had taken one too many missions to “Spy Island” as a kid? Curious about Levine’s involvement in Project “Devil Eyes,” Goldman’s article goes on to declare:
“Levine was initially asked to help with the toys for boys. ‘It appealed to [Levine] because it had nothing to do with actually hurting someone,’ said a person familiar with his decision to get involved. ‘It was the softer side of the CIA.’ CIA officials later approached Levine about the possibility of producing the bin Laden figures and having them sent to Pakistan or Afghanistan. Levine was initially ambivalent about the project but would later throw himself into the work, according to the people familiar with the project.
Levine developed prototypes before settling on a standard 12-inch figure with the facial features bin Laden. The head was superimposed on a figurine that was already in production in the Chinese city of Dongguan. A Chinese artist took publicly available photographs of bin Laden and created an image that was strikingly close in appearance to the al-Qaeda leader. The final prototype was dressed in traditional garb and packaged in a cheap box covered with plastic and presented to the CIA for approval. Levine was said to have been pleased with the final product Although the CIA said it decided not to move forward with the operation, at least one of the figures remains at the agency’s headquarters.”
Bottom Line: What an amazing “capper” (or caper) to Don Levine’s already storied and incredible life, legacy and career. But we still have some questions… Were only 3 actually made? Or was it 300? Were these face-peeling OBL’s ever shipped off to Pakistan and given out to confuse and “spook” Pakastani children as originally planned? If so, what were the results of the “mission?”
Regardless of the answers, it’s our considered opinion that if Levine’s OBLs had been sold in the U.S., they would have sold fairly well, if only because so many Americans would have loved to use its “devil-eyed” head for target practice—or as a pit bull’s chew toy! (Editor’s note: Our sincerest thanks to intrepid TWP reporter, Adam Goldman for his fine work in “peeling back the layers” of this intriguing (and repulsive) subject. Go, Joe! Go, ADAM!)