The CIA has pulled some zany operations in its time. Some were treasonous, like Operation Northwoods, and others border on silly, like Operation Devil Eyes.
The CIA is well known for its psychological operations. In 2005 the CIA was getting that sick defense budget allocation and GWOT money so it was frivolous in their spending. Further, during the early years of the Global War on Terror, they seemed fairly flexible in what they considered for operational use.
So the Agency teamed up with Donald Levine, the creative power behind G.I. Joe, to produce Osama bin Laden action figures. Yep, I said what I said.
Donald Levine and Devil Eyes
Donald Levine had plenty of experience designing and producing toys. He had been a Hasbro executive for most of his adult life. His time before Hasbro was spent with the U.S. Army, so he also had a fair bit of military experience having also fought in the Korean War.
Levine didn’t come up with the concept of G.I. Joe but purchased it from a man named Stanley Weston. He may not have had the idea, but G.I Joe became G.I. Joe because of the guidance and leadership of Levine. Most men of this time period were veterans of one sort or another, and that included the men running Hasbro, which led to a certain respect when it came to the creation and evolution of G.I. Joe figurines.
At the same time, his background gave Levine the education necessary to be an expert in the development of action figures. This made him a prime candidate when the CIA wanted to develop Operation Devil Eyes. Levine had served his country before and clearly had a passion for toy development. I don’t doubt that he was excited to be a part of a modern operation in the Global War on Terror.
The deal with Devil Eyes
The CIA’s plan was simple and not at all influenced by leftover LSD from MK Ultra. The CIA wanted to design, develop, and create action figures of Osama bin Laden which would have a special paint that would peel or melt away when someone applied heat. How much heat would be needed isn’t stated. Would the heat of Afghanistan be enough? It’s a warm place in the summer.
Regardless, when the flesh-colored paint would melt away, the Osama bin Laden doll would become Osama bin Demon, a visage of red and black skin with green eyes. Someone at the CIA had clearly seen the Phantom Menace and took notes on Darth Maul.
The idea was simple. Build a few hundred toys, have them find their way into the hands of children, and then when Osama bin Laden turned into a demon, the children would get scared. Devil Eyes aimed to turn the tide of public opinion on bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Levine built three prototypes of bin Laden. These 12-inch figures came in a very G.I. Joe-like platform that included clothes built to resemble traditional Afghan garb. Levine had contacts in China who could produce the toys, and I’m betting the CIA preferred to do business through him rather than directly with China.
Although, after the three prototypes were made, the CIA dumped Devil Eyes, or seemed to. It wasn’t until 2014 that they acknowledged the project was real.
Why did the CIA consider the project?
That’s a great question. It seems like a long shot that an Osama bin Laden doll that turned into a demon would do all that much to turn the tide of the war. Children old enough to play with toys likely weren’t going to affect foreign policy in Afghanistan or really affect the popularity of a terrorist in one direction or another.
A possible explanation (if we totally discount the MK Ultra LSD theory) is that demons exist in Islam. They are thought to be real and always trying to lead the faithful away. These demons lack free will and are thought to be quite evil. If you could try and convince the people that the real bin Laden was a demon, they might turn on him and distrust al-Qaeda. This might work if everyone in Afghanistan was very superstitious, but they aren’t, so it was likely smart to ditch the idea.
Your own demon bin Laden
After Mr. Levine passed away, one of the prototype figures went to auction. It sold for nearly 12,000 dollars and is the only one thought to be in private ownership. It’s been suggested that the other two models are owned by the CIA. It must make one heckuva conversation piece for some head spy at Langley.
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