Innovation

The CIA Almost Made This Scary Osama bin Laden Action Figure


In 2006, the CIA, with the help of a toymaker in China, developed three prototypes of an Osama bin Laden action figure. Seen here are two sample heads

Photograph by Adam Goldman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In 2006, the CIA, with the help of a toymaker in China, developed three prototypes of an Osama bin Laden action figure. Seen here are two sample heads

To help snuff out the influence of al Qaeda in Pakistan, in 2005 the CIA commissioned an action figure of Osama bin Laden, whose familiar visage would melt away to reveal the face of a demon. The intent was to scare children and their parents away from the real terrorist.

As Adam Goldman of the Washington Post reports, the spy agency tapped former Hasbro (HAS) executive and G.I. Joe creator Donald Levine to design the figurine. Levine died of cancer at 86 in May.

An Osama bin Laden action figure, with the regular head and the demonic version of the head belowPhotograph by Adam Goldman/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesAn Osama bin Laden action figure, with the regular head and the demonic version of the head belowThe CIA ultimately abandoned the campaign—code-named Devil Eyes—though hundreds of prototypes might have been shipped to the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2006. According to CIA spokesperson Ryan Trapani, however, “there were only three individual action figures ever created, and these were merely to show what a final product might look like.” The final 12-inch figure was to be covered in heat-dissolving paint that would peel away to expose haunting green eyes and red skin with black markings.

Levine’s ultrapatriotic G.I. Joe made $5 billion in sales after it first came to market in 1964. According to the Post, the project “‘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.’”

Lanks is the design editor of Businessweek.com.

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