Bid Laden

On May 2, 2011, a team of United States special forces infiltrated Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed the al-Qaeda founder. His death was the result of a decade-long hunt throughout the region and part of greater anti-terrorism efforts over that period. It also brought a close to a very strange counter-intelligence product: the Osama bin Laden action figure, seen below.


The 12″ (30 cm) tall doll dates back to 2005. The CIA was looking at ways to decrease bin Laden’s influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and figured toys could be a really great way to do that.

The Washington Post reported the details. The operation, code named Devil Eyes, would start with distributing the action figures to parents and children throughout the area. Then, when the new owners of these Osama dolls least expect it, make the al-Qaeda leader suddenly look incredibly creepy. How? Heat. As the Post explained, “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.” And to make sure the dolls really felt like the toys that children were accustomed to, the CIA brought in a former Hasbro executive named Donald Levine. Years earlier, Levine had helped start the GI Joe action figure franchise, making him a uniquely appropriate choice.

But Operation Devil Eyes never went into full production. Shortly after the Washington Post article hit, a CNN follow-up noted that only three dolls were made — all prototypes that were never deployed — and the CIA pulled the plug on the initiative shortly thereafter. That’s the bad news.

The good news? While the dolls never made it to Pakistan or Afghanistan, they weren’t destroyed, either. Well, at least one wasn’t. It made its way to an auction house. If you want to bid on it, the auctioneer is accepting bids through 5:00 P.M. Pacific Time on November 20th. Be prepared to fork over well over $2,000, though.

Bonus Fact: In 1993, a group called the “Barbie Liberation Organization” (“BLO”) claimed to buy about 300 talking GI Joes and Barbie dolls and then snuck them back on store shelves. But between the purchase and the restocking, the group, per the New York Times, switched the toys’ voice boxes, so that GI Joe said “Let’s plan our dream wedding!” while Barbie screamed “Vengeance is mine!” The group also included a leaflet in the box, explaining the BLO’s “anti-sexist, anti-violence” agenda, in the words of the Times, although at $40 to $50 per toy, the ultimate purchasers likely weren’t receptive to the BLO’s message.
From the ArchivesOsama’s Father: Who was Osama bin Laden’s father? It’s a story unto itself. (Originally published two days after Osama’s death.)

RelatedA 12″ collectable Cobra Commander figure. At $170 plus shipping, he’s the budget-conscious alternative to the $2,000++ Bin Laden, if you really need a villainous bad guy for your high-end action figure collection.