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Declassified CIA Clandestine Service Emails Fret Over “UBL/Devil dolls” Story

May 15, 2019

Via Adam Goldman/ Washington Post

A June 16, 2014 CIA “FLASH FYSA [For Your Situational Awareness] email to the Office of the Director of the National Clandestine Service [ODNCS] warned of a “Possible Future Washington Post Article regarding CIA Covert Influence Operations.”

The “covert influence operation” was a doll.  A doll with a likeness of Osama bin Laden, except that “paint on the [doll’s eyes] would rub off and create a ‘devil-eye’ effect.”

Highly redacted emails released to the National Security Archive in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that the Agency appears to have known more than it revealed to Post reporter Adam Goldman and other news outlets about the “UBL devil doll.” The CIA provided a statement which said:

“The action figure was proposed and rejected by CIA before it got past the prototype state.  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.  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.”

But the FLASH FYSA email does appear to show that the CIA had knowledge beyond what its press release stated.   The author of the flash email warned the Office of the Director of the Clandestine Service that Goldman “has proof of some kind that 1000 or so of the action figures were made by the company in China;” and that Goldman “knows that the relationship between CIA and Don Levine was beyond the dolls – to include backpacks, bicycle pumps and some girls toys.”  Don Levine was the creator of the G.I . Joe doll.  The email also states that Goldman knew “we wanted to leverage his [Don Levine’s] contacts in China” and “the material was shipped through Karachi to Afghanistan.”

“Possible Future Washington Post Article regarding CIA Covert Influence Operations.”

The email reports that Goldman “didn’t mention D/NCS [Director of National Clandestine Service Frank Archibald] in his call, although he made a reference to him in the initial inquiry.”

An earlier email reported that Goldman had pictures of the prototype and even knew the specific container ship that brought the dolls from Yantain to Karachi.

Five full pages of emails are redacted, citing Exemptions One (National Security), Three (the CIA’s statutory exemption),  and Five (the “deliberative process” exemption).  The National Security Archive will appeal the redactions.

Also included in the FOIA release is an email from the CIA’s public affairs office to Director John Brennan and others listing by name reporters Greg Miller, Siobhan Gorman, Eric Schmitt, Nancy Youssef, Aram Roston, Bob Windrem and summarizing the stories they had published.

Goldman was included in this list and the fact that he was working on the “UBL/Devil dolls” story was originally classified as Secret.

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