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When Your Eyes Tell You Lies
07 May 2002
Modified: 02:09:47 PM
I found this article in my files and therefore cannot provide you with a URL. However Insight may have an archive that you can search. Considering the status of this dirty, filthy gov't it is good to observe what has been said about it from years past.
When Your Eyes Tell You Lies
By Timothy W. Maier
Government and the media commonly manipulate video and
photographs using modern computer technology, raising ethical
questions concerning truth and deception.
(Click on the links in the text to view photos.)
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but doctoring a photo sometimes says a lot
more. Hollywood certainly has played doctor more than once. Remember the movie
Capricorn One — in which the plot centers around a mission to Mars, faked in a movie
studio, that convinced the whole world we had landed a team of astronauts on the Red
Planet? Such a conspiracy might seem hard to pull off in real life, but don’t bet your
mortgage on it.
During the last 150 years, photographs repeatedly have been manipulated for propaganda,
fraud, humor, profit and just to rewrite history. In the mid-1800s, supernatural spirits
sometimes were “photographed” by unscrupulous photographers through the expediency
of overexposing pictures and superimposing an old photo of a deceased husband or wife.
“Historically people have done it for years with simply scissors and paste, but modern
technology has made it much easier,” says Larry Nighswander, director of Ohio
University’s School of Visual Communication. A former photo editor at National
Geographic, Nighswander recalls the famous “moving-pyramid” shot in which editors
before his time appeared to have moved the pyramids for a cover shot. “Immediately after
they did it, they were caught,” he says. “They rotated the image; they didn’t move the
pyramids. They moved the photographer to make it appear he shot it from a different
But after critics cried foul, Nighswander says, National Geographic immediately
implemented a policy against photo manipulation. Today, he says, advances in technology
have created a monster. “The danger is that we can mislead anybody — a reader, a family
member. In our attempt to deceive we have crossed an ethical barrier.”
While the technical advances assuredly have had a positive impact, with law-enforcement
agencies using computer simulation to project the ages of lost children, to reconstruct
crime scenes and to catch criminals, the downside to this evolving technology has left the
public wondering if it can trust what it sees. John Long, ethics chairman of the National
Press Photographer’s Association, warns: “You can’t believe anything you see. It’s been
an epidemic. It has threatened the credibility of visual news reporting.”
Indeed, photographs are being ma-nipulated at an alarming rate. Each year, 38 million
pictures are taken in the United States and, according to the Rochester Institute of
Technology, 10 percent of those photos are altered.
It is common practice to publish altered photos along with a small, barely readable
disclaimer explaining the picture has been enhanced or modified by a computer. The
National Enquirer used computers to place bruises on Nicole Brown Simpson’s face — an
image that many still remember as a true and accurate photograph. More recently the
Enquirer displayed computerized shots of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s airplane with the
small-print disclaimer that it was a computer rendition created by a photo illustrator.
“Does the average viewer understand what a photo illustrator is?” wonders Nighswander.
“What’s the difference between a photo illustrator and a photographer? I don’t think
people know. We are blurring the perception of reality.”
Of course sometimes the media designers do it for artistic or humorous reasons, such as
when Insight engaged in a little computer fun by superimposing Bill Clinton’s head on the
chained body of Harry Houdini to suggest the president had become an escape artist (Jan.
11-18, 1999). While the humor depends on making it obvious the photograph has been
altered, some famous manipulated shots have gone down in history as the truth.
For example, the Library of Congress displays a statuesque and robust portrait of
Abraham Lincoln. The real thing? Look again. After Lincoln’s death, the head from a
portrait of Lincoln by Mathew Brady was reversed and placed on the body of Sen. John
Calhoun to make this famous picture. More recently, a supposedly left behind in Vietnam
appeared mysteriously in 1991. Relatives claimed that the men were Vietnam fliers Col.
John Robertson, Lt. Cmdr. Larry Stevens and Maj. Albro L. Lundy Jr., who were listed as
missing. It turns out the image was a doctored 1923 photo of three Soviet farmers that
appeared in a 1989 issue of a Khmer-language publication, according to the CIA.
Such photo fakery is getting harder to detect. No longer are the manipulators simply using
watercolors and dyes to retouch portraits. Advertisers, politicians and the media often
add, move or delete individuals in photos to show people or events in their best light. For
example, on the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 1989, Oprah Winfrey’s head was put on dancer
Ann-Margret’s body. Five years later ABC News duped Americans after the State of the
Union address when Cokie Roberts was shown standing in a trench coat reporting on the
reaction to the president’s speech from in front of the Capitol. One problem: She wasn’t
there but was inside a studio at the ABC Washington bureau in front of a projection of the
In the 1994 senatorial race in Virginia, Democratic challenger Mark Warner’s head was
superimposed on a photo of someone else shaking hands with President Clinton, who was
unpopular in the Old Dominion. Warner’s opponent, GOP Sen. John Warner, pulled the
ad — but only after it had been run for four days.
Today it is not uncommon to see long-gone celluloid heroes such as John Wayne pop up
in commercials. Woody Allen, of course, interacted years ago with Humphrey Bogart in
Play It Again, Sam, and Tom Hanks managed to be present during the Watergate scandal
as well as shake hands with John F. Kennedy in Forrest Gump. Can we be that far away
from some clever cinematic techie splicing together hundreds of scenes from John Wayne
movies to create Return of the Duke?
What harm could that be? No one ever will die in fantasyland. But it’s the real world that
scares image experts. Faked photography is not going away, and computers are being used
to make fakes nearly impossible in some cases for even the world’s leading image analysts
“What you see isn’t necessarily the truth,” says Dino A. Brugioni, the founder of the
CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center and author of Photo Fakery: The
History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation. While no credible
imagery expert is saying that NASA has pulled a Capricorn One, it is clear that with
today’s cutting-edge technology governments have the capability to dupe an entire nation,
Brugioni says. “The technology is there and it’s only going to get worse.”
Brugioni has spent years debunking faked photographs, such as when he informed media
heavyweight Ted Koppel that the Nightline team had been misled by a bogus film showing
a two-reactor meltdown at Chernobyl. Only one had gone into meltdown. In 1978 he was
the one who discovered aerial photos of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination complex,
which showed Nazi prisoners being marched to the gas chamber. They were the real thing.
“Communists, Ghosts, Monsters and Aliens” is the title of a chapter in Brugioni’s book on
fakery. It details the findings of the U.S. Air Force’s “Project Blue Book” in 1948 which
concluded that hundreds of photos of alleged UFOs and many strange phenomena were
the result of film defects, soot, grease marks, moisture, lint, lens flare and camera
movement. Some of the shots were submitted simply as attempts to dumbfound the
experts, such as the photograph of a hubcap tossed into the air.
The Air Force created three categories: hoaxes, insufficient data and rational explanation.
But not everything could be explained, and three years ago the CIA admitted that more
than half of the unexplained UFO sightings during the 1950s and 1960s eventually were
accounted for as observations of secret reconnaissance flights.
Other countries long have used faked photos and photographic manipulation to push their
agenda. Russia and Communist China have been frequent offenders. Lately countries in
the Middle East also have been dabbling in such deceptions, Brugioni says.
In his uncensored book, Brugioni exposes some of the most dubious propaganda schemes
of the Cold War. Remember who was launched into space in April 1961? The Soviets
made efforts to conceal the details of his spacecraft and equipment from Western eyes by
changing the background of the picture. It appears that he is in space but he’s not. They
even shot a “space walk” in a water tank.
Or how about Mao Tse-tung, who disappeared from public view in late 1965. To calm
concerns about his health, Beijing’s Chinese News Agency released a picture of Mao
swimming in the rough Yangtze River. The Chinese News Agency claimed Chairman
Mao, then 72, swam nine miles in 65 minutes. But Brugioni’s analysis shows this was no
river but, more likely, a lake. Other shots showed a robust Mao entertaining foreign
guests, but careful analysis of the ears showed Mao had employed a double — a technique
used by U.S. presidents including George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt. During
World War II, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin all employed doubles who
often were photographed far away. Recent evidence from Iraqi defectors indicates that
Saddam Hussein does the same.
The health of foreign political leaders became a priority for the CIA, says Brugioni, when
it became evident that countries were trying to conceal the age or health of their leaders.
“If a president was going to make a deal we wanted to know how long the individual we
were dealing with would last,” says Brugioni.
In the 1950s the CIA began to take a hard look at the growing number of manipulated
photographs and propaganda being circulated by the Soviet Union in the Third World.
The objective of such forgeries apparently was to isolate the United States and its allies by
convincing emerging countries that the United States was aggressively imperialist and
racist. The disinformation program was aimed chiefly at journalists and officials who were
sent doctored pictures by mail.
Allen Dulles asked Richard Helms, then assistant director of the CIA, to testify before
Congress about the widespread Soviet deception. In 1961 Helms showed Congress
dozens of such forgeries, explaining that the “Soviet propaganda campaign against the
West grows daily more intense. It’s focused on the United States, our government and our
diplomatic, military and intelligence services.” In 1978 Adm. Stansfield Turner, then
director of the CIA, provided similar evidence of KGB forgeries before the House
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“We were on the watch,” Brugioni says. “There were thousands of photographs. They
were brushing out details of their weapon systems and making their leaders look younger
and healthier.” Some of this manipulation was obvious, such as during the Vietnam War
when the North Vietnamese created a bogus photo of Gen. William Westmoreland at an
alleged massacre site. The propaganda photo was supposed to show that the killing of
innocent civilians was a policy decision made by the U.S. commander himself. To do this
hatchet job, the North Vietnamese took a Newsweek cover shot of Westmoreland and
superimposed it over the massacre scene.
“Some of the stuff from the Czechs and China was pretty damn good,” says Brugioni.
“While in the Middle East the Palestinians would always show Israelis as a bunch of thugs.
An Israeli would have a hand raised in a photograph, and they would put a club in it to
After the assassination of President Kennedy, the United States was accused of doctoring
photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald. Brugioni was asked by the Warren Commission
investigating the assassination to determine whether the shot was real. Brugioni was given
the negative, he says, and his investigation “proved beyond a doubt that the was real. No
doubt about it,” he says. Of course having the top CIA experts claiming the photos were
not altered only created more conspiracy theories, Brugioni laughs.
With the arrival of digital computers, says Brugioni, photo technology has seen great
advances which have, in turn, opened the door to ready manipulation. “What concerns me
about this is its effect on our legal system. Judges I have talked to about it say they are
amazed how easy it is to manipulate a photograph. Yet photos are readily admitted into
evidence without serious examination as to their authenticity. The legal profession is back
in the Neanderthal age on this stuff. They say, ‘You mean it’s that easy?’ I say,
‘Photography shouldn’t be accepted prima facie in court anymore.’ If you have pictures of
an auto accident, for instance, you should be aware that a computer technician could have
wiped out the skid marks. A photo technician could have skewed the car to make it look
like the accident was somebody else’s fault. With 3 million accidents a year — that’s a lot
of photographs” to be validated.
Copyright © 2000 News World Communications, Inc.
by the doctor
(No verified email address)
07 May 2002
Insight Magazine is the sister publication of the right-wing Washington Times. Both are projects of Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. For more about Moon's religious/commercial empire, follow the link: