He’s just like your childhood doll, except he was commissioned by the CIA as part of a propaganda campaign targeting the most wanted mass murderer in the world.
In June, The Washington Post published a story on how the CIA, circa 2005, hatched a plot to develop creepy-looking Osama bin Laden action figures in their war against Al Qaeda. (The CIA has a penchant for such hilarious and sometimes depraved schemes.)
The agency turned to toymaker Donald Levine, a former Hasbro executive who gave the world G.I. Joe. The CIA wanted scary, demon-looking Osama dolls to distribute to families and children, in hopes that this would help tarnish Bin Laden’s reputation and steer some kids away from his ideology. The CIA ditched the project shortly after the three prototypes came in, but you can still see what they looked like.
In fact, you can buy one of your own—thanks to the Nate D. Sanders auction house in Los Angeles.
The prototypes not in government possession are being auctioned off at a starting bid of $2,500, with the auction ending November 20th.
Nate Sanders acquired the Bin Laden devil-doll from the Levine estate, because “his kids wanted to make some money,” Sam Heller, the auction house spokesman, told The Daily Beast. The auction house reached out to the Levine estate to procur the doll.
The house has sold off items of political and pop-cultural significance before, but the 12-inch-tall prototype—“like a bobblehead that they give out at baseball promotions,” as Heller describes them—is their first foray into CIA-spook territory.
But the company, founded in the late 1980s, is no stranger to media attention. The house has sold Monica Lewinsky’s negligee, a slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake, a letter penned by Albert Einstein warning of Nazi terror, a document signed by President Thomas Jefferson, the typewriter used to draft the script for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and much more.
The auction house procured the coffin through a Dallas funeral home. Robert Edward Lee Oswald, the JFK assassin’s brother, alleged that the coffin was stolen by the funeral home, and demanded it be returned to the Oswald family. Instead, Sanders sold it for a sweet $87,000, which triggered an inevitable lawsuit (PDF).
Heller could not comment on his employer being sued by the Oswald family, but did reflect on the sale as a high point for the company. “That was a very exciting time for the auction house,” he said. “The phone was ringing off the hook.”
Their latest item may not reach that level of excitement or controversy—but the phone has indeed been ringing.
“[The doll] is one of the craziest propaganda things I’ve ever seen,” Heller remarked. “It’s the first item [of ours] that I can recall that had something to do with the CIA.”
This story has been updated.