Thursday, April 27, 2006

Is the Zarqawi video a hoax?

People still snicker whenever anyone suggests that the American intelligence community has, in the past, manipulated the American press. Yet nobody laughed at Donald Rumsfeld when he claimed that
"The terrorists, Zarqawi and bin Laden and Zawahiri, those people have media committees. They are actively out there trying to manipulate the press in the United States."
Rumsfeld did not point to a single story in the U.S. media influenced by the putative Zarqawi "media committee." How could he? The Defense Secretary's assertion is inane on its face. A couple of criminals despised by all Americans could never "spin" CBS or the New York Times.

Is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself a manipulation? As we discussed in a recent post, the Washington Post revealed that the "threat" posed by this alleged Al Qaeda leader was largely the creation of a military PSYOPS unit. The propaganda campaign created by this unit targeted both the foreign press and the U.S. "home audience." Our troops were another target: When they unleashed "Whiskey Pete" on civilians in Fallujah, they did so in the belief that they were fighting Zarqawi.

On the same day the Post story appeared, Bush -- in a speech -- cited as genuine a Zarqawi letter now known to be fake.

Journalist Robert Fisk feels that Zarqawi may have died years ago. The Jordanian has not been seen in years; he did not communicate with his family when his mother died; he has made no attempt to help his wife.

Fisk is hardly the only skeptic to make such a claim -- see, for example, this page of links. (Note: A number of the links go to pages I consider less than credible.)

There are numerous mysteries surrounding this alleged Al Qaeda mastermind: The many reported deaths...the leg that either was or was not amputated...his alleged presence in the questioned Nick Berg decapitaion video...and more.

I cannot discuss all of these matters here -- although I should note in passing that, if memory serves, we never did receive official confirmation that Zarqawi's voice was heard on the Berg video. One would think that the CIA possesses the ability to nail that sort of identification.

Now we have a new video featuring Zarqawi -- a man who has died many a death, a man claimed by the august Washington Post to be largely a PSYOPS-driven myth. The timing of this video release, so soon after the Post story, seems rather convenient. A copy of the Zarqawi video can be found here. (I can't help noting that one of the jihadist fighting songs sounds an awful lot like an old WWI ditty: "Skitta-marink-a-dink-a-dink-a-parlez-vous...")

If you're well-read in the lore of intelligence operations, you may have come across accounts of faked videos involving look-a-like actors. I will discuss one notorious example in a future post. For now, let us note in passing that we do have one confirmed incident of a faked beheading video put together by a young hoaxer named Benjamin Vanderford, who seems to have operated out of bizarre personal motives. If a mere civilian can create such a thing, a military psychological operations unit could surely do a more professional job.

All of which means that we have good reason to ask: Is the man in the new video Zarqawi?

Please note that, as of this writing, the CIA has not offered a public confirmation of this video's authenticity. Neither has the intelligence service of any other nation. (Update: Fox News did quote an unnamed "intelligence official" as saying that technical analysis had identied the voice as Zarqawi's. Since Fox would not identify the agency employing this source, we have no idea if the assertion is credible.)

Forgive me if what follows seems a little too "grassy knoll" for some of you, but I thought I would try my hand at some rudimentary photographic analysis. Very rudimentary. I have not tracked the origin point of the most commonly-reproduced "Zarqawi" photos, and I am forced to work with very low quality jpg images. What follows is only a start; all conclusions must be very tentative. I hope that, in the future, photographic professionals will have a go at continuing this work, and that they will be in a position to use better raw materials.

First, let us arrange our Zarqawi images.

The image I have labeled "Z1" -- reproduced toward the beginning of this post -- appears on many web sites. It shows Zarqawi before he became a jihadist.

Z2 (above), another commonly-seen picture, allegedly shows the man after he joined the fight. For some reason, most web sites flip this image horizontally. (You can tell by the blemish on his right cheek.)

I believe Z1 and Z2 to be authentic, but I may be wrong.

Z3, which should appear to the left of these words or just above (depending on your browser settings) was taken from the questioned video.

Z4 appears below. This image comes from the same video.

All right. Now let's start to look a little closer. What identifying marks can we find on Z1, the earliest image, and the one least open to question?

There are also noteworthy features on his chin -- a mole and a scar. In later photos, a beard covers these identifying marks, so they are now of little use to us. The blemish on the right cheek appears in all of these photos; it is easily faked with a daub of make-up. We need not pay any further attention to it.

Let's get in as close as we can to the mouth (remembering, as always, that we are dealing with poor materials). The question mark indicates that the image comes from the questioned video.

The sharply defined, rather off-center V-shaped indentation in the upper lip, visible in the early photos, seems to have gone missing in the stills captured from the video. Zarqawi also seems to have developed a Cheney-esque sneer, in which the lower lip slides to one side.

Now let's peer into Zarqawi's eyes:
The shape of the eyebrow is very similar in both instances. However, the eyebrow does seem thicker in the earlier photo. In the video, Zarqawi's eyes droop -- frankly, he looks stoned. Perhaps one can blame fatigue and poor diet.

When the FBI and the intelligence community do this sort of work, they try to acquire clear shots of the ears, since they are almost as identifiable as fingerprints. In this case, the ear angles are far from ideal. Even so, the close-to-the-head ears of "video Zarqawi" seem to differ markedly from the bat-like protruding ears we see in the earlier images. (I flipped a detail from Z1 in this instance; you can do your own comparisons using all these images, plus any others you dig up.) So far, the ears offer the strongest evidence that this video carries the odor of fish.

Does the same man appear in all four of these pictures? Frankly, I am not sure; the poor raw materials disallow certainty. Although I lean toward the view that the video Zarqawi is a "ringer," I can be talked out of the idea. The apparent differences do strike me as sufficiently noteworthy to merit further study. (Incidentally, there are those who say that Zarqawi was captured and turned; thus, even if the man in the video is genuine, the video itself could be fictional.)

Readers must come to their own conclusions.
even more wierd is why video of Bin Laden addresses this fake Iraq man
I addressed that in the preceding post on this topic. Mind you, I don't KNOW that Zarqawi is a fake. He is not Iraqi, by the way.
Speaking of Nick Berg, when are you going to turn your penetrating and paranoid mind to THAT story?
Even if he's "real", he's a fiction, in light of the way he's being used by BushCo, and the dishonesty of "clash of civilization" narrative.

In that sense, Bin Laden is also largely imaginary by now. The future does not depend on him.

In effect, most Americans are already living in a fantasy world, and one more fiction creational hardly matters....
Penetrating AND paranoid? I'll take that as a compliment. I think. At any rate, I discussed Berg a LOT back in the days when nobody was reading this blog. My interest was less in the video than in the question of who he worked for and why he did some of the very odd things he was doing. Maybe I'll return to that stuff in a while...
I think you mean Z-2 is flipped vertically -- on the vertical axis.
Joseph, One of the most bizarre aspects of the legend of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is, in a sense, right before our eyes on our computer screens: namely, his name! His name itself is meaningless, providing no real identification of the man.

His first name, Abu Musab, is what we in the west would call a nick name. In Arab countries, a man often is nicknamed after his first son. "Abu" means "father of". For example, the moderate Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is often called Abu Mazen. That's because his first son was named Mazen. So he is called "Mazen's Dad." So "Abu Musab" is not a given first name; it means, "Musab's Dad."

His last name is also not really his surname. al-Zarqawi refers to the town in Jordan that he is from, Zarqa. "al" means "the". so "al Zarqawi" simply means "the Zarqawi guy."

So the most wanted man in the world is named, "Musab's Dad, the guy from Zarqa." That's a pretty good indication that his identity if not a pure fake, is easily manipluated.

HamdenRice from DU
Note in the video (just fyi) that his trusty ak47 is now replaced with an m203 (colt) (grenade launcher)...UPGRADE!
Even if the video is real it probably is shot in Iraq, but already back in 2003 or so. BTW it came on the world perfect together with the Rice/Rumsfeld visit to Irak.
When I first saw that photo (Z3) I immediately sensed that it was fake. The weapon in the background presents much sharper detail than Zarqawi himself, despite the fact that he's closer to the camera. It looks like it was photoshopped in.
I too, have doubts about the authenticity of the video, and posted on it when it first came out at unbrainwashed because in Z2 (which was the picture I used for comparison) his nose appears to be shorter than the video picture. But if this guy is hobbling around Iraq with a wooden leg, how has he not been captured when Saddam (who was rumored to have several doubles) was?
Very interesting post.

I have questioned whether supposed 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour looks like HIS pictures:
Brian Williams NBC Nightly News show tonight showed both pictures (same as your Z2 & Z3)-- at practically record breaking speed -- without mentioning exactly why, or if he did i was not paying close enough attention because, my mind was too occupied thinking that was not the same person. I re_member wishing NBC would have left the photos up longer to compare, (I do not re_member whether they were shown side-by-side). However it did not take much to see the difference between both images to conclude they were not the same.. The only photo i've seen previously is the same as Z2.

For the sake of giving the benefit of the doubt, I wondered if al-Zarqawi lost weight, aged or thought perhaps it was the beard and left it at that since the two photos were on the TV screen only for a second at best; that is until now. I still draw my original conclusion, it does not appear to be one and the same.

Compare: Z-2's deeply inset eyes with Z3 and 4, the hair lines & hair thickness of the beard and mustache' even the texture appear different. These are photographs and certainly Iam not an expert.

Insofar as the recent bin-laden video tape, coupled with the al-Zarqawi video in addition to (i read somewhere on the net) al-Zawahiri released a tape are called over-kill!

Each and every time things go south for the administration -- when they are in trouble -- their pattern has been consistent: blame everyone else while simultaneously protesting too much ... and when that does not work they bring out the "terrorist" threat hoping the media will erupt into a frenzy that will intimidate and scare the public back into silence.

I watched the berg beheading video. There were many discrepancies starting with first and foremost at the moment a head is severed from the body blood spurts everywhere. But in the video there was no blood ... none ... nothing ... not even a single drop fell from the head as they held it up close to the camera. Berg's body was listless before decapitation so it is dubious he was alive. One of the men sort of kicked him.

It is my understanding Muslim men do not wear wedding bands --(do not recall how many) one or more men in the video were wearing a wedding band.

Iraqis do not wear tennis shoes, they wear sandals -- well they very well may, but I have yet to see an Iraqi man in tennis shoes. Yet all of the men in the berg video wore tennis shoes. And by the same token, it is out of the ordinary militants, freedom fighters, resistance fighters are stocky or heavy, but all the men in the video were heavy. Of course there are heavy-set Iraqi men, but generally speaking they are not fighters -- they are civilians.

My observations are not conclusive by any means, but enough to raise questions about the "official" story.
Whoa! Dov vijfhoek said...! You can't make up a name like that, Joseph--I think you've gone international!

Anonymous 5:12, that's good, I think you may be right about the rifle.

Oh, yeah. Anyone who's not paranoid isn't paying attention...
As an Arab I have some things to add. The odd song you seem to compare with one from WOII is an very old Arab war song. I think it just sounds like the one you meant (I dont know the WOII song you mean, but I do know the Arabic one is an old one).
The evidence you showed is not accurate. I strongly advice you to look at the video from 32:00 minutes, from there the position of Zarqawi is the same as the picture. And you will see the mouth and ear to be identical with the picture.
(Arab) As for the rifle I have seen many video's of insurgents capturing and using US equipment. So it is not a suprise at all that they have US made weaponry.
Z3,4 is the same person as Z1, dent on the right cheek. And you can't go comparing his mirrored left ear from the first pic with his right one in the forth and say it is not the same guy!
I am not sure Z2 is the same as the person in the other 3 pics (pointy chin when compared to the other photos).
And as a last comment Z1 is definitively not the oldest picture of Z, in fact it actually shows a different person than in the very first Z photo that surfaced.
Now all I can say is, I am not sure if it is just another case of phloger, or just a honest error!
The other morning I staggered out of bed after a night of celebration and a bit of over-indulgence on the bubbly. To my horror when I looked in the mirror a most unfamiliar face was staring back at me. Not only had it aged considerably from the day before, but my lips seemed puffy (catching flies all night?) one ear was definately bent out of shape from falling asleep on a shoe on my pillow, my hair could have provided great nesting material for the the birds chirping eagerly outside my window, and worst of all my eyes had even changed from a brilliant blue to a strange mauve like color. I defy anyone to tell me I wasn't a victim of the same team that pulled off this video. I've been faked!!
To my last commenter: I know precisely what you're talking about.

For the others, I hope everyone understands that I am not touting ANY firm conclusions and that my intention is to provoke debate.

To the one who said that the rifle appeared to be in sharper focus: The image comes from a video, in which moving objects will sometimes show a bit of blurring.

In response to this comment:

"Z3,4 is the same person as Z1, dent on the right cheek. And you can't go comparing his mirrored left ear from the first pic with his right one in the forth and say it is not the same guy!"

I mentioned this bit about the mark on the cheek. I wouldn't call it a dent; more of a blemish. And obviously, a dab of make-up would do the trick.

I think if you compare ANY image from the vidoe with ANY available image from earlier, the ears will look different. I am not saying that it's a different guy; I am saying that, so far, it's the most perplexing oddity.

For what it is worth, if you flip Z1, the face is on an axis similar to Z4. So I think a comparison is fair. Even so, I would love much clearer shots of the ears.

To my Arab correspondent: I will take your suggestion. I must confess that I stopped watching the video before the 32 minute mark.

The similarities between songs is, I am sure, just a coincidence. The song from World War I is composed of nonsense words; the song poked fun at the way the French language sounded to soldiers who had never heard it before.

Finally, others have asked whether the video might be real...but OLD. I need to look again at the transcript. Even if the text references contemporary events, it is easy (given modern technology) to engineer a fake statement using a sampled recording.

It DOES seem odd that Z's men could be conducting maneuvers in the a country that must be studied constantly by satellite.


There's also the "where die he get a brand new M249" Its not like the USA hands those things out to the enemy.
Booga-Booga, Zarqawi's coming to get ya!

Wait, I thought he was dead.

Oh, that was Snake Pliskin.

Why take the mainstream media's word for ANYTHING? They are merely a brainwashing tool.
Just more paranoia from the left. Everything is a conspiracy!!! Bush cheated....what about that story... I don't hear anything about that!
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