FBI turned Spanish MP into Bin Laden

An age-processed image of the al-Qa'ida leader was hard to do, until a technician found a suitable image on the internet
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The Independent Online

The former leader of the Spanish Communist Party is threatening to take the FBI to court after it used his photograph to compose its latest mugshot of Osama bin Laden.

"I am stupefied the FBI has used my photo to compose a picture of a terrorist," said Gaspar Llamazares, now the parliamentary spokesman for the United Left.

"It affects my honour, my own image and also the security of all of us," he said, adding that he would no longer feel safe travelling to the US given the growing use of biometric technology to compare facial features with passengers' passport photos.

The FBI's "age processed" image of Bin Laden was a version of the agency's 1998 photo of the reclusive al-Qa'ida leader, digitally altered to show how he might have aged in the nine years since he is believed to have evaded US special forces in Afghanistan and gone into hiding.

The FBI said the forensic artist working on the image had been unable to find any photographs with suitable features in the agency's archive, so instead he doctored a picture he found on the internet.

The altered photo appeared on a US State Department website, rewardsforjustice.net. It offers a reward of up to $25m for Bin Laden, wanted in connection with the 9/11 attacks and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

The FBI was aware of the similarities between the Bin Laden photo and that of "an existing photograph of a Spanish public official", special agent Jason Pack said yesterday.

"The forensic artist was not aware of the identity of the individual depicted in the photograph," Mr Pack said, adding that the image would be removed from the website.

Mr Llamazares, 52, said he was furious his hair and face had been used. "I have seen the security services involved in some very strange things, but I would never have believed they could have affected me so directly," he said.

"First, I will ask the FBI for an explanation, which they haven't given me yet, and then I will reserve the right to take legal action."

José Morales, a spokesman for Izquierda Unida, said no one in Spain had had any idea that such important security images were in fact retouched photos of real people. "A technician has cut and pasted, in Photoshop, a photo he found on the internet, and you don't have to be in Quantico – the agency's Virginia training facility – to do that," Mr Morales said.

William Ostic, at the US embassy in Madrid, told Reuters he had rung Mr Llamazares to apologise.