Once President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces on Sunday, it didn’t take long for fake photographs of the terrorist leader’s corpse to start circulating. Websites and newspapers fell for them. And so did, apparently, U.S. senators.
Three senators who claimed to have seen a photograph of bin Laden’s post-mortem are now backtracking, or flat out admitting they were duped.
One of the senators is a key decision-maker on national security issues. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said earlier today that he had seen a photo of a slain bin Laden, describing it in some detail without casting any doubt on its authenticity. But sure enough, he now admits he saw a fake.
“I was shown a picture — it looked like a picture of bin Laden,” Chambliss told TPM. “It appeared to be accurate but it was not.”
Chambliss said the photo was electronic and someone — not a senator or government official — had shown it to him, but he declined to elaborate.
About an hour before admitting the photo was a fake, he sent out a vague statement that basically conceded his mistake.
“While I am supportive of making pertinent information regarding this historic event available to the public, we must seriously consider the impact these photos could have if they inflame or provide an excuse to those wishing to harm the United States, both at home and abroad,” he said. “When I see the photos, I can make an informed judgment about the potential damage they may do.”
Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), also had to correct a statement he gave to NECN today about seeing bin Laden photographs. In a statement, NECN said the photographs Brown told the network he saw “were not authentic.”
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told TPM that she also saw a photograph of bin Laden’s corpse. She said at the time she could not verify the photograph but that “another senator showed it to me and usually that’s a good source.” But when we contacted her this afternoon, she told us the image she saw was not “official.”
“I said from the beginning I could not verify it … I have not seen the official photo … you need to go to the administration for that…” Ayotte said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared amused by the mystery surrounding the fake photos and the questions about how sitting senators — especially one deeply involved with national security — could fall for a fake.
“To best of my knowledge no photo has been given out [by the CIA or White House],” Feinstein said. “And I think if it were out, I would have” been shown a copy.
Feinstein, who supports President Obama’s decision not to release the photo, hasn’t put in a request to see the real photos and said she doesn’t need to.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Osama is dead,” she said.