THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Faked bin Laden photo dupes Brown

Hoax pictures also fooled other senators

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / May 5, 2011

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Senator Scott Brown said in several televised interviews yesterday that he had seen perhaps the most controversial and closely guarded photos in the world: those showing Osama bin Laden’s dead body.

Brown, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested he had viewed them as part of an official briefing, and he argued that they were too graphic to be released to the public and could enflame terrorists.

Oops.

Brown later acknowledged that he had fallen victim to a hoax, apparently the same doctored images that were making the rounds on the Internet.

“The photo that I saw and that a lot of other people saw is not authentic,’’ the senator said in a one-sentence statement issued hours after the interviews aired.

Brown’s aides declined to explain who showed him the fake photos, why he believed the photos were real, and why he had suggested he had seen them as part of an official briefing. At least two other members of the Armed Services Committee, Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, and Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said they saw photos of the body.

The acknowledgment that Brown had been duped was an embarrassment for a freshman senator who has been trying to burnish his national security credentials. Brown, who is also a member of the Homeland Security Committee, recently said he wants to be sent to Afghanistan for his annual training as a member of the National Guard.

Early in the day, Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, said in an interview with NECN he believed the photos should not be released to “sell newspapers.’’

“Let me assure you that he is dead, that bin Laden is dead,’’ Brown said in the interview. “I have seen the photos and, in fact, we’ve received the briefings and we’ll continue to get the briefings.’’

Brown echoed the sentiment in a separate interview with WFXT-TV (Channel 25).

“Listen, I’ve seen the picture,’’ Brown said. “He’s definitely dead. And if there’s any conspiracy theories out there, you should put them to rest.’’

He added that the photos were bloody. “Anytime you have somebody who’s shot, certainly, it is gruesome,’’ he said.

Senators, however, were not shown the photos during a closed-door hearing this week held for members of the Armed Services Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, according to an official briefed on the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

Several computer-generated photos of bin Laden’s bloody head were circulating on the Internet yesterday, according to published reports.

The Guardian newspaper in Britain reported that one of the photos combined a picture of a corpse with one of bin Laden that was taken in 1998 and used by the Reuters news agency.

The New York Times reported that several of the doctored photos were briefly posted on the websites of several British newspapers.

Ayotte told reporters in Washington yesterday that an unnamed senator had shown her a photo of bin Laden.

“I saw a photo of him deceased, the head area,’’ she told reporters, according to the Nashua Telegraph. “Obviously he had been wounded. . . . I can’t give any better description than that.

Asked if it was bin Laden, Ayotte told the reporters, “In my view yes. Obviously I’m not an expert in this area. But . . . since he’s such a well-known figure, when you see the picture, it clearly has his features.’’

Chambliss said the photos he had seen were “what you’d expect from somebody shot in the head,’’ according to CNN. “It’s not pretty.’’

President Obama said yesterday that he would not release the photos to the public. In an interview with “60 Minutes,’’ the president said the photos could incite violence and be used as a propaganda tool by terrorists.

“Americans and people around the world are glad that he’s gone,’’ Obama said. “But we don’t need to spike the football.’’

Matt Viser of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.