Dictator who's double trouble

Science & Technology

March 23, 2003|By South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Was that really him? Or a double?

Even with all their technology, experts weren't certain late last week about the images of Saddam Hussein that appeared after the initial U.S. attack on Iraq.

Human decoys have worked wonders in the past for other heads of state, including such figures as George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hussein, though, has been a master of deception, trotting out as many as 16 doubles by one estimate. A real-life version of Where's Waldo, he has moved from one palace to another, as many as 46 abodes in Iraq, according to news reports.

"It must be an amazing bit of orchestration for his inner circle to keep all of it straight," says Antonio J. Mendez, former chief of disguise for the CIA and co-author of the book Spy Dust.

Charles Zelden, associate professor of history at Nova Southeastern University, says it would be much harder today for U.S. leaders to pull off such a disguise, thanks to high-powered media technology.

"We can get close enough and get pictures, and we can analyze the differences," he says.

The same is true for voice-analysis technology, which uses computers to analyze "voice prints" with a high degree of accuracy.

"The way you pronounce your vowels and consonants can be digitized and put through a computer and broken down into formats," says Dr. Thomas VanDeWater, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami. "It's easily recognized with a good voice laboratory."

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