Bin Laden and Brzezinski
Those claiming that bin Laden had a strong association with the US and the CIA will often pull out these photos, saying they show bin Laden with Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
We've seen captions like "here's some photos of the Trilateral co-FOUNDER with his favorite terrorist" (source), "President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski visiting 'his boy', Osama Bin Laden, in training with the Pakistan Army, 1981" (source), and "Brzezinski and Tim Osman (Osama bin Laden) discuss the string of Jihads that Zbigniew never regrets" (source).
But where is the evidence that this is bin Laden? It's curiously lacking. All we have are assertions, and no explanations for the problems with these photos.
Take the height of the bearded man in the photos, for instance. The FBI's Most Wanted poster for bin Laden says he's "6' 4" to 6' 6"" tall; looking at other sources, 6' 4" seems to be the concensus view. If this man is bin Laden, then he looks to be the same height as Brzezinski, who must also be very tall - right?
Well, maybe not. We've not seen a definitive height, but from photos he appears to be fractionally taller than Jimmy Carter (5' 9.5"), and a little smaller than Reagan (6' 1", see here) - a very average height (see below, second from the right).
Even if Brzezinski is 6' tall, he'd still be 4" shorter than bin Laden, who should look significantly taller in those photos. (As an example, Kissinger in the above photo was 4" smaller than Reagan, and the height difference there is extremely obvious.) But they look a very similar height, suggesting that this isn't bin Laden.
Another problem acknowledged in a caption above is that the bearded man is in a Pakistani army uniform. When was bin Laden in Pakistan's army? We've yet to see anyone show that he was, even suggest that he was, other than for the purposes of supporting claims about this photograph.
We could theorise that he was an important person, and being given some kind of military training, to help him in Afghanistan. But why, then, is he in the photo, and anonymous? If he's important for some positive reason, why wasn't this flagged up to the press who were watching? If he's a secret, why was he placed in front of the press for some pointless photo opportunity? It doesn't make sense.
And what about the date of the photo, February 3rd 1980? Bin Laden wasn't yet a person of note, he hadn't established the Maktab al-Khadamat, and al Qaeda was years away. Why would he be of any importance to Brzezinski, why would they be having talks at all?
Of course none of this can provide a definitive answer. There are always those who ignore all doubts, demand that we prove conclusively that it isn't bin Laden (forgetting that they don't have a jot of evidence that it is). So perhaps it's best to simply end with the real source and story of the photo.
On the web it's variously dated to "late 70's", 1979, 1981, "late 1980's", and so on. However, we found the specific details on the Corbis website:
And, given that clue, we were able to retrieve press stories on what was happening.
This isn't a leaked photo from some secretive sessions with bin Laden, then - it came from a photo opportunity that hit the papers the very next day. And given that the bearded man appears to be the wrong height to be bin Laden, and there's no reason to believe bin Laden was ever in the Pakistani army, and it makes no sense that this soldier would be having important discussions with Brzezinski, and bin Laden wasn't significant at this time anyway, we'd suggest the most likely alternative is the one presented here: the bearded man was just another Pakistani soldier.