Soon after a two-hour secret visit to Afghanistan by Secretary of State Rex W. TillersonÂ and President Ashraf Ghani on Monday (Oct 23) was publicly disclosed, both the Americans and the Afghans released photographs â€“ however, the one released by the latter were apparently altered.
The meeting was not held in Kabul, but in a windowless room in Bagram, the heavily fortified American military base a 90-minute drive away, The New York Times reported.
The misinformation, apparently meant to obscure the true venue, was betrayed by discrepancies in the similar photographs.
Both show Tillerson and Ghani sitting at the head of the room, two giant television screens behind them. On the coffee table between them are a thermos, two cups and bottled water. Their delegations sit across from each other.
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But the version released by Ghaniâ€™s office erased the large digital clock showing â€œZulu timeâ€ â€” the military term for Coordinated Universal Time â€” and a red fire alarm behind Tillerson and Ghani, in what would be a giveaway that it was an American military facility.
Ghaniâ€™s office did not immediately respond to queries about why its version of the photo was different. Tillerson and his staff, who traveled to Iraq after leaving Afghanistan, did not immediately respond early Tuesday to questions about the discrepancy.
â€œThere is no question that the photo has been manipulated,â€ said Hany Farid, an expert in photo forensics and a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College.
Farid said the method was most likely done through Photoshop, editing software that can delete objects and refill the space. But this particular alteration was easily detectable.
The cable on the wall to power the clock and the fire alarm was not completely obscured in the altered version, instead appearing to fade into the wall.
Security concerns for the visit of someone as high profile as Tillerson are justified because of the Talibanâ€™s resurgence. Last month more than 50 rockets landed at and around Kabul airport during Defence Secretary James Mattisâ€™ visit.
But many Afghans may see the altered photo of Tillersonâ€™s visit as evidence of a government effort to twist facts to package a positive narrative, both to its international partners as well as its citizens.
While the photo manipulation may be new, the Afghan government has changed facts before.
On at least one occasion, when the Taliban have overrun the center of a district, the government has relocated the local administration compound to another area so it can say â€œno, the district has not fallenâ€.