An apparent attempt to alter photographs of a meeting between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday at the Bagram Airbase near Kabul has set social media abuzz.Soon after Tillerson's two-hour unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday was publicly disclosed, the US Embassy and the office of President Ghani made statements about their productive meeting in Kabul.The two met in a windowless room in Bagram, the heavily fortified American military base a 90-minute drive away from Kabul. The versions of similar photographs released by the Americans and the Afghans have discrepancies, apparently meant to obscure the true venue, the New York Times reported.Both the photographs - released by the US and the one provided by Afghanistan - depict Tillerson and Ghani seated 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.However, the version released by Ghani's office erased the large digital clock showing "Zulu time" — the military term for Coordinated Universal Time — and a red fire alarm behind Tillerson and Ghani, in what would be a giveaway that it was an American military facility.A close inspection by The New York Times found significant discrepancies in the photographs that may be explained by an effort to use image-manipulation software to doctor at least one of the images.
In the Afghan photograph, the room is much more brightly lit.Both Ghani's and Tillerson's office did not immediately respond to queries by NYT about why the versions of the photo were different. "There is no question that the photo has been manipulated," said Hany Farid, an expert in photo forensics and a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, told NYT.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 Taliban's resurgence. Last month more than 50 rockets landed at and around Kabul airport during Defense Secretary James Mattis's visit.