Missing in Action
The families of the men were convinced the photo was authentic, but Pentagon officials had doubts. They noted the men looked unusually well nourished for having been in captivity for two decades; the sign they were holding appeared to have been pasted into the photo; and the source of the photo was dubious. It had been faxed to the Pentagon by a man of Cambodian descent living in Los Angeles who, in turn, said he had received it from a former prison guard living in Phnom Penh. $2 million was being demanded to help arrange the return of the fliers.
The Pentagon sent a team to Thailand to investigate. They eventually discovered the true source of the photo. It was a doctored version of a 1923 photograph (bottom) of three Soviet farmers which had been published in the December 1989 issue of a Khmer-language magazine called Soviet Union. The con artists had cropped the original image, added moustaches to the men, and pasted in the sign.
Links and References
Brugioni, D. (1999). Photo Fakery. Brassey's: pgs. 64-65.