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Is making a fake PDF image of a birth certificate a crime? Mike Zullo answers!

Here’s what Mike Zullo said:

Let me say something Carl. You know we have been focused on this issue and, you know, your listeners, everybody is so intently focused on the birth certificate. And I just really want to make it clear. The birth certificate as it’s, in the form that it is now, a PDF file is absolutely of no evidentiary value. It’s useless. And it doesn’t really matter to an extent other than from a conspiratorial standpoint in the commission of felonies. It doesn’t matter about all these anomalies because this thing has no evidentiary value. It is nothing. It is absolutely nothing, and the American people were shown absolutely nothing.

So, no, creating a fake PDF of a birth certificate in and of itself is not a crime.

Mike Zullo also said:

We are here looking at a fraudulent document1. This document should never have been perpetrated, should never have been proffered in the manner it does. As a matter of fact, to merely create this document is a federal offense.

So yes, creating a fake birth certificate PDF is very definitely a federal crime.

I hope that clears it up.

1Some birther apologists may argue that the “document” referred in the second quote is not the PDF (an abbreviation for “portable document format”), but that cannot be for two reasons. First Zullo and the rest of the birthers claim that there was no paper Obama birth certificate to start with, and that the PDF was assembled electronically from bits and pieces. Second, the only thing the President posted for the general public, and the only thing Zullo could possibly be “looking at,” is the PDF.

Cultivate bemusement

Obama laughs over birth certificate controversy

When President Obama released his birth certificate to the world on April 27, 2011 (a date that will live in history), he said that he had watched the birther story “with bemusement.” Obama himself has minions to keep tabs on the birthers: political aides to see if there’s anything of substance to respond to, and the Secret Service to keep tabs on any birthers who show symptoms of rabies. He doesn’t think about birthers much any more, according to a speech he made to the National Action Network convention in New York City yesterday. Speaking about Voter ID laws, the President quipped [11:12 in the video]:

imageAnd just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don’t. [crowd laughs] A lot of people don’t. [Obama chuckles] I think it’s still up on a web site somewhere. [Obama chuckles and shakes his head] You remember that? That was crazy. [crowd laughs] That was some crazy stuff. [crowd and Obama laughs] I haven’t thought about that in a while. [Obama shakes his head and laughs]

Business Insider has an article: “Obama Laughs About ‘Crazy’ Birth Certificate Questions.” [I had a problem with Firefox locking up on that page, and had to use the Chrome browser.] A lively discussion appears there with a number of below average birthers participating. The discussion reveals a subculture of birthers who are even more clueless than the ones we deal with most frequently, saying things like:

  • Harrison Bounel is Michelle Obama’s cousin.
  • The Acton and Dystel bio appeared on the inside flap of Obama’s book.
  • No legitimate PDF document has layers.

The better-informed (relatively speaking) birthers at Birther Report are trying to read hidden significance into the remarks through the analysis of Obama’s microexpressions. One said:

I think Mike would agree, at 21:09 he twitches the right side of his mouth and face like I’ve never seen him do before.

Some contextually challenged folks think that Obama is acknowledging in the video that a lot of people don’t know where the President’s birth certificate, but he’s saying that a lot of people don’t know where their birth certificate is. See “Obama Admits People Don’t Know Where His Birth Certificate Is” at The Daily Dose of Conservatism web site. A commenter there thinks the video has been scrubbed :roll:

Other birthers are whining because Obama insulted them. See “Here Is Obama’s Latest Insult To Birth Certificate Skeptics” at Western Journalism.

Blogger shows Obama birth certificate artifacts caused by Xerox machine: no joy in Birtherville

I know that Internet blogger and radio host Reality Check has been busy with real life, and it’s great to see that he has been able to carve out enough time to get a few articles posted covering his testing of a sample birth certificate on a Xerox WorkCentre.

The articles so far are:

I hope my readers will take the time to look at these detailed articles, but I noticed one thing so amazing in the most recent article that I just had to highlight it here.

RC scanned a facsimile birth certificate using a Xerox WorkCentre 7535 to demonstrate how the machine’s MRC compression generates artifacts such as those seen in the President’s long-form birth certificate. The facsimile consisted of the Associated Press scan of a photocopy of the birth certificate, printed on real security paper. The White House PDF was not used to make the sample.

One of the curious artifacts in the White House PDF version of the birth certificate is the way the certificate number is divided into different layers. Here’s the certificate number as it appears in the White House PDF:


Examination of the layers in the White House PDF file reveals that the number is split into two parts, and stored in two separate layers of the file. Doesn’t that almost make you think that there is something fishy, that the certificate number was manually assembled from parts? Birthers think that it proves the whole document is a forgery, but it turns out that when a paper birth certificate is scanned with a Xerox WorkCentre 7535, we see the very same thing! Below are the certificate numbers as they appear in separate PDF layers, the White House PDF on the left and Reality Check’s scan to PDF from a Xerox machine on the right:

WHv7535 1

WHv7535 2

Isn’t that remarkable? What are the chances that a forger would divide the number in exactly the same way and put the parts in exactly the same layers that an office machine automatically does? Pretty darned small, I think.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Birtherville—mighty Zullo has struck out.

– With apology to Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Crude forgery

It seems that every time I think about it, I realize yet another reason why birther beliefs that Obama’s published long form birth certificate is a computer-generated forgery are ludicrous. This one just came to mind.

Fact 1: Anti-birthers have been able to scan a facsimile of Obama’s birth certificate and to create a PDF file with a simple work flow that has a remarkable resemblance to the White House PDF file. Not only does it look like it, numerous obscure details buried in the binary code match up: Scaling, alignment, separation, color spaces and even comments all match.

Fact 2: Birthers claim that Obama’s PDF file is a crude forgery, created by Adobe Photoshop. Only, birthers have never produced a PDF document even remotely matching the Obama PDF with Photoshop. They can make one that looks similar (after all, they need only make a copy of Obama’s or assemble one from its parts), but they have never come close to replicating the alignment, replicate the scaling, the layer separation, color spaces or comments in any software process. If the forger of Obama’s certificate is inept, how more inept are the birthers who can’t make one like it?

Obvious conclusion: The birthers lose. The certificate’s legit.

ame o ospit or nstitution not in ospit

Does that make sense to you?

Let’s say you wanted to create a fake birth certificate for Barack Obama. Would you put “ame o ospit or nstitution not in ospit” on one layer of the form and then create another layer with “N f h al i (If h al” and then try to line them up so that when printed they look perfect? Or would you make some text that said: “Name of hospital or institution (If not in hospital”? Following are the two layers from Obama’s long form showing this text on the layers:



If you believe the birther version of Obama long form forgery, you have to swallow exactly that Bizarro decomposition of the text by some hapless or clueless human forger, who despite his ineptitude creates a document that prints gorgeously and fooled several credentialed document examiners. I have years of experience with electronic conversion of documents and scanning text. That gobbledygook is exactly what I have seen over and over when computers try to deal with small text or bad copies of text. If you’ve ever played with OCR on difficult documents, you’ve probably seen the same thing.

Birthers don’t understand that the real world is messy. For them the world is highly ordered and messy things are the manifestations of the conspiracy behind it1. The inability to spot nonsense, such as the title to this article, is what makes a conspiracy theorist, and why their view of the world is so different from others.

Read more:

1I am reminded here of the movie, The Matrix, where where the world of perception is really a massive computer program simulating the world and things that aren’t quite right are bugs in the program. In conspiracy thinking, things that aren’t quite right are mistakes made by conspirators who are running the world.

Time anomalies in the White House long form PDF

Obama Conspiracy Theories original research

I have seen various reports on the Internet that there are two versions of the White House-issued PDF version of the President’s long-form birth certificate: an original and an unexplained replacement. I am skeptical about these claims because I haven’t seen any good evidence that two versions from the White House really exist.

However, there is one difference that may appear and that I address in this article.

If one uses Adobe Acrobat Reader (or full Acrobat) to display the PDF document properties, a dialog such as the one following appears showing that the file was created at 12:09:24 PM on April 27, 2011.


When we open the PDF with a text editor, the only readily-visible occurrence of the string “2011” is this:


Adding some punctuation to the date, we get:  2011-04-27 12:09:24 Z00.

According to the PDF standard Page 88 what follows the Z is the time zone.

Some reporters see different dates when they examine the properties of purported White House PDF files using other software. In particular one from the US Pacific Time Zone saw a time of 04:09:24 AM using a Windows XP properties dialog (I’m not exactly sure the software involved).

The time zone 00 is Coordinated Universal Time (UTC1) ,  what some may know as Greenwich Mean Time. It appears that the Quartz PDFContext software used by the White House does not set the local time zone in the file to the correct value of eastern US time. I know other PDF software has this same limitation, such as Image2PDF. Adobe Acrobat Distiller does set the time zone.

So the Adobe software displays the file date as-is: 12:09:24 PM but the “local time” for this on the west coast is –8 hours (in the summer), or 04:09:24 AM.

That is, depending on the software used, a White House PDF may appear to have been created at different times, but this doesn’t mean that the files are different, only that different software in different time zones can display different results.

To be sure a file has changed, use a cryptographic hash function.

1UTC is not a typo. The recognized abbreviation for Coordinated Universal Time is based on a hybrid English-French version of the phrase.