Layer upon layer: Opening Obama's birth certificate in Adobe Illustrator

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I haven't commented previously about the Obama birth certificate issue. My problems with the president involve his policies, not his place of birth. My guess was that there was something embarrassing on the long-form birth certificate that didn't appear on the certification of live birth that he released earlier.

And now the White House has posted on its website a PDF containing what purports to be a scan of a certified copy of the birth certificate of Barack Hussein Obama, II.

I say "purports" because there are some weird things about it. It's not strange that it's a PDF, rather than an image file, like a JPEG, BMP, PNG, or TIFF. Many scanners generate a PDF by default.

A tweet from Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit alerted me to some oddities with the document. I downloaded a copy of the PDF directly from the White House website, at this URL:

The metadata in the file is strange: It indicates that it had been processed in some way by Adobe Illustrator.

I happen to have Illustrator, so I opened the birth certificate PDF in Illustrator and followed the process outlined by Mara Zebest, coauthor of a book on Photoshop:

1. Select the entire document (Ctrl-A)
2. Object | Clipping Mask | Release
3. Repeat step 2 until Release is no longer an option.

When I did it, I could only do step 2 once after which Release was grayed out. But the result was the same: Boxes outlining eight parts of the document as separate objects and one box surrounding it all.

Reopening the original file again, I found that all I had to do was open the file in Illustrator and click using the Selection tool, and I could see all the box elements. In the layers box, there is one layer, composed of one group, which in turn is composed of 9 groups and a clipping mask. Each of those 9 groups is composed of an image and a clipping mask.

After following the above steps 1 and 2, all the clipping masks were converted to paths and the layer was composed of 9 groups and a path, with no intermediate path. Each individual component image could then be made invisible, using the layer dialog.

The nine components:

  1. Tiny fragments the same color as the safety paper pattern on the top edge just left of center
  2. Tiny fragments the same color as the safety paper pattern on the top edge just above the certification date
  3. The letters "Non" from the word None in box 17a.
  4. "AUG - 8 196" - part of a stamped date in box 20.
  5. "AUG - 8" and the digit 6 in 1961in box 22.
  6. "APR 25 2011" at the bottom left of the page.
  7. The certification stamp of the state registrar at the bottom right.
  8. Most of the remaining typed letters on the form, the handwritten dates, and the last half of Ann Dunham Obama's name.
  9. Everything else -- the safety paper pattern, with white ghosts or haloes around the letters were first half of Ann Stanley Obama's signature, the signature of the Physician, all but one letter of the original registrar's signature, the form grid, and scattered letters -- the R in Barack, the K in Kenya, the S in Stanley, the last digit of the sequence number in the upper left of the page, and the handwritten numbers (which look like coding for statistical purposes)

Here's the ninth image -- what's left after the top 8 images are turned off (click the half-size thumbnail to view 997 KB full-size PNG -- I exported it from Illustrator at the same 72dpi resolution as the White House PDF):


I have no idea whether this is evidence of tampering, but it certainly looks different than other scanned PDFs in my possession. For example, here's a scanof ethics filings by Tulsans for Better Government (earlier incarnation of the rule-or-ruin bunch now known as Save Our Tulsa). Like the birth certificate, it's a form -- a mixture of pre-printed text and handwritten text. Opening that file in Illustrator shows what you'd expect -- one image (the entire form) in one group in one layer. Metadata reveals the model of scanner that produced the image (Toshiba e-STUDIO 353).

There's one other odd thing about this birth certificate: There is a sequence number in the upper left corner, which appears to have been produced by a hand stamp, perhaps the sort that automatically advances. The number on Obama's certificate is 61 10641. The sequence number on the certificate of Susan Elizabeth Nordyke, born at the same hospital the following day, is 61 10637. Obama's certificate was accepted by the Registrar General on August 8; Nordyke's was accepted on August 11. How can a certificate processed three days later have a lower sequence number? I'm making an assumption that the sequence number was applied when the certificate was received by the registrar; that assumption could be incorrect.

Does this mean I think President Obama was born in Kenya or is ineligible to be president? No. But I don't understand why Obama would release an image that appears to have been edited or processed in some way, especially given the long-standing controversy over the document which began three years ago during his bitter primary struggle with Hillary Clinton.

MORE: KRMG reports that Tulsa IT professional Scott Grizzle notes that several aspects of the document "don't pass the smell test." KRMG has audio of a conversation with Grizzle and pictures of the various digital pieces of which the document appears to be composed. I've known Scott for several years, and he's as far from an extremist in temperament and ideology as you can get.

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sidburgess Author Profile Page said:

Full disclaimer: I know nothing about Illustrator files really.

I wonder, if these oddities could have been created due to the machine that was used attempting to OCR the document?

Bob said:

Really fascinating analysis, Michael.

To me, applying only a superficial review of the document, I remark that the long-form birth certificate appears remarkably pristine for sitting 49 years in a binder. No wrinkles, creases, bends, defects, spots, or boogers.


And, like the computer generated short-form birth certificate that Obama previously released, the latest release persists in the Politically Correct racial term of AFRICAN for the race of B.H. Obama, Sr.

Problem is AFRICAN is not a race.

Such a term would have been NEGRO on a 1961 birth certificate. "African" wasn't even one of the choices in the data-entry guide issued by the state during that era. Since the birth certificate shows the races of the PARENTS, the terms used back in 1961 Hawaii were:

Caucasian; Negro; Native Hawaiian; Japanese; Chinese. To denote the races of the PARENTS.

Sid, the White House PDF had no OCR information -- there's no selectable text, so if it had been OCRed, all that text was removed at a later step in the process. Why would someone do that?

Gar, I tried that myself on the scanned forms from the City Clerk's office. Optimizing didn't create separate images or layers.

David Van Author Profile Page said:

Since all good science is verifiable by reenacting the same steps; I just reenacted your process in CS5 Illustrator on my Windows7 laptop. The file I used was downloaded from

My results were identical to yours, Michael.

This would never happen when scanning or faxing a single page. This document was clearly "patched". I have no idea why. Others have sinister theories. I just don't know.
I did hear someone say the typewriter that made the text didn't exist prior to 1963. I just don't know; But that's how Dan Rather was brought down. Dan Rather purported that GW Bush was a draft dodger, but his evidence was clearly faked at a later date, using a newer typewriter.

I posted a pic of my several layers on my facebook page.!/DavidVanRisseghem

mark said:

Michael –

I’m not qualified to comment on the technical document analysis, except to say that the areas of possible “alteration” do not suggest any particular object or agenda. The site of birth within the U.S. is not implicated.

I do think I can offer some insight on the Nordyke conundrum, though. Assuming, of course that the Nordyke Birth Certificate is legit and unaltered, the weakness in the implication you suggest is the assumption that there MUST be some correlation between the Department of Health # and the date of a Registrar’s acceptance. By contrast, I think the key to understanding this is to recognize the very real possibility, if not probability, that blank Birth Certificate forms were PRE-number stamped by the Department of Health and then provided to hospitals and/or Registrars. I don’t know the precise procedure employed in Hawaii at that time, but it may have been that a “local registrar” was an employee at each hospital.

So given that assumption, unless I’m missing something obvious, here’s a completely plausible scenario/chronology:

1. Obama was born on August 4, 1961 -- which was a Friday -- after “business hours”.

2. Nordyke was born Saturday afternoon, August 5, 1961.

3. The pre-numbered Birth Certificate forms for all weekend births were prepared by a secretary who arrived at the hospital on Monday morning, August 7, for the first time since the Obama and Nordyke births.

4. The secretary then typed up Birth Certificates on the pre-numbered forms from a small stack of “applications” waiting on her desk from all the weekend births.

5. The weekend applications were probably in no particular order on the secretary’s desk. If anything one might expect the Nordyke application to be above the Obama application in the stack since it was the later birth. Thus Nordyke’s Certificate would have had a good probability of being typed up BEFORE Obama’s, and thus very plausibly bearing a LOWER pre-stamped Department of Health number.

6. All Birth Certificates for the weekend births were presented to the mothers for signature on Monday, August 7. Note that both Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Nordyke signed their child’s Birth Certificate on Monday, August 7.

Two other idle observations: First, it’s interesting to me that BOTH Certificates have faint, handwritten (apparently penciled-in) numbers and letters in several of the boxes (the same boxes on each Certificate). To my eye, they appear to be from the same hand (compare the “2” in each Box 7g). Perhaps this is only confirmation that the same person prepared both of the Certificates. Beyond that, I have no idea what import those markings may have.

Finally, I note that the delay in processing the Nordyke Certificate seems to be attributable to a delay in the doctor signing it (and then passing it on to the Registrar for final acceptance). The Nordyke doctor waited until August 11, whereas the Obama doctor signed on August 8. Perhaps the doctor’s signature was generally provided at the time of patient discharge. It is reasonable that the younger (18) Mrs. Obama would have been discharged before the much older Mrs. Nordyke (34).

David Van Author Profile Page said:

Perhaps the old addage is true.... Most people get away with the original transgression. Its the cover-up that takes them down.
I have now way of knowing (much less proving) Obama's birth status.
But the birth document file he presents to us is wrought with problems. Serious problems.

Mark, I suspect the penciled numbers were annotations for keypunch (remember that?) or computer data entry, possibly contemporaneous, possibly much later. Fields would have been coded by hand, with numeric values corresponding to frequently occurring responses for a field, and some catchall value for "other." Then someone else may have turned each field into a single digit on a particular column on a punch card.

Related to that, I can remember TV ads for business schools, calling keypunch operator a profession with a great future.

mark said:

Yes; I would agree they are codes for keypunch. Likely not contemporaneous; probably added later when the paper records were "backed-up".

Dar Cutler said:

Hey but that does leave one question...what about the Negro vs. African comment that was made...and I still am not quite understanding why the document would possess layers in the first place when it was a document that existed previous to the existence of illustrator. . please, I'm very curious!

blue said:

For the record: The OCR B.S. was debunked. =)

White House PDF not run with OCR

"A second computer software expert has submitted to WND a report, seen here in its entirety, that concludes the White House-released PDF could have been created in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, even if the final PDF was created by Mac Preview on an Apple computer using the MacOSX operating system.

This expert also insisted on remaining anonymous, fearing retailiation from Adobe or the Adobe community.

Typically, Obama supporters have observed that effects such as the multiple layers easily seen in the Obama PDF file through Adobe Illustrator were caused by optimizing the file with Optical Character Recognition software.

This second technical report concludes OCR software was not run on the White House-released PDF, because the file has no information in the "Fonts" field of the "Properties" tab when it is examined in Adobe Acrobat."

"The point is that OCR software is designed to read words in an electronic file into a table so that the words can be manipulated by word-processing software. Failure to generate fonts in the White House-released PDF is evidence OCR software was not run on the file, the expert argues."

"I then saved the Illustrator file as an Adobe PDF, opened that PDF in Apple's Preview application and printed to PDF," the expert explains. "That approach comes closest to matching the attributes of the birth certificate PDF: bitmap plus continuous-tone content, some vector content, no embedded fonts and the Preview application stamp."

The expert concludes that the White House-released PDF was not a simple scan, as represented by the White House.

"I can only speculate on what's been done to produce the file as we see it," the expert writes. "But, in my opinion, the supplied PDF is not a pristine scan simply enveloped in a PDF wrapper. It's been touched by other processes."

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 27, 2011 9:40 PM.

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