In this examination the most important social media evidence constructing a possible answer to the question who downed civilian airliner MH17 will be reviewed to list the (imho) most important problems. As a disclaimer I would like to start with giving my own opinion. This opinion holds the track-a-trail story of a stand-alone Buk missile system brought in from Russia and moving from Donetsk to a site south of Snizhne to shoot down a civilian plane, is fraudulent.
With this I don´t mean all evidence has been faked. I do support, however, the idea this story contains so much irregularities – including some forgeries – it raises almost every red flag possible. These red flags I try to write down here in kind of orderly manner, though from the aforementioned point of view. Of course, the development of this review is an ongoing process, also influenced by discussion and re-examinations.
Last update of the review 23.11.2016, including new material brought in by the JIT after its 28.9.2016 pressconference.
Because of the huge geopolitical stakes at hand in this case, all witness accounts have to be reviewed very carefully and cannot be trusted at face value. This is also valid for accounts from well respected sources like western newspapers. Also people with an anti-Russian/Putin affiliation can adopt this attitude. They just have to imagine there is no a priory certainty the western media is morally or institutionally a great deal better than the Russian adversaries they despise.
That is to say, standard approach should always be one of distrust, being critical unless the evidence has proven itself to be solid. Not the other way around, that is, trusting these sources from an uncritical, naive and law-abiding perspective, believing the holy authoritative news agency is always trustworthy, especially in our so-called free and democratic societies. The ¨its true because the news said so¨ argument is kind of obsolete after the anti-authoritarian cultural revolution took place in the sixties, though many followers of the MH17 case still seem to hold on to it.
A typical response to criticism from Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat and most resilient protector of the track-a-trail narrative. In this particular tweet he replies to publication of the Haunt the Buk report by Micha Kobs.
The truth is, unfortunately, often the reverse. While the accusation of being a conspirator or a ¨putinist troll¨ – pretty efficient ways of the argumentum ad hominem attack to neutralize criticism – is never far away, one should be aware of the dark past of western governments in waging wars of propaganda.
Especially the part played by the servile media, utilized to build narratives of great inimical evil upon, is salient in this respect. Let´s not forget its our society – or better: the American cultural hegemony – that provided us with advertising, propaganda, the Public Relations industry and, its governmental offshoot, ¨public diplomacy¨.
These industries were, in fact, invented to spin reality in a way compliant with state and class objectives. Its the core of our cultural heritage, its the essence of capitalism. ¨Bending the truth¨ towards interests is big business and should be acknowledged as a fundamental tenet of our information age. Our media is filled with monied interests plugging their message to the public through one-way mass communication channels organized and owned by commercial or state media corporations serving their customers, funding agencies and shareholders to make profits (see e.g. the Herman/Chomsky propagandamodel).
A fine example is an analogous case, the shooting down of a South Korean airliner by the Soviets in 1983, recently brought back into memory by an article from Robert Parry. The Reagan administration went out of their way to make this tragedy a clear-cut case of evil Soviet aggression by manipulating facts and the news, finding a full-specter docile media to work with.
Though sources should always be assessed on its own merits and there is some, although limited room for dissenting views from journalists who take their job seriously, its imperative never to forget this.
Second, when we are investigating social media accounts we also have to deal with the psychology, ideological affiliations or motives of personal gain of the people interviewing, being interviewed or posting as kind of privatized information sources. For example, many accounts arrive from testimonies done after the actual event took place.
Therefore the danger of fitting evidence or testimony after the fact to an often heard or desired narrative, with or without being aware of this, is all the more present. The law of causality says cause precedes the effects in time. So when knowledge is already present at a certain moment in time, it can and will influence memory or be used to dis-inform, deliberately  or not. In each case, after the event reporting is diminishing the value of the social media account.
 About assessing the information by alleged witness accounts, interviews or written, one should take into account the following: When people are convinced a story is true anyway – and a year after the events happened that chance is not infinitesimal – they won´t have feelings of remorse when they issue a false testimony. In other words, the more time has passed by, the lower the threshold to adapt your story or to invent one to the standing narrative.
Apart from problems emanating from a biased press corps and unreliable witness accounts its very likely one has to deal with the impression the track-a-trail comprises many signs of forgery. In his excellent work Sergey Mastepanov showed how easy it is for someone skilled to produce fake photos and even videos.
The trail consists of imho at least two pieces of fake evidence, which are the picture issued by French magazine Paris Match of a truck with Buk standing at the side of Makeevka highway and the photos of the alleged Buk launch plume taken by Pavel Aleynikov. Much other evidence, though, seems at least to be mis-dated, so probably this material was collected on an earlier date.
About possible forgery, according to Mastepanov there is a strong indication that the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior employ expert(s) capable of making fake videos and photos. December 2015 an incident occurred between US darling, former president of Georgia and governor of Odessa Saakashvili and Avakov, chief of the Ministry for the Interior. Both were accusing each other virulently of being involved in corruption.
About this time a video appeared on the internet in which Saakashvili is talking with a Russian oligarch, allegedly proving his corruption involving a company in Odessa. Later Saakashvili was telling people on TV that the video was a fake. Saakashvili reiterated that this video was distributed by the Ukrainian Ministry for the Interior, saying: “Do you realize now what sort of fraudsters we are dealing with?”
In other words, it seems not to be rational to dismiss every piece of evidence the Russians issue because they would have been faked, but turning a blind eye towards the possibility Kiev might be engaged in this kind of forgery themselves.
After reviewing the track-a-trail case, brought to light by social media and cherished, supported and expanded by Bellingcat, a final assessment can be drawn up. Of course, it is my view expressed here, although supported by a list of problems the alleged evidence shows, but nonetheless subjective. This way in several cases I pick the most credible option, though I am not denying other possibilities exist and may even be true.
Click here for the review of the main problems concerning the track-a-trail evidence. Then this is my assessment:
The photos and videos:
- Paris Match stills
- Launch plume photos
Who launched disinformation about the Paris Match stills (top picture) and why? Paris Match itself held on to the original information, conveyed by a “freelance photographer”. That is, origin was Snizhne instead of Donetsk, as later on was geolocated. Photo was taken on 10 AM, said the photographer. Bellingcat first claimed 9 AM (8.9.2014), followed by 11 AM (8.11.2014) and then revised it finally to 10:45 AM (16.7.2014). Micha Kobs calculated convincingly to 11:05.
Possible fake or genuine and misdated:
- Makeevka video
- Torez photo
- Snizhne photo
- Snizhne video
Makeevka video misdated?
A convoy on 15 july damaged the street, as seen in front of the Parallel gasstation along the Avtotransporta street. On two stills from the alleged 17.7 Buk convoy – from the same spot and from behind the gasstation – these tracks cannot be seen. Therefore, the video was probably collected on another date as were the Zuhres and the Luhansk videos, both probably originating from the SBU. Credits: Ole.
Micha Kobs refined the time of capture by using shadow casting analysis close to 11:10 EEST (not published).
Genuine but misdated:
- Zuhres video (southern wind doesn’t match wind direcion on 17th),
- Snizhne video (overcast and cloudy weather doesn’t match sunny weather other pictures, including the Torez Buk photo)
- Luhansk video (did the Buk drive through frontarea?; a Buk video was available from date before; a lightpole is on although there was a power black-out on that morning).
Snizhne video misdated?
Of course, its possible the sunny weather on this Tarasenko picture (https://twitter.com/parabellum_ua/status/489712921837318144) is from another day as would be the Torez Buk photo (also taken at about 12:05-30) and showing bright sunny weather. But if the sunny APC picture really is from the 17th – and there is no reason we should doubt that, as it is an infowarrior´s job to give up-to-date info – it casts doubts about the dating of the Snizhne video that was taken at almost the same time of day from the same site. Both video and photo were taken from Gagarin street Snizhne looking at the south.
For a more elaborate view, see Dating gthe undated evidence: The Snizhne Buk video
Luhansk Video misdated?
Buk flight via Luhansk. The M04 was not under separatist control at the villages Bile and Yubileine and Luhansk West experienced heavy fighting and bombing, especially near the airport. It cannot be explained the crew, allegedly under command of trained Buk leader “Bibliothekar”, took a strange detour to the Russian border to go through heavily disputed frontarea at the time.
The lightpole that shined during a full power black-out in Luhansk West
Lightpole on at one side of the road where the Buk flight was filmed (see yellow circle). According to Kemet from the Russian discussion forum mh17.webtalk.ru the left light source could be the sun, estimated at about 9 AM. This would raise doubts about the dating of the video on the early morning of the 18th at 4:50 AM, because at that morning a power shutdown was reported, caused by ATO troops’ bombings .
Genuine (but with severe problems):
- Satellite image Makeevka showing a truck with white cabin, but no accompanying vehicles.
Possible discrepancies between Makeevka video and the 17.7.2014 Digital Globe satellite image, taken about 45 seconds after the video. Cars standing idle along the road match both video and SAT positions (see red arrows).
1. and 2. The front cars as seen on the video seem to be missing on the SAT;
3. and 4. The two cars following the truck closest seem to drive on the other lane in the opposite position, especially nr 4.;
5. The last car as seen on the video drives about 12 seconds after the truck whereas it drove 5 secs. after the truck on the video. On this busy road this just might be another car;
6. A car standing perpendicular to the road on the video could be rendered differently on the SAT (the site seems to be a parking lot);
7. A grey car parked at the other side of the road cannot be seen on the SAT. Was it entirely covered by trees?
The tweets and postings:
Influenced by spread rumours and speculation (dismissed):
- Necro Mancer (Donetsk)
- Occupied_Rook (Donetsk)
- Spice4russia (Shakhtarsk)
Fed by unknown source:
- WowihaY (Torez)
- Donetsk is Ukraine! (Donetsk)
- Euromaydan (Torez): Buk part and Vostok part arrived separately
Why did the admins of Euromaydan Facebook edit their message, adding to the alleged Buk sighting from ¨locals¨ it was accompanied with machines and terrorists? As they re-uploaded a promo video from the Vostok convoy – on the road from Donetsk via Torez/Snizhne to Marinovka that day – it is assumed they supported the (falsified) story of a Buk that went with Vostok, as the Khmuryi intercepted calls would show.
- ATO in Donetsk-Donbass News (Donetsk): exact copy of ¨Donetsk is Ukraine!¨ posting
- FaceNews.UA (Donetsk), Konstantin Golubtsov (dir.), content seems copy “Donetsk is Ukraine!” posting
- Kriminal.TV (Donetsk), Konstantin Golubtsov (dir.): exact copy FaceNews.UA posting
The Donetsk sightings, all mentioning the same crossroads. The Buk allegedly drove back and forth Donetsk-Makeevka for almost 2 hours, against orders not joining the Vostok convoy but waiting for the Paris Match freelancer to be filmed. 1. Necro Mancer tweets (opaque, dismissed as sighting); 2. “Donetsk is Ukraine!” posting and its copies (unknown source); The Occupied_Rook tweet mentions same crossroads, but no direction; 3. Khmuryi/Motel Intercepted telephone calls (spliced-and-edited and misdated by SBU).
Possibly fed by unknown source:
- Roman (Torez)
- HallaHupS (Snizhne)
Roman tweeting: “Missile system was driven on a tractor + two cars for cover through Torez towards Snizhne at 12-10.” Did he, as a well known infowarrior disseminating news about separatist movements on a regular basis, see the reported event himself? Or was he fed by an unknown source to relay info matching the Zuhres video (tractor/trailer, two cars, cover) that probably already was in possession of the SBU before the 17th?
An infowarrior in a web of informants, Wowihay: Torez Buk sighting; plume tweet; re-uploader Snizhne vid, witness broker to western newsoutlets and Makeevka vid promotor.
The witness accounts from journalists:
Reporters from these four newscorporations probably were on tour together to war-zone Torez where the Buk had been photographed. All their articles were published on 22.7 and three showed the same alleged witness account. Actually, this “witness” never saw the Buk, but “heard something heavy passing by”, probably the Vostok convoy.
Novaya Gazeta witness Anatoliy, who allegedly saw people falling out of the plane at 10 km height.
- Anonymous, unaccountable journalism: Novaya Gazeta/Torez, AP/Daily Mail
- Unclear sourcing/possible biased or non-impartial witnesses: Leonard/AP, BBC, NG/Torez, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Buzzfeed
- Absence of corroborating evidence/visual back-up: AP/Daily Mail, NG/Torez, Leonard/AP, BBC
- Spreading irrational explanations for this absence: Leonard/AP, NG/Red October
- Unreliable witness accounts: WSJ, Zverev/Reuters, NG/Red October, NG/video
- Contradicting information: note Leonard/AP (see image below), The Guardian
- Witness accounts contaminated with foreknowledge: WSJ, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Leonard/AP, BBC, Zverev/Reuters, NG/Torez
- Suggestively connecting pieces of information to witness accounts: Leonard/AP
- Confirmation biased approach: WSJ, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Leonard/AP, NG/Red October
- Interpreting answers to desired narrative: Buzzfeed, The Guardian, Leonard/AP
- Copying without checking: Bochkala, Leonard/AP
Journalist Roman Bochkala shows his colours. Probably he was copying the content of the Roman tweet without checking, some 1.5 hrs after the crash .
Note by Leonard with information allegedly received from AP’s Buk witnesses in Snizhne on the 17th. It shows contradicting information. Buk was seen at 11 AM, though in his 25.7 article 13:05 – a very exact time, matching the known images of the trail – was mentioned. Furthermore, the note says the Buk was “coming from south”. In the Bellingcat/SBU trail narrative it was coming from the west.
The intercepted telephonecalls:
Fake, spliced-and-edited, misdated:
- Bezler confession taps,
- Khmuryi/Motel taps,
- Getaway taps
- Birdie comes to you taps
The Bezler confession taps, glueing parts of conversations together from events from the 16th – a downing of a SU-25 near Enakievo – and from separatists finding debris of the plane on the 17th, suggesting both events had something to do with eachother.
Khmuryi telling, allegedly at 9:08 AM in the morning of the 17th, his group downed two planes the day before and that very day another two – or “the second”. Its is impossible to match these assertions with facts known from 16 and 17 july reports. In fact, on the 17th before 9 AM there were no planes downed. Ukrainian Airforce didn’t even have sorties that morning. Apparently this conversation is at least misdated.
The Get-away taps, intercepted calls that should testify Buk flight to Russia. The separatists even lost track of “the car”. By the way, the intercepts cannot verify in anyway this so-called “car” is a Buk transport.
The Get-away intercepts suggest a story of Buk flight to Russia, led by Bibliothekar transporting ¨it¨. ¨It¨, until this moment referred to as ¨the car¨, the Buk as we are made to believe, is in the next frame called the ¨vehicle¨. Bibliothekar will even bring a new ¨vehicle¨ back from Russia. Interesting news. Right after they put a Buk over the border, according to the SBU at least four units that night, Russia had decided to bring in a new one immediately, as it seems. It is almost inconceivable the JIT is taking this kind of information seriously.
According to a PR glossy JIT issued june 2016 the SBU led investigation has shown its information deserves indisputable credibility, especially the taps: “By now, the investigators are certain about the reliability of the material. ‘After intensive investigation, the material seems to be very sound’, says Van Doorn, ‘that also contributed to the mutual trust.’”
Taking a first glance at the contents of the intercepts, as shown above, this statement seems almost to have arrived from a different universe, that is: one as designed by George Orwell in “1984” in full compliance with Kafka’s “Der Prozess”.
The fatal mistake narrative and Vostok linkage:
- The retracted Strelkov_info message: Misinterpretation, manipulation
- The Bezler confession taps: Fake, spliced-and-edited, misdated
- The Vostok linkage: Misinterpretation and/or fed by unknown source.
SBU invention of the “terrorist convoy” transporting the Buk by showing a still from the Zuhres video and two pictures of the Vostok movement at the same site.
The retracted Strelkov_info message, used to claim the commander-in-chief himself wrote about his downing and deleted the message to conceal evidence of his guilt. In fact the message appeared on a website dedicated in name to the commander, merely posting quotes and press releases about the fightings. This message used info from social media, i.e. a video also picked up by WowihaY group member Andrey Tarasenko, who was the first one posting it on Youtube even before Strelkov_info posted their copy. False conclusions about a downed AN-26 ran in pro- and antiMaidan fora alike. See also this document and “https://hectorreban.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/down-the-rabbit-hole-with-putin-haters-old-narative-fails-but-strelkov-did-it-anyway/” on this blog.
Some concluding remarks
Now the official investigation led by the JIT, which supports the track-a-trail evidence from the moment they issued their “call for witnesses” video, suffers from severe tunnelvision, a common sense approach is expedient to review the evidence they seem to rely on. Therefore, in this article most of the publically available accounts have been listed to show the most salient problems this alleged Buk-trail has.
Only 9 months after the crash the JIT decided to look for witnesses, but only for those who could confirm the track-a-trail narrative. Of course, we don’t know what the investigators collected. Maybe they even have found some, but, nonetheless, hardly any reliable witness showed up in open media the first days, who heard, saw or reported something resembling a Buk or a launch next to their door. Not even a witness from Pervomaiskoye, featured by Novaya Gazeta, could decide if a sound he heard came from the air or from the ground – and he lived almost right on the alleged Bellingcat endorsed launchsite.
Besides, not even one pro-separatist accounts of a Buk sighting was reported in realtime on that fateful day. Only two handfulls of obviously very brave nationalist Kievites posted information on Twitter, Vkontakte and Facebook (eleven in total), probably relaying information – or, in this case, maybe disinformation – from an unknown source. Many of these “infowarriors” were in contact with eachother, especially those from the Torez/Snizhne area, the “WowihaY group”, consisting of Buk sighting tweeters @WowihaY and Roman, launch plume photographer @rescuero and second plume witness Andrey Tarasenko (@andrushka74/ @parabellum_ua). Last person probably also knew alleged Snizhne video maker Vita Volobueva, as they lived in the same appartment building.
Though it was their “job” to collect and disseminate information and all showed a strong nationalist point of view, this doesn’t mean they were involved in foul play. What can be said, though, is that they, being trustworthy “patriots”, they were reliable information conduits, and so could have been used to disseminate disinformation. Second, the fact that WowihaY also was in contact with the SBU and Ukrainian official Anton Gerashchenko shows contacts with authorities and secret service could be established whenever needed, for example to plug propaganda and disinformation in Kiev friendly western newspapers.
Was Andrey Tarasenko, aka infowarrior @andrushka74 / @parabellum_ua and acquaintance of @WowihaY, introduced as a false witness to western media?
Furthermore, next to existence of infowarriors we have to deal with another remarkable phenomenon, that is: anonymous journalism. Paris Match, AP and Novaya Gazeta featured first-hand witness accounts from journalists, or actually “freelancers”, with unknown identity. They also were almost the only first-hand accounts of the entire Buk-trail known publically, because apparently even the spotters who took care of their job to report separatist military manuevers that day seem to have conveyed only second-hand information.
Some other, though only a few, first-hand witnesses were put on stage, e.g. in the articles written by (pro)western newspapers and newsagencies. But they seemed to be unreliable, were misinterpreted or originated from unknown sourcing. Western journalism seemed to have been eager to corroborate the fast spreading anti-Russian narrative, with bias trickling down through most of their articles and witness testimonies.
Reading the articles featuring witnesses, the piece Peter Leonard wrote for AP meets the eye at once. It shows a witness account, allegedly an AP journalist who saw the Buk in Snizhne in realtime but was not allowed to take photos. Initially it was posted very short after the crash in a Daily Mail article, claiming it already was aired before MH17 was downed.
Though juridically presence of a weapon near the (alleged) crime scene doesn’t mean it has also been used in the crime reviewed, its a key pillar under the track-a-trail narrative. Nevertheless, the supporting story is filled with suggestion, absence of visual back-up and a authentic note from the reporter with unexplainable contradicting information. And why all this secrecy? Russian GRU officers could also beat up Leonard himself to retaliate – as he still works in het former Soviet Union – or get the info about the real witnesses out of him. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The irrational explanations that were given for the absence of clear first hand witness accounts or realtime pro-separatist accounts, is salient too. It was not dangerous to film convoys, not even for Kievites belonging to a group watching along the road, as videos of several known convoys testify. One could assume presence of a Buk would even be cheered for by many people. The alleged Buk convoy drove via densely populated area in broad daylight, so one could expect several “realtime” pro-separatist witness accounts of the Buk en route. They didn’t show up like the Kievite accounts did. The fear-for-reprisal and demand-for-secrecy arguments don’t hold to explain this, in each case, not before the plane was downed and the rumours about separatist guilt spread on the net.
Speaking about that, Ukrainian secret service and some politicians were very well prepared to launch an infowar. The accusations about Buk use and separatist/Russian guilt were disseminated really quickly, as were the first traces of the trail too. The first intercepted telephonecalls featuring Bezler supporting the fatal mistake narrative showed up at only 5 ½ hours after the plane fell on separatist soil. At that moment the news about the retracted Strelkov_info posting was already huge, accusations from Ukrainian officials about Buk use were disseminated on social media, the plume was twittered, the Torez picture had appeared and the Snizhne video was uploaded.
The pillars under the narrative of a trail of a Buk leading to a south-of-Snizhne launchsite stood from the very start, within a few hours. Of course the most interesting question one could ask in this situation might be whether the SBU was working really fast or if they had prepared themselves beforehand, a question explored hopefully in another, upcoming blog.
In each case, overlooking the trail, we have a lot of SBU stuff. We have people working with SBU. We have proKiev ultranationalist information conduits. We have rumours, hearsay and unknown original sources; We have biased anti-Russian journalism working from unclear sourcing, anonimity and biased interpretation and confirmation; We have clear indications for disinformation (e.g. about Buk 312 and Vostok). And we have two pieces of almost certainly faked evidence: the launch plume photos and the Paris Match stills.
Counter intelligence chief of the SBU Nayda showing on a 19.7.2014 presser “evidence” of the separatist Buk that shot down MH17. Buk 312, on the bottom picture, appeared to be Ukrainian. This was an early detected attempt of the Ukrainians to disseminate disinformation to construct a story of separatist guilt.
Bellingcat will re-instate the importance of both plume and Paris Match images in upcoming summer reports, by inviting experts to verify the images are genuine. However, those will not be dissident experts, nor Russian experts. Bellingcat refused time and time again to hand this apparent “closed source” evidence over to Kiev critical parties.
Plume tweeter @WowihaY after reading a debunk of the launchplume by Ole and Micha Kobs on my blog. Translation; “Where is my money, Geraschenko? A bitch, written so much! Another one paid by the Kremlin, work by putinoids (stupid followers of Putin; HR) on MH17. To my collection, ****** ( a swear word that means a prostitute; HR)”.
They don’t seem to care, as long as the western news corps is copying their soundbites about having found “new evidence” for Russian involvement. And these outlets never cease to deliver, as it seems, with most remarkable example the Dutch state news organization NOS, always on the first row whenever Bellingcat shuffles their chains.
But let’s take all this social media trail stuff away and look at what remains. Then only the sloppy DSB report stands, in which some calculations done with secret parameters and a limited review of the damage pattern of the wreckage are promoted as evidence (see my blogpost). Apparently the line of operation lies in the assumption that much weak evidence will anyhow make a strong case. In fact, secretary of the US Foreign Office John Kerry claimed a few days after the disaster he, as a prosecutor, did a lot of cases solely based on circumstantial evidence.
With war mongerers on the side and the prosecutor advertising the fraudulent trail, actually no one knows what will happen.
Look here for the entire review of the main problems concerning the track-a-trail evidence.