Swirls of political dust surrounding the MH17 case have subsided after a carefully designed media spectacle resulted in a clear climax assigning blame. Most people and journalists have taken up other interests and will be satisfied with the conclusions of the Prosecutor’s investigation. Unfortunately they will miss the fact the JIT results pinpointing an exact Buk launch site were actually not that convincing. The investigators might even have bent the truth a bit.
More than 2 years were needed by the Joint Investigation Team investigating the crash of flight MH17 to rubber stamp the standing narrative about the causes of this disaster, already disseminated by the Ukrainian secret service SBU, some Kiev officials and their supporters at the evening of the crash. NATO affiliated organization Bellingcat collected, molded, re-enforced and guarded the pieces and parts that were left to find on social media and gave it the credibility of “objective social media research” performed by “a third party expert”. At least, this was the way it was treated by the (pro-)western media.
The only scenario really pursued by the investigators was handed over on a silver platter, ready-made by Kievite sources and getting credibility in the “hearts and minds” by the Bellingcat publications. So this was the story from day one: A Buk air-defense missile system was brought in from Russia in the morning, and was moved through the Donbass to a rural field near Pervomais’ke village to shoot down a civilian plane by mistake before it was returned hastily back to Russia the following night.
Maybe we should give the JIT some lenience for disappointingly copying this narrative. When there is a lot of confusion, one is inclined to pick the only clear option available. Of course, this is the benign version of JIT conduct. We might also take a more austere approach, one claiming that when there are converging interests, the option serving those interests best will be picked first. Reviewing the JIT member states – US pet and Cold War 2.0 front state Ukraine, NATO states the Netherlands and Belgium, first tier supporter of the anglophone dominated world order Australia and the weak, crony capitalist Malaysia – some pressure to come up with a certain result can not be disregarded.
Anyway, there is no need to sanctify the information brought at the JIT presser. Obviously in both above mentioned cases – confusion or interests – severe problems with the evidence, or even pieces of clear counter-evidence, would have to be buried under a pile of silence. This actually happened. So this article is meant to dig them up again.
The JIT had promised to give full openness already in July of 2016, but apparently was delayed somehow as they only could make a public appearance on September 28th. Official purpose of the press conference held was to inform the people by providing – preliminary – results regarding the weapon used to shoot down the plane and the launch site from where this had happened.
The weapon would have been a Russian made surface-to-air missile from the 9M38 series “Buk”. It was surprising the JIT did not specifically state the newer version to be the corpus delicti, the one carrying a fragmentation warhead containing so-called bow-tie elements. Weapon manufacturer Almaz-Antey had claimed this bow-tie containing warhead was not inter-changable between the old and new versions of the missile series, but apparently JIT felt certain they were.
So bow-ties appeared in one of the animations that were published on the Prosecutor’s website to shore up the presser, and the exact missile to fire it – old (9M38) or new (9M38M1) – would not matter.
Left: JIT blurred a picture of a newer version of the 9M38 series, the 9M38M1.
Right: The JIT animation 2 shows a bow-tie element, belonging to a newer type of warhead, the 9N314M type. An explanation could be the JIT has certainty also an older 9M38 missile was able to fire a newer 9N314M warhead, the one containing bow-ties. This is contrary to statements made by the manufacturer of the weapon.
JIT provided a missile part that was stuck in the window frame as evidence for their conclusions about used weapon. What not was mentioned was that this part actually could be proof the launch site must be found further to the west than the standing narrative entailed, maybe even in area held by ATO troops.
JIT shows how the missile part got stuck in the window frame. However, scrutinized closer, position of this part – apparently from the rear of the missile – in the frame was a mystery.
Added to that, the position the JIT shows where the part is located, deviated from the spot where DSB had showed it. First, the entire frame was depicted upside-down, and second, the actual location of the part was a bit higher at the other side of the frame. See also the report in which Micha Kobs discusses this here.
Part of the cockpit window frame that is positioned upside-down to account for the (wrong) location of the stuck missile part on a site in front. This way the idea that this part was coming from a missile that exploded in front, would gain some credibility. The actual location where the stuck part was found was different, however (see below), and still can’t be matched clearly to a credible missile trajectory and speed.
The way a part of the tail of the missile could get stuck in a grove from the frame still is difficult to grasp. See here.
Then there was the question about the incredible fast launch, a story the SBU disseminated with the infamous “Birdie comes to you” tapes, taken seriously by many newsoutlets as being proof the rebels shot down the plane. Dissident citizen-investigators always thought the recorded spotting could fit a lot of other downings – especially the one at July the 16th when people belonging to the Bezler group downed a SU25 near Enakievo. JIT provided more information which pointed into a direction the SBU may have mistakenly timed this call deliberately to make it match a certain narrative. Probably it was also mis-dated.
JIT Animation “The Weapon”, 1:22 : “It takes a few minutes to prepare the TELAR for launch a missile. A number of deliberate actions have to be performed, including unlocking the missile” . This puts more pressure on the story of the incredible fast launch, a procedure from spotter through chain of command and launch sequence that took only 1 minute and provoking a mistake, as is suggested in an intercepted call published by the SBU.
The presentation of the exact launch site ignited even plain disbelief. The JIT pinpointed the firing Buk exactly at the same field as blogger Ukraine-at-war already had guessed on 21.7.2014, based on a doubtful picture of what was sold as a Buk launch plume, and some non-descriptive tracks in adjacent fields. Remarkably, later on this same field was corroborated by astonishing precise results of calculations performed by the Kiev Research Institute for Forensic Expertise (see p. 154 in DSB report), when the official investigators of the DSB still bound themselves to an area of 320 square kilometers.
The Kiev Research Institute for Forensic Research calculated with a remarkable conciseness an area with the alleged launch site exactly at its center. The values of the crucial parameters the Kiev Institute had calculated with – i.e. detonation point and incoming angles of the missile – were not disclosed. The DSB had to settle for 320 square kilometers using a detonation point and incoming angles (azimuth, elevation) of the missile as retrieved from their methodology.
True, at the presser and in supporting publications on the website of the Dutch Prosecutor and Police also some new corroborating evidence appeared. First of all it was a reassurance that a US intelligence report, founded on secret information, indeed confirmed the site (or did not defy?). Perhaps the report rests on SBIRS (Space Based Infra Red System) above cloud base and some projections to get a specific site below that base. We just don’t know.
Unfortunately we do know how trustworthy the US are when accusations in the realm of international politics are concerned, taken into account their long history of fraud and deceit, say from the USS Maine sinking (against Spain in 1898), the Gulf of Tonkin incident (against Vietnam in 1964), the Kuwait incubators (against Iraq in 1991) and beyond. If you are up to a new Colin Powell kind of explanation to go with this report, stay tuned for a MH17 tribunal.
New pieces of evidence displayed were an intercepted call purportedly showing the Buk crew on the way to the launch site and another photo of the launch plume. Both seem to have some interesting characteristics, which will be discussed in this article below.
Furthermore, the JIT relied heavily on the strange tale of the Buk burnt field. Especially interesting was a spot of charred earth, which was found by reporters near the Ukraine-at-war proposed launch area. The charred spot allegedly saw the light after a Buk had been fired there, as the story went, but it had moved some hundreds of meters in an eastern direction in the course of time, when it finally reached the desks of the JIT. The origin of this narrative will be investigated here too.
The intercepted call
As said, the JIT showed new evidence, an intercepted call originating from a tap by the SBU. Officially is claimed on the 17th, 13:09 hrs, the Buk crew is asking for confirmation regarding their way to the alleged launch site, the field near Pervomais’ke about 4 km. south from Snizhne. The conversation is displayed in animation 3 on the Prosecutor’s website, starting at 7:35.
“Liona” (transcripts in white boxes): apparently someone giving directions to the alleged launch site;
“Oleg” (transcripts in black boxes): allegedly belonging to the Buk crew, asking confirmation of the way to the launch site.
Oleg: “Yes Liona. Listen… It turns out to be the last checkpoint leaving Snizhne before Stepanivka … to the left. Is my sense of direction correct?”
Liona: “You have to go rightwards in Stepaninka and across the field to this fucking, what is it…, this fucking Snizhne?”
Liona: “So go to Snizhne. I’ll give you further directions there.”
Oleg: “Got it. OK.”
Voice over: “The telephone of one of the participants connects with the telephone tower that is located closest to the launch site. The descriptions of the surroundings in this conversation, the field and the forest [not mentioned in the video; HR], corresponds with the surroundings at the launch site in Pervomais’ke.”
After close reading the conversation appeared to be rather strange. Liona, the one giving directions, advises Oleg of the Buk crew to move to Snizhne first. This says the Buk is still not present in Snizhne at that moment. As we know the alleged route, it must have been somewhere on the N21 west from Snizhne.
Liona gives directions to go from Stepaninka (with a “N”, so not Stepanivka – or Stepanovka in Russian – with a “V”, which is an actually existing village located south from Snizhne; see map below) to the right. However, there is no hamlet, village or quarter known named Stepaninka. According to people who have Russian as their native language actually the village heard is Stepanivka, with a “V”. But when Liona says to go from Stepanivka to the right towards fucking Snizhne, so actually to go from south to north, he in fact gives Oleg a clue in an opposite direction to the alleged Buk route!
Indeed, if one should go from Stepanivka rightwards towards Snizhne, the way continues along the T0522 through a rural area and the alleged launch field is passed by. Next to this field the DNR hosted a blockpost. Maybe Oleg was on its way – for whatever reason, as columns and vehicles drove regularly through Snizhne to the southern front those days – to this checkpoint at the left side of the road. The impression remains the two persons talking here, did actually not participate in the same conversation at the same time.
A person, allegedly accompanying the Buk transport, asks confirmation about going to “the last checkpoint leaving Snizhne before Stepanivka”, which, also according to the Buk route, must be from north to south. However, this person gets clues in the opposite direction, leading to the impression both persons actually don’t participate in the same conversation.
Something that is remarkable too is the way Liona appoints to Snizhne, as if he hardly knows this place, which is kind of large and has some 50.000 inhabitants. One could assume a DNR logistical officer coordinating the Buk transport knows the go-arounds at the front area near Marinovka, and would not forget easily about main front city Snizhne.
As a matter of fact, also Bellingcat picked up on his uncertainty. In their review of the JIT presser they wrongfully attribute this uncertainty to alleged Buk driver Oleg instead of to Liona, claiming the person showing his doubts must come from somewhere else – obviously alluding to Russian presence in the Buk crew.
Part of the Bellingcat review with the mix-up of participants acting in the SBU intercepted call.
Furthermore, when looking at all evidence available for public assessment the time-line of the Buk transport in and around Snizhne does not add up at all. Bellingcat nor others ever minded to bother about doing some shadow-casting analysis here to establish time of capture of the imagery posted on social media (as was done for the Paris Match Buk photo and for the Torez Buk photo). The official story went the Buk was in Snizhne at about 13:05 hrs according to Associated Press freelancers, so the new intercepts match this time…. sort of. At least, if you are willing to overlook some inconsistencies and are not noticing the transport timed at 13:09 actually had not reached Snizhne yet, according to logical deduction from the above conversation.
Micha Kobs did some shadow-casting calculations and came up with remarkable results for the Snizhne Karapetyan photo (see here) and Snizhne T0522 video (see his elaborate work “Haunt the Buk”, p.58-63).
The Buk allegedly in Snizhne. JIT animation 3 shows a mistake here, because the photo of the Buk on Karapetyan street was made at another site than this animation is showing. In fact, the Buk must have driven a strange tour to pass the Karapetyan street photo location if it came from a square near the Furshet Market to proceed on its way to Gagarin street and Pervomais’ke.
So what we have is the following, listed according to geographical advancement of the Buk transport (all in local time):
JIT/SBU intercepts: Buk before entering Snizhne at 13:09
@HallaHupS tweet: Buk entering Snizhne at 12:53
Testimony AP reporter(s) in Peter Leonard 25/7 article: Buk in the city at 13:05
Karapetyan street Snizhne city, off-loaded Buk driving by, photographed at 13:45
Snizhne vid, Buk driving south from Snizhne on the T0522 to the alleged launch site at 12:30-13:00
This time-line is a mess (see also my blog here). It seems JIT has to provide a better story with forensically sound and verifiable metadata and conduct their own shadow-casting analysis that can challenge Micha Kobs’ calculations. Furthermore they have to come up with an explanation why the intercepts show really strange inconsistencies.
More guided interpretations
By the way, JIT released another phone call, intercepted by the SBU. From this conversation was concluded the separatists “ordered” a Buk at the evening of the day before the crash.
Participants are not specified, but can be retrieved. The person whose transcripts are displayed in the white boxes is Sergey Nikolayevich Petrovksy, alias “Khmuryi”, second in command of the DNR forces after commander Igor “Strelkov” Girkin . Khmuryi can be recognized foremost by his voice and his second name.
The man whom he is talking to is Sanych (transcripts in black boxes), a person who has been identified in other SBU intercepts as a commander of a column of pro-separatist fighters from the eastern regions (Chechenia, Ossetia), belonging to battalion “Vostok”.
Official story is Khmuryi, commander of troops pounded by SU25s and GRADs at Marinovka, orders a Buk and Sanych is vowing to deliver it.
Khmuryi: “If I can receive a Buk in the morning and can send it over there that would be good. (…) If not, things will go totally fucked up.”
Sanych: “Well, look Nikolayevich… If you need it… we’ll send it over… to your area.”
A different interpretation is more appropriate. Khmuryi is complaining about the situation at the front area and expresses a desire, actually an urgent need, to possess a Buk to make things easier. Sanych probably was at the Vostok base, in Donetsk, as he would be busy on the 17th moving three tanks and an Ural (armored truck) from there to the front.
Probably he just wants to show his willingness to help, that in case Khmuryi actually would get hold of a Buk – as in fact the commander expresses uncertainty about that – Sanych is willing to accompany it to Marinovka with his column. Then the “it” from “If you need it”, as Sanych spoke, refers to the sending, not to the Buk. If you need sending, we could take care.
Taken into account his subordinate position acting as a commander of a column of non-Russian auxiliary forces, it´s not very probable that Sanych would have the power to arrange at short notice a high-value war asset at the general’s office in Russia – or even, as is suggested, to come up with a Russian Buk himself. That’s just ludicrous.
Funny thing is the last words heard of the intercepts, though not transcripted, show a very strange continuation of the conversation. According to a native speaker Khmuryi would have said (as a joke) to kill Sanych for his proposed delivery of some (presumably anti-aircraft) hardware to near Marinovka. Again, as with all other publicly available SBU intercepts, content analysis of what is displayed seems to be incomprehensable or inconsistent with what the official story is making of it.
Even so, according to the JIT at least 150,000 calls have been reviewed, of which 3,500 entered the files . At the presser was stated they actually have mapped the entire Buk route with intercepts, which might result in a strong piece of evidence, though in this kind of cases only circumstantial.
Of course, we don’t have intercepts of Ukrainian Buk crews, though we know ATO troops had possession of Buk launchers from the 1st and 2nd battalion of the 156th regiment below the line Donetsk-Snizhne. One might expect, nonetheless, the JIT making a statement Ukraine gave full insight in the whereabouts of these units (and stock of all relevant Buk missiles), but that was not done. Instead we have to settle again for a statement written on the website of the Prosecutor the US had established it just had not been a Ukrainian Buk.
JIT policy: Trust the US and let Ukraine of the hook.
Though its not probable all taps have been forged, two remarks must be made. First, the contents of the intercepts that have been published already, are very ambiguous and multi-interpretable. Only if one reads them with a pretty strong inclination of bias and a psychological ability to lock out logical irregularities, these intercepts are able to inflict a feeling they are really corroborating the standing narrative.
Second, next to the power of guided interpretation, we just know some of the most important and already published intercepts have been faked by the SBU, that is: spliced-and-edited, mis-dated and mis-timed. The first video with intercepts disseminated allegedly showed the cossacks from Chernukhino had shot down MH17 near Enakievo. Even JIT can not deny their own launch site is well off Chernukhino.
So if the JIT claims to be certain the SBU provided transcripts with evidence that make launch site and culprit 100% certain, we know what to ask ourselves. Why should we trust these SBU intercepts now and why is chief-Prosecutor Westerbeke praising them for being ¨authentic through and through¨? Or, to state this otherwise: How well can we trust state-institutions from countries subordinated to the US, a country that has a clear interest in pushing Empire to the Russian borders?
The new plume photo
Another cliffhanger issued at the presser was a new photograph of the alleged Buk launch plume. Only in spring 2016 JIT would have retrieved it from social media, of course after ¨intensive research¨. After ¨triangulation¨ was performed, this plume would show to be in perfect match with the other plume photo, the one published on twitter 3 hours after the crash, to pinpoint the desired launch site. (See here from 6:40)
This story happened to be as unbelievable as the SBU tapes. First one could ask himself of course immediately why the plume did not find us, that is, why this photo managed to be hidden on social media for so long for the larger audience – especially because the poster must have known about its great relevancy. At second glance this question becomes even more salient when dissident social media investigators found out also this plume picture could be linked to a small group of pro-Kiev ¨infowarriors¨ from the Torez/Snizhne area.
¨Infowarriors¨ are people “behind enemy lines” posting on a regular basis on social media about military transports and events from the conflict area, to inform fellow supporters and formally also to inform the military from ATO operations about separatist maneuvers. In this case some very convinced local supporters of the Kiev regime – at least one of them had contacts with the SBU through official for the Interior Anton Gerashchenko  – acted as kind of reconnaissance volunteers and/or information relays.
They happened to be responsible, at least being reliable information conduits, for dissemination of a pretty important part of the social media ¨evidence¨ now used by the JIT. Of course, on itself this does not say the evidence is false. But it is certainly remarkable, even more so when there is actually not much evidence that poured out of other channels.
So @WowihaY had posted the first plume picture, made by his friend @rescuero. Another friend whom he was in contact with according to his pre-17 July twitter time line, was Andrey T. aka @parabellum_ua. As was found out this Andrey T. was the same person who was interviewed by NBC News at the evening of the crash, claiming he saw the launch plume when he walked home from work. (Proof this is the same person, see his tweet about it).
Next to this witness account some other interesting thing was dug up. On the 15th, two days before the crash, Andrey T. had posted a photo from a point of view that corresponded precisely with the view as seen on the new plume photo! These pictures matched so perfectly it is assumed a camera on a tripod was running to capture a continuous view on the southern front. This idea got stronger by a tweet made by Andrey himself, in which was said he had a camera running when he was at work.
Two days before the crash Andrey T. tweets a view corresponding precisely with the point of view that can be seen on the new plume photo JIT showed.
Micha Kobs and people from the Russian forum mh17.webtalk.ru managed to geolocate the origin of the new plume photo and found it was made from an apartment building in the north of Snizhne. Andrey did not live there. Actually he lived in the south at Gagarin Street 26 and 43, before he moved to Kiev in August 2014, in the same apartment building as Vita V., assumed to be the maker of the Snizhne T0522 Buk video.
So he got his picture the 15th from someone running the fixed camera or he operated from the observation post himself. Either way, there is a connection between him and the new plume photo, which links both plume photos and a scarce published witness account together.
What emanates from this story is the idea the JIT probably lied about finding this new plume picture itself after long and hard work. Question is why they would hide the real origin behind a smoke screen.
Second corollary is the JIT uses the picture to triangulate the launch site, which does not make an assessment of the validity of the new plume picture more positive. Reason is clear. From calculations done with the two plume pictures already known – the ones from @rescuero taken 7 seconds apart from each other – can undeniably be established that, taken the angular and actual wind drift of the plume into account, this launch site is an absolute impossibility (see here ).
Earlier on already was confirmed the black and white parts of the entire plume, as visible on an enhanced version of these @rescuero pictures, did not have any relation to each other (see here ). This raised the question what that dark smoke was that curled up so perfectly into the white plume. In the picture of the new launch plume this mystery is circumvented. That is to say, the new plume picture does not in any way show that weird black smoke, which could be seen on the earliest pictures up to 200 meters height.
(If the source of the black smoke is some kilometers apart from the source of the white smoke and in the @rescuero photos they both are visible in the line of sight of the photographer, we can not see this source of black smoke when a photo is captured from another angle. Then the distance becomes apparent and the source of black smoke “falls of the frame”.
However, this would corroborate the position and calculations both parts are unrelated. Citizen-investigator Max van der Werff proposed another source, which was a a mine in line of sight of @rescuero. Fact is, Bellingcat never distanced itself from the interpretation the black smoke was part of a first stage exhaust of the Buk firing. But more importantly, the question remains how on the @rescuero pictures this black smoke could curl up so nicely fitting into the white plume ).
In a BBC documentary, aired on 3 May 2016, Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins still displayed his belief in the black smoke as first-stage exhaust part of the plume.
Unless JIT adopts the position both parts of the @rescuero plume are unrelated, they now in fact have two conflicting plumes, one with and one without black smoke. Nevertheless, they managed to corroborate their impossible launch site with it, a remarkable achievement. Because, if the @rescuero plume can’t arrive from the alleged launch site, logic provides us the conclusion there is also something weird with its exactly matching plume on the other photo.
The burnt field saga and an unmentioned revision
To corroborate that the appointed field really was the launch site, JIT used the narrative of the burnt field, a story claiming firing of a Buk had left the field it was standing on on fire. See Animation 3, from 8:15)
The voice-over says:
“Journalists went to the launch site near Pervomais’ke. Some of them were shown a piece of land which had been burnt. They saw some scorched land measuring about 30 by 30 meters.”
“Other journalists spoke to the inhabitants of the area, who told them the field had been on fire on July the 17th, and that they had ploughed the field in order to prevent the whole field from catching fire. It was clearly seen that the field had been ploughed.”
Fairly early after the crash the story of the field burning when a Buk fired its missile came up, after the first journalists mentioned above, Roland Oliphant from the Daily Telegraph and Christopher Miller from Mashable, visited the area. They “had stumbled upon” a posting by blogger Ukraine-at-war, who had pointed to an area of a suspected Buk launch founded on the picture of the launch plume. See here. Oliphant wrote a story, which was published on the 22nd. Also a video was made.
The JIT animation shows a photo made by Miller to account for the “30 by 30 meter scorched earth”, which apparently was meant to be the launch site. (Actually the spot measured had two charred parts divided by a mud path. One was triangular shaped with a 30 meter base and there also was a large strip of about 90 meters long and several meters wide).
Screenshot JIT animation with Miller photo from scorched earth at the west side of the field.
From the video and photos the exact site where Oliphant is standing at the field with the scorched earth could be retrieved.
Oliphant at the scorched earth. Source: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Crash_of_Malaysia_Airlines_flight_MH17
Roland Oliphant point of view on the alleged launch field as expressed by the photos made by Christopher Miller. Credit: Micha Kobs.
Now we might assume this scorched earth, appointed to have been originating from a Buk launch, is located at the most western (=left) side of the field as can be seen at the center image from the illustration made by Micha Kobs. Obviously Ukraine-at-war read the Oliphant article and lived through a very happy Eureka moment. This had to be it, this was the actual launch site. A picture of a plume, some caterpillar tracks near by and a farmer who pointed the journalists (when asked for it) to a piece of scorched land in the vicinity was all that was needed.
Screenshot 23.7 blog Ukraine-at-war It was published a day after the Oliphant article.
This way the story of the field burnt by Buk launch was born. Disturbing thing was Oliphant mentioned this farmer never had heard a launch, but nevertheless the case seemed solid.
In the course of time there must have been another glitch though. The JIT animation zooms in on a spot on the field (see animation at 9:23). This spot was located some 300 meters to the east, near a single standing tree, the same spot Bellingcat had appointed to in May 2016 copying the ideas of a social media poster named “Lena_from_Kiev”.
The “lone tree” standing on the alleged launch field as seen on satellite imagery from Digital Globe/Google Earth.
So the reconstruction shows something like this:
1. @rescuero takes a picture of the launch plume;
2. @wowihaY tweets this plume picture 3hrs after the crash;
3. Ukraine-at-war performs a geolocation attempt with it;
4. Oliphant and Miller stumble upon U@w blog and visit neighborhood;
5. Farmer Vasily points them to some scorched earth nearby, but never heard a launch;
6. Oliphant publishes;
7. Ukraine-at-wat then confirms launch field with absolute certainty;
— JIT takes soil samples in June 2015. Results were not mentioned, neither on the presser nor on their website;
8. “Lena_from_Kiev”, a Bellingcat advisor, points to the lone tree as the launch spot, some 300 meters away from the scorched earth, March 2016;
9. Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins takes over officially in a tweet on 27.5.2016, helped by his sponsor Google;
10. JIT zooms in on this lone tree spot, although they keep mentioning the (falsely measured) 30×30 m. Miller/Oliphant scorched earth!
JIT animation zooms in on a alleged launch spot near the lone tree. So the launch spot traveled 300 meters to the east between 22 July 2014, when Oliphant and Miller visited the field, and the JIT revelations.
Article Miller wrote for Mashable (15.7.2015), in which Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins apparently still was convinced the launch site was at the spot where the scorched earth was that Miller and Oliphant found 5 days after the crash.
Confusion all over the place. The burnt field saga to connect a presumed Buk launch to, stayed intact, but the actual launch site seemed to have traveled to a spot some 300 meters away.
So somehow there had been a revision along the way. It is my personal impression the tracks in the field near the lone tree, as visible on satellite imagery, were available to be interpreted as caterpillar tracks from a Buk. Though Lena_from_Kiev and Eliot Higgins held there also was a spot of scorched earth in front of the lone tree (see below), Christopher Miller spoke against this observation from space when he drove by on July 22nd.
Launch spot suggested by Bellingcat advisor “Lena_from_Kiev”. According to this poster there would be a charred or scorched spot near the lone tree. Christopher Miller implictly denies this claim.
Screenshot of answers Christopher Miller provided after I asked him questions about the burnt field. When done photographing and filming near the scorched earth at the western side of the field, Miller and Oliphant drove over the mud road along the tree-line towards the east, where they reached the road near a separatist checkpoint. When Miller drove by the lone tree, he apparently did not notice a spot like the “hottest spot” – the most charred/scorched spot – he saw 300 meters westwards on the same field.
What Miller had captured was the “hottest spot”, alluding to the charred parts at the western side of the field. Apparently in the JIT animation this inconsistency was solved by showing the old scorched earth spot on the Miller photos and then zoom in on the lone tree spot, assuming somehow it would not be noticed.
Furthermore, the results of the soil samples performed in that field were kept off the grid. Apparently they had come back negative, because a clear forensic lead would certainly not go unmentioned.
JIT forensic analyst collecting samples to corroborate existence of chemicals in the soil pointing to a Buk launch.
By the way, the tracks were probably from a harvester machine. A satellite image of the beginning of August 2016 shows the same kind of tracks around that lone tree.
This satellite image shows business as usual in August 2016. The tracks near the lone tree, which may have led the JIT to revise the launch site, were probably made by a harvester. Courtesy Micha Kobs.
Right at the left of the lone tree there is a passage to another field, as can be seen on the two photos below.
The harvester passage just left of the lone tree. Courtesy Micha Kobs (satellite image) and Jeroen Akkermans.
More in-depth efforts
In Februari 2016 JIT had sent a letter to the nex of kin with information about its investigation. In this letter was said:
“For example, the JIT collects evidence from intercepted phone calls, location data of certain phones, images, witness statements and technical calculations of the missile trajectory.
Those calculations are made by the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) based on the location of the MH17, the damage pattern on the wreck parts and the special properties of the missile.
In this respect, the JIT makes a more in-depth effort with respect to the investigation of the DSB.”
Unfortunately, the results of these calculation were not published nor mentioned. In fact, after a review of the calculations the NLR/TNO already had done for the DSB, which were far from precise, could be concluded that an exact determination of the launch site would have been an impossible task.
There were, for example, too few relevant parts of the wreckage of the plane available to come up with a sound simulation model of the damage pattern. Other important damaged areas, i.e. inside the cockpit, were not even assessed. Some damaged parts – or in other cases a remarkable absence of them – seem to contradict a south-from-Snizhne launch scenario. Besides, citizen-investigators found the NLR probably had found a wrong detonation point of the exploding warhead relative to the plane.
MH17 social media poster “Ole”, a German engineer, proposed a detonation point much closer to the plane based on the stringing method the NLR also had used.
So the JIT statement to come up with better calculations was kind of interesting, taken into account there actually were not (many) more crucial parts of the wreckage salvaged and the missile producer’s expertise was set aside systematically. Perhaps they just copied the remarkable achievement by the Kiev Research Institute that had calculated to the desired launch site even with a wrong detonation point.
Another set-back arrived when a subsidiary of weapon manufacturer Almaz-Antey, a manufacturer of tracking facilities, retrieved from some data storage primary radar imagery of the Snizhne area. There was no flying missile detected.
Timing of dissemination of this evidence, two days before the JIT presser, was obviously chosen for tactical reasons. Withholding it until then was probably inspired by the fact on the radar there were also no Ukrainian SU25 fighter jets visible at 16:20 local time, the time of the hit. However, even when we have to assume some caution regarding this evidence – as the Russians have disappointed the public before – if it is genuine, then it’s another devastating blow to the JIT launch scenario.
The JIT reacted indifferently. “Absence of evidence is no evidence of absence”, police chief Paulissen stated at the presser. It is interesting to see how a judge would react to this. After all it could be assumed, founded on radar specifications, a Buk missile launched from the alleged site would definitely have been detected by radar sweeps once, but probably more times.
So what is left?
A lot of people are overwhelmed by the amount of evidence the JIT claims it has. Rational people cannot be part of this group. That is, if we list what the JIT actually made public to convince the audience they were “a 100% absolutely sure”, the evidence actually is not that compelling.
– There is an intelligence report from an unreliable source with conclusions based on unknown, secret information and data;
– There is an intercepted call with inconsistent information not mentioning a Buk transport at all;
– There is a new plume picture that shows suspicious sourcing; The plume is used for triangulation with this other picture of an alleged launch plume, a plume of which it is physically impossible it has arrived from the alleged launch site;
– The scorched earth found by journalists is located 300 meters away from the selected launch spot;
– The tracks in the field are probably from a harvester;
– Soil samples probably did not give any positive results;
– Calculations of missile trajectory founded on damage pattern assessments are rather imprecise;
– Primary radar data is not showing a Snizhne launch.
However, the words of the Prosecutor were received as if they came from the highest authority of truth available, a phenomenon actually only observed in totalitarian regimes in which a judge rules what the accusers want. But with this a court case will have to be started up, in which a legitimate judge would render a verdict including evidence brought in by the defense.
Maybe the strong posture of the JIT was led by the idea that a lot of weak evidence would make a strong case when brought self-assured. It seems that to sustain this attitude of confidence, truth has even been manipulated a little. At least, that is the conclusion according to the analysis of the stories of the finding of the new launch plume picture, the alleged route in and around Snizhne and the field burnt by a Buk launch.
In the presence of a new Cold War we have to be very careful. It is reasonable to claim the JIT delivered – at least after reviewing the publicly known evidence their case rests on – a crap launch site. In a healthy, critical society this should not be applauded, though its quite understandable the next of kin of the victims want to hold on to anything that could give them solace. Nonetheless, our institutions, our media and our politicians should not be able to get away with this highly implausible public display of politically contaminated results.
 According to forensic specialist Charles Woods, speaking about the forensic value of the SBU intercepts:
“My press is listing the phone evidence as the most significant element. In fact it’s basically valueless.
The phone evidence was supplied by SBU. There are no effective digital signatures on that type of data and so no chain of custody. The conversations could have been recorded last week for all we know.
It seems very suspicious that Strelkov is mentioned. It sounds like an SBU attempt to incriminate the separatists.
The audio evidence could only ever have credence if it was collected and stored with a good forensic trail, on the day and by non involved parties. The phone evidence was supplied by SBU. There are no effective digital signatures on that type of data and so no chain of custody.
I’ve worked on major criminal trials using phone evidence much like this – and with even more conversations and huge numbers of phones. In the end you need to have a clear forensic trail that first of all has a legal basis for the interception, and then the interception has to be performed by independent parties – the Telephone Company workers in this case.
The Ukraine situation will have been roughly:
– The Government made a decree that the phone networks in Eastern Ukraine must be completely monitored. (I’m not sure if that is legal? Something for lawyers?)
– The Telcos will have set up an intercept facility feeding all audio calls directly to SBU along with call metadata.
– The Telcos will have separately set up a process to capture all cell tower and switch data that will also be fed to SBU and certainly also saved by the Telco
– The Telcos will have a database of all phone calls sortable by IMSI, IMEI, time, date, cell tower (forgetting for now about landlines)
– The Telcos will have their usual billing records based on mobile number ( IMEI )
So there is a swack of data available. A competent investigation would look at all the data and look for inconsistencies. e.g. missing billing records for alleged calls.
I doubt there will ever be an investigation at that level.”
 Sources are:
2. An interview with WowihaY aka Vladimir D.
3. Gerashchenko posting the plume himself at 20:45 EEST, 82 minutes after WowihaY tweeted it first. With information about the location it was taken from! (Maybe to inspire geolocation efforts, an activity WowihaY also engaged himself in. At about 2:30 AM the next morning his results were published on twitter and later on used by Ukraine-at-war).
“Ik heb contact opgenomen met een vriend van mij en hem de foto’s gegeven, inclusief de originelen. Die vriend nam contact op met de SBOe (Oekraïense veiligheidsdienst) en bij de SBOe hadden ze belangstelling voor de foto’s. Hij heeft ze aan de SBOe overhandigd. Daarna moest ik de details van die foto’s nader verklaren en de camera overhandigen.”
Do you have the camera where the photos were taken with it yet?
“I contacted a friend of mine and gave him the photos, including the originals. That friend contacted the SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) and the SBU they were interested in the pictures. He has them delivered to the SBOE . Then I had to explain further details of these pictures and hand over the camera. “
“The chain of events has already been described in the media. Close to midnight on July 17, when a more or less clear picture had emerged, we passed all the information to the Donetsk regional councilman Vitaly Kropachev, known for his pro-Ukrainian views. He passed it to Anton Gerashchenko, the advisor to the Interior Minister. Further than that, I don’t know. But the speed of transmission of the information was instantaneous.”