From the series “How to use sloppy thinking for disinformation”. This series contains the following blogposts:
Part 3. The separatists at the crashsite (BBC video)
In the information war that was ignited moments after MH17 crashed, a lot of stories appeared in (pro)western mainstream and social media in which statements from separatists were misinterpreted. This was done to construct a story that actually an implicit admission of guilt was conveyed. Actually in all cases the conclusion was based on rather biased and sloppy thinking or even on deceitful intentions.
In the first hours after the crash, when people near the crashsite were still in disarray about what had happened, a lot of rumours and personal interpretations were spread over social media. For example, about what plane had been downed.
The information this proKiev infowarrior tweeted, was based on a message from @COV_NovoRussia, posted on 17:03 local time. (The textbox was already opened on 16:50, that is 17:50 Moscow Time or MSK):
17.07 17.50 MSK Downed plane, Shushka, [a jet fighter from the SU series, interpreted by Lennutrajektoor as an SU-25; HR] one half on the left side of the road, the other on the other side. The two bodies next to the field. Wait for the video, photos.
Many sources claimed it was an AN-26, a cargo plane of considerate proportions, maybe because they saw a lot of debris on the fields or saw something big falling out of the sky. Others thought about a smaller SU-25 fighter jet, for example people around Roszypne and Petropavlivka, where only debris of the cockpit fell. Some people even thought two planes were downed, as we shall see later on in the evidence presented.
Fatal mistake: Switching from AN-26 to SU-25
As we know from the narrative that pivoted around the retracted Strelkov_info message (see part 1 of this series), people from the proKiev side started insinuating that the separatists had downed the wrong plane, thinking they had hit an Ukrainian cargo plane AN-26. However, a story with the same elements of misinterpretation, but precipitating at a different type of plane, a SU-25, also emerged. This way the narrative stayed the same – wrong plane downed by mistake – though presumed evidence changed as the sources changed (see also part 4).
Of course, even if the hidden premisse that information ultimately arrived from a Buk crew is taken for granted, this primordal source could not have given two separate accounts about the target they were pursuing. Nevertheless, the “fatal mistake narrative” based on a SU-25 instead of an AN-26 showed for some better prospects to perpetuate the overall narrative.
For instance, citizen investigator Arnold Greidanus helped a lot in mopping up the Strelkov_info fabrication in an elaborate study.This way he helped to discard the fatal mistake narrative, at least the AN-26 version of it. However, at the same time he revived the narrative by switching to the SU-25 version, holding on to the same hidden premisses and making the same doubtful inference that showed itself to be problematic or even false.
In his study about separatists arriving at the crashsite, he used a video that was captured by the separatist commander “Zhuk”. This soldier was part of a reconnaisance group inspecting the crashsite, apparently poised to find debris of a fighter plane from the Sukhoi (SU) series. From the transscripts of this video Greidanus finally concluded that there was an implicit admission of guilt, matching the old fatal mistake narrative, now concerning that the wrong plane downed was a SU-25.
Two planes downed?
It seemed that people near the crashsites at Roszypne and Grabovo had different thoughts which they disseminated on social media and which were obviously also reported to the local authorities (DPR bureaus). Near the site where the cockpit fell, people might have thought that a small plane had fallen, ie. a SU-25. Where the fuselage and the tanks of the plane fell and people experienced heavy explosions, they might have thought something big fell, presumably a cargo plane, like an AN-26. Or even two planes.
In fact, Greidanus actually started this story with a clear view on the situation as perceived by the residents of the villages near the crashsite.
This (…) clearly demonstrates that people on the outskirts of Torez assumed there were two planes crashing, where in fact it concerned the cockpit section fuselage and the main body of the Boeing falling at different locations.
Given the distance in between, it is understandable that people at Rozsypne initially also may have thought of two planes as well: while the first bodies fell out of the sky into the fields near their village an explosion was heard from Grabovo, as was told to Vice News on July 18th by an inhabitant of Rozsypne, at 2:02 in the video.
As large debris fields on either side of the road in Grabovo were found, some people even thought that two planes were downed right there. Others might have concluded it was a fighter jet, ie. a SU-25, that was spread over two fields, as they interpreted the explosions heard as the bombing of a fighter jet. When civilian bodies were reported, people assumed from all this that the jet fighter had downed a civilian plane and then was shot itself. Obviously by “ours” (see also part 4 of this series).
The separatist video
Greidanus follows up his story with the video already mentioned above, “footage made by separatists themselves at the Grabovo crash site, when they are looking for the remains of a Sukhoi [a jet fighter from the SU series]”.
In fact, this footage appeared in a version edited by the BBC already on July 21
A more edited version of the BBC video was also released in 2015 by an Australian news organization “News Corp Australia”, that used it to depict a rather grim picture of the separatist reconnaissance group, as they were portrayed as ransacking stuff from innocent dead people. After this publication the net exploded from indignation about the monstruous behaviour of the separatists.
Colonel Cassad, a proseparatist channel, published the full transscripts of the video, that originally lasted 17 minutes but was never published in full and uncut.
Of course, this makes thorough textanalysis more difficult. Nonetheless, a part of the transscript apparently says:
This is another plane, I think.
It’s the fighter.
Commander: There, part of engine.
Other: Yes, I think.
Cmdr: Yes, it’s the Sukhoi.
(Phone): Call the headquarters, the town, he will take you there.
Background: There’s coins here.
Cmdr: There’s five people who jumped.
Background: This is the Sukhoi lying around.
Background: You know how many bodies out there?
Cmdr: They say the Sukhoi (fighter) brought down the civilian plane and ours brought down the fighter.
Background: But where is the Sukhoi?
There it is … it’s the passenger plane.
Background: It’s just fragments.
Cmdr: Hello, yes, we’re at the crash site. What, is there’s another plane taken down there?
Understood, keep the perimeter, don’t let the civilians in. OK then, we’ll be there soon.
It’s a civilian, it’s some civilian.
Background: But what direction did it come from … and fall?
Background: Look, aluminium.
Background: [Undistinguished]. Where is the Sukhoi then?
Background: It’s confusing. No idea where the Sukhoi is, it’s burning here and there and debris everywhere.
Cmdr: Yes (KOT). Speak. What? No, don’t fly in anywhere yet, wait for the orders. Remain at the headquarters
Greidanus used this part to obtain an implicit admission of guilt, as he reasoned:
From this we may assume that the “they” in the first quoted line refers to “the headquarters”. This means that “they” had most likely made up this story [of separatists shooting down a Sushka that shot down a civilian plane; HR] upon the arrival of the separatists at the crash site or perhaps just before they arrived. (We may assume that the video recording was started shortly after they had arrived.)
This also means, that “ours” brought down some aeroplane in any case … and a Su-25 was never found! Therefore this fragment can be read as an admission of guilt. But most of all, as a story concocted by “headquarters”.
Assessing the narrative, now with the SU-25
Greidanus, and others’, argument shows a lot of assumptions, but foremost doubtful inference to reach a conclusion. In fact, from this transscript cannot be established “they” had first-hand knowledgde of a shooting from a Buk crew or their chain of command, even if “they” really were people from headquarters. The conclusion does not arrive from the presuppositions and sound inference, so this shows a pure and simple non-sequitur fallacy.
An important element can be recognised again: “Headquarters” suggests a source high-up in the chain of command, so it is assumed they MUST have full knowledge about a downing directly from the Buk crew. At the same time the possibility that the information is a relay of information from locals, is not taken into account.
Be it Strelkov admirers on Strelkov_info, be it “our leaders” in a Corriera della Sera article, or even headquarters, the bottomline does not change. This is a hidden premisse that is unfounded, at least from a neutral, logical point of view, so with respect to all the factual information that we have at hand.
Also, it seems the recon group themselves were in continuous contact with local residents who supplied their information and assumptions by phone. As Arnold Greidanus himself concludes:
“A bit further on in the transcript the commander takes another phone call, most likely from a local young woman. The transcript shows him repeating part of the incoming information and immediately instructing some of his men:”
This is the part mentioned:
Cmdr: Hello, yes. They saw a pilot crawling at Rassipnaya. A pilot was seen crawling.
Cmdr: Get out there with your men …. Right now. And where’s the parachute jumper?
Cmdr: The plane fell at Lesnaya Skazka [village name]. Understood. OK. The car has left to there. Let’s go already. Understood.
Cmdr: Thank you girl. After the war we’ll give you a medal.
There you have the original source of the information that was (re)routed towards the reconnaissance group. Locals were reporting information by direct phonecalls and, of course, “they” also conveyed their wrong assessments. The “they” from the commander’s line might actually mean “they” as in unindentified non-specific people relaying information, presumably from around the crash sites.
For instance, these tweets posted minutes after the crash at 16:22 local time sum up what was heard, ie. on Zello, a smartphone app for group conversations. It is clear people immediately assumed a Ukrainian fighter jet was involved.
“Snizhne: a plane flew by and then a bang. Either it bombed something or it crashed.” (16:25 local time)
“Black smoke in a neighborhood area of Torez. Zello: a plane dropped a bomb and blew up. We are confirming.” (16:29)
“They shot down a transport plane or maybe a Ukrainian fighter jet….” (16:39)
When “pilots” were reported and also first messages about civilian bodies arrived, its not that hard to imagine how people were interpreting this. The pilots belonged to an attack plane, the civilians to a plane that was attacked. And the attack plane had crashed also. As an AN-26 is uncapable of attacking, this must have been a fighter jet, probably a SU-25 as there were two downed a day before.
“They say the Sukhoi (fighter) brought down the civilian plane and ours brought down the fighter.“
When locals thought about the two planes scenario based on what they saw and heard, it is plausible they also routed this information to the DPR authorities. And they, or the locals themselves, provided the recon crew with it. As the recon group was advised to look out for pilots (read: assets of war), with whom they may have to engage in a battle, finding the attacker plane was first, or even only priority.
More chats by locals
According to the transscripts of the BBC video a pilot was seen crawling near Roszypne, the town where the cockpit fell. This could not have been seen by a presumed Buk crew, obviously, so the fact that Greidanus concluded the information came from some young local woman was probably correct.
Screengrab from News Corp version. The commander is receiving information by phone that a pilot has been seen crawling at Roszypne.
So if HQ or some other official source handed over this kind of information, it is not inconceivable it had arrived at their bureaus from local residents near Roszypne or Grabovo. The recon group arrived shortly, probably half an hour, after the crash, but by then there were already reports around from local residents that mention a fighter plane, ie a SU-25, or two planes that were downed.
As another example this VK chat 17.07.14 shows a conversation between local residents on the VK.com group “Overheard in Torez”. Below there are screenshots showing some of the replies (Time is UTC. Local time is UTC+3).
The chat makes clear that people thought they were attacked by fighter jets, that a person thought two pilots were ejecting, that there was a lot of confusion about where the plane(s) exacty fell – as some say Roszypne and others say near Grabovo. It also shows a message from a witness about finding a dead body. As people thought there was an attack and a plane had crashed, its understandable some people assumed that it also had to be the attack-plane itself – for example a SU-25 – that was shot down.
Artyom Novak and Sasha Muravtseva summarized parts of information that they collected within the first half an hour after the crash. It followed the story that two planes were downed near Grabovo and that a bombing fighter jet had crashed. When all this arrived at HQ or directly to the recon group, it seems conceivable that false assumptions were made – namely that “we” downed an attack plane that downed another one.
Of course, in the first hours separatist sources might have used this information package to further disseminate the idea they had downed a SU-25 that downed a civilian plane – as Greidanus explains. However, that “ours” downed “some” plane “in any case” is just a speculation that cannot be supported by known facts. It doesn’t hold for a narrative based on a AN-26 and neither does it for one based on a SU-25.