On July 19th, 2014, the Malaysian airliner MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine. It seemed likely that it was downed by hostile intent, and a surface-to-air missile seemed the likely agency. Although the U.S. rushed to blame Russia for the downing, accusing them of either firing on the civilian aircraft or providing a missile to Ukrainian rebels, the actual evidence for this was thin to non-existent. German intelligence reportedly concluded that Ukrainian rebels had shot down the plane, but using a missile captured from Kiev’s troops.
Now Robert Parry continues the debunking of the attempt to link Russia to the attack:
An Australian television show claims to have solved the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down mystery – the Russians did it! – but the program appears to have faked a key piece of evidence and there remain many of the same doubts as before, along with the dog-not-barking question of why the U.S. government has withheld its intelligence data.
The basic point of the Australian “60 Minutes” program was that photographs on social media show what some believe to be a BUK anti-aircraft launcher aboard a truck traveling eastward on July 17, 2014, the day of the shoot-down, into what was generally considered rebel-controlled territory of eastern Ukraine, south and east of Donetsk, the capital of one of the ethnic Russian rebellious provinces.
However, in mid-July, the ethnic Russian rebels were reeling under a Ukrainian military offensive to the north of Donetsk. Despite shifting their forces into the battle zone, they had lost Sloviansk, Druzhkivka, Kostyantynivka and Kramatorsk. In other words, the lines of control were fluid and chaotic in mid-July 2014 …
Another problem with the Australian TV account is that the video and photographic images show the truck heading eastward toward Russia, but there are no earlier images of the truck moving westward from Russia into eastern Ukraine.
There also appears to have been some fakery involved in the Australian documentary. In several instances, as the film crew traveled to eastern Ukraine to seek out scenes from July 17 video showing the truck possibly carrying BUK missiles, images of those sites – then and now – were overlaid to show how closely the scenes matched.
However, for one crucial scene – the image of an alleged “getaway” BUK launcher lacking one missile and supposedly heading back to Russia after the shoot-down – the documentary broke with that pattern. The program showed the earlier video of the truck moving past a billboard and then claiming – based on information from blogger Eliot Higgins – that the TV crew had located the same billboard in Luhansk, a rebel-held city near the Russian border.
This was the documentary’s slam-dunk moment, the final proof that the Russians and particular Vladimir Putin were guilty in the deaths of 298 innocent people. However, in this case, there was no overlay of the two scenes, just Australian correspondent Michael Usher pointing to a billboard and saying it was the same one as in the video.
But the scenes look nothing at all alike if you put them side by side. While Usher is standing in an open field, the earlier video shows an overgrown area.
Eliot Higgins of bellingcat rejects this:
Unfortunately for Parry, his accusation is entirely unfounded, and reveals his lack of investigative skill when it comes to this kind of open source information. Had Parry spent a few minutes on Google he could have easily found Bellingcat’s work on the video, and realised his error.
As we detailed in this July 22nd 2014 post, it was possible to establish the position of the camera, which is key to understanding what’s visible in the video.
Now Eliot Higgins is a very strange story. Over the course of a few years, he says, he went from being an unemployed man trained in administration and finance to one of the most respected experts on weapons systems in the world
Although Higgins has never been to Syria, and until recently had no connection to the country, he has become perhaps the foremost expert on the munitions used in the war. On YouTube, he scans as many as three hundred new videos a day, with the patience of an ornithologist. Even when a rocket has largely been destroyed, he can often identify it by whatever scraps survive.
He charged the Syrian government with having murdered civilians using the poison gas, Sarin, in the civil war:charge that has been refuted by Teddy Postol, who is actually one of the world’s experts on weapons systems:
Higgins, Postol said, “has done a very nice job collecting information on a website. As far as his analysis, it’s so lacking any analytical foundation it’s clear he has no idea what he’s talking about.”
See here for Postol v. Higgins, and here for Postol:
These Munitions Could Not Possibly Have Been Fired at East Ghouta from the “Heart”, or from the Eastern Edge, of the Syrian Government Controlled Area Shown in the Intelligence Map Published by the White House on August 30, 2013.
So, one has the question as to how the conclusions of the uncredentialed Mr. Higgins, who made such a serious error in the case of Sarin, were so rapidly adopted adopted by the media, while the conclusions of one of our nation’s foremost experts on missiles, was all but ignored. Even the NYT report that mentions it is a some-say-the-earth-is-flat piece, putting Higgins and Postol on equal footing and never making clear what Postol is saying, namely that Higgins was completely wrong in his identification of the missile and that the actual projectile almost certainly didn’t come from what our intelligence said was government-held territory.
Robert Parry may not be an expert in image analysis. But he is an expert in BS detection.