Satellite Imagery Provides No Real Help for MH17 (because of Photoshopping?)

Wait, this image is probably not what it looks like. Image is hosted on DailyMail.com.

I happened on this news story last Friday as I was in research mode at work: MH17 update. It looked interesting, but was also suspicious when I considered the timing of the image’s release corresponding to Putin getting a finger in the chest from the Australian Prime Minister. However, me being at work meant I really couldn’t look into it a bit more to figure out what exactly was going on.

As a reminder, earlier this year Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Passengers and crew on board all died. Some sources were pointing to a surface to air missile shot from a BUK (a vehicle dedicated to carrying and launching rockets), but there hasn’t been any authoritative evidence really set forth for any kind of criminal investigation to contemplate. The image in the Daily Mail’s story shows that a fighter jet of some kind fired off a missile (the line in front of the fighter’s nose is the missile’s contrail) toward some kind of passenger jet. Except maybe that’s not the truth either.

So now I have had time do some searching about this story online, and can’t say I’m too surprised with the stories coming out regarding the image above. Many people with much better eyes and backgrounds in imagery have come out to say the picture’s been cobbled together. This site, Belling¿cat, seems to be a pretty good overall place to go and read about how people have figured out the satellite images are fakes. There are the side-by-side comparisons, plus the obvious grabs for images off the internet by whoever made it. Keep in mind that I’m not very familiar with Belling¿cat, so they may have an agenda for spinning stories a certain way. It seems legit, though.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for the kind of thing that’s pictured in that imagery to have happened, but it seems unlikely–maybe as unlikely as a BUK launching a surface to air missile at an airliner. This story is so convoluted, so tinged by political agendas, I am unsure there will be any kind of truth coming out of this soon, if ever.

But here’s the reality–those people on that Malaysian Airlines MH17 airplane were murdered. Whether it was politics, a guerilla war, one side or the other–someone took a shot at a passenger plane, downed it, then stayed quiet about it. Is this the first time something like this has happened? No, and this Wikipedia list (which I wouldn’t consider a first-hand source), has a list of the unfortunates shot down since passengers have been flying in aircraft.

It’s easy to get cynical about it, saying the thugs in the region have too much control for any truth to get out. I’ve seen some of those comments, and must note that if people go in with that kind of perspective, then such a perspective might perhaps inform the outcome of this tragedy’s investigation, no matter how grounded in history and reality the perspective might be.

Not helping in any of this is the US government. People within the US government made allegations that sounded like they could be substantiated. I wrote a bit about those allegations in this post: Can Top Secret Satellites Aid in International Justice? Overhead military assets like the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) were mentioned, as well as mentions by none other than John Kerry of possible Signals/Communications Intelligence (SIGINT/COMINT) interceptions. But then things seemed to just get quiet. I really haven’t found any reasons why there hasn’t been any other information. But it could be the US is unwilling to divulge any more information that may reveal technical data about the US intelligence collection assets. Even if a judge were given jurisdiction of this case, and subpoenaed the information, I am not sure the US government would divulge the details.

The upshot of this whole thing, though, is nobody seems to believe the image wasn’t doctored, except where it counts: in Russia. This Austin 360 post reiterates this sentiment fairly well at the end of its own story about this image kerfuffle. Sigh!

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