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The Douma Chemical Attack – Fake News about Fake News on Russia’s Fake News

April 13, 2018

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

With any war crime in Syria receiving significant media coverage, there has been a concerted effort by pro-Kremlin and pro-Assad individuals and media outlets to spread claims attacking the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets), a major source of information and footage on war crimes in the conflict. These attacks generally fall into two categories: claiming that the White Helmets are Al-Qaeda or ISIS (or even sometimes both), and claiming that the White Helmets fake images of war crimes for gullible Western audiences and media outlets.

The aftermath of the April 7, 2018 Douma chemical attack is no different, with many well-established anti-White Helmets allegations being rehashed by those trying to undermine reporting around the chemical attack. The Russian government has now claimed the White Helmets were ordered by the British government to fake a chemical attack, demonstrating once again that attempts to demonise the White Helmets come not just from fringe actors, but even the Russian government itself. One of the newer allegations was recently covered by the Vesti program on Russian state television channel Russia-1, claiming to show photographs of a White Helmets film set in East Ghouta:

The segment shows a number of images “acquired” by Russia-1’s Vesti news programme supposedly from a White Helmets film set, with Vesti highlighting alleged signs of White Helmet involvement in fakery:

Actually, these images are taken from the Facebook page of the film Revolution Man, with the following synopsis published in Syrian state media:

“The film revolves around a journalist who enters Syria illegally in order to take pictures and videos of the war in Syria in search of fame and international prizes, and after failing to reach his goal, he resorts to helping the terrorists to fabricate an incident using chemical materials, with the aim of turning his photos into a global event.”

In promotional material for a recent screening, the creative director, Najdat Anzour, talks about the film:

“The timing of the screening was important as it coincides with the great preparations made by the West in order to put pressure on Syria after the terrorist groups had collapsed by the Syrian Arab Army. The film also deals with the facts on the ground that we tried to collect from many documents to be presented through an influential feature film in English.”

Images from the Facebook page clearly match those presented by Vesti:

The descriptions for the images on the Facebook page are somewhat confusing, and at first reading seem to indicate that the photographs are from an actual White Helmets dressing room:

“The audience of the film Revolution Man will be surprised in the similarity between the media propaganda implemented by the White Helmets in this movie and the fake media that has been leaked 2 days ago from the make up room of the White Helmets for what’s claiming to be the victims of the shelling in Ghouta to use photos for the media that is partner in killing Syrian blood. These leaks of the White Helmets exposed them but the Revolution Man film was earlier to expose them, and these are the documents that proof this.”

However, the woman holding the clapperboard, with the name of the Revolution Man’s creative director, Najdat Anzour, written on it, is tagged as Farah Arabi Kattbi. She lists her job as assistant director, and her profile includes photographs of her at screenings of Revolution Man:

This clearly indicates that the photographs are from the set of Revolution Man; however, the coverage from Russian state media’s Vesti does not present the facts as such. The Vesti report claims that the images are not from an actual film set, but instead a fake photograph created by the White Helmets to mimic a Syrian government film set. Vesti points to  a missing date and film name from the clapperboard being evidence of this claim. This fake movie set was (according to the report) apparently in an attempt cover up the fact the White Helmets are creating fakes with dressing rooms and feature film production values. As evidence, they compare the clapperboard in the photograph to one from the production of a film:

If you are confused by the point of this Vesti segment, you are not alone, as it does not follow any consistent line of logic, as pointed out by the Russian publication The Insider.

The report does not note that one of the production team for Revolution Man is holding the clapperboard, even though it would be easily discoverable by anyone looking at the original images, suggesting either extreme incompetence by the Vesti production team, or a purposeful attempt to deceive the audience.

This report is yet another obvious example of images being misrepresented to attack the White Helmets by the Russian media and the supporters of the Syrian and Russian governments, and one that can be easily debunked with even rudimentary research. Despite the ease of debunking this claim, it is almost certain that these images will continue to be used by those who wish to attack the White Helmets for months, if not years, to come.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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18 Comments

  1. Andrea

    I have mixed thoughts on this:
    On one side it’s totally stupid to blame it on the movie production for having chosen such a bad timing (that actually may still be bad for years..) and thus allowing easy spread of dumb conspiracies and fake news.
    On the other side I really think that they really should have thought on ways to prevent this from happening (but i have no idea how…). Maybe just make the responders less realistic… maybe with a fake (yet similar) emblem rather than the very one that should only be associated with real stuff.

    Reply
    • PJefferson Araldi

      Russian, KGB Putin’s propaganda is like this (similar to Black Lives Matter!): First they deny their crimes; next they assume the victim’s role; finally they start a barrage of misinformation/obfuscation to divert the attention from the hard facts, evidences.
      The moronic media in the West respectfully call bloodthirsty despots like Putin, Assad “president”.
      Lenin was right about the “useful idiots” in the West who buy Russian lies.
      Get ready Russia!

      Reply
        • Adam Larson

          I wouldn’t call this “very good.” I’m no fan of the Russophobic panic over fake news and hacked elections, especially after watching Victoria Nuland overlook the possibility of fascist false-flag snipers on the Maidan in a bit of possible election hacking with more substance to it, etc.

          But … At times at least some Russian media and even their MoD, etc. really do pull stupid things like this. Ukrainian BUK launchers from three times of day parked all in one satellite photo (or was that just 2 different shadow angles?). It really makes me shake my head. Can no one in power on this planet get things RIGHT more often than this?

          Also FWIW I agree whoever decided to use real or so similar WH patches … dumb idea on several levels. Look at the collision of idiocy it contributed to.

          Reply
          • Frank

            Adam – Maidan snipers is an excellent example. Blame was pinned on Yanukovych immediately (plus, Putin), while, nowadays, there is solid evidence for a false flag, done by Right Sektor part of Maidan.
            That’s why scrutiny is advised with all these Syrian dealings.

      • John Whitbeck

        PJefferson: I’d like to follow up on your reply. Can you point me to sources reporting on the crimes committed by the Black Lives Matter organization?

        Reply
  2. Frank

    I always wonder why the Russian information campaign is so poor and they keep making mistakes like the one above. The incident in Douma is most likely staged by the Western-supported Jihadists, while the British Gov is most likely lying about the Skripal incident.
    However, FUKUS colalition (what an approbate name!) will not win in the end, just cause a great amount of human suffering in Syria before they will lose. Irak WMD was a lie, and so is this FUKUS campaign.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Answer is very simple (and very sad too): they know that the average voter doesn’t even spend 0,5secs questioning what their media says…
      And sadly this trend is expanding: here in Italy, (that i like to think is a democratic country with a pretty nice level of instruction) i read on a newspaper (a reliable one) that almost 50% of population can’t figure out which news are fake and which not… and guess what’s the political result? over 50% turnout towards two populistic parties…
      As long as morons believe all they read on Fb/Twitter… and many other self improvised outlets…

      Reply
    • Grubbie

      Frank,why would the UK government do such things?MH17 and polonium case’s are proven beyond any doubt,so I think that I’ll assume that Putin is guilty of the rest as well.Iwill also assume that you are a Putinbot unless you can come with a shread of evidence or any possible motive.
      You and your cyber friends would be much better off tracking down the vast sums of money Putin has personally stolen from the Russian people.

      Reply
      • PJefferson Araldi

        Russia belongs to Putin-and his oligarchs- therefore he can’t steal anything that ultimately belongs to him – typical of oriental theocratic regimes.

        Reply
  3. Frank

    Grubbie, Polonium is far from proven from any doubt. Read for example letter from Staatsanwaltschaft Hamburg regarding Kovtun, which the Russians published recently in part.

    Reply
  4. Taleo

    Can anyone explain what is the movie Revolution Man about and what it intends to shed light on? As I understood it shows how fake events are orchestrated in Syria to raise attention. If so, does this mean that fake events do take place in Syria and recent alleged chem-attack is one of them? Im confused.

    Reply
  5. Peterpan@gmail.com

    Talking about Russians creating fake stuff to cover what? The fact that Asad is wining the war and has no reason to gas their own people and turning the world against himself? Anybody thinking otherwise is naive fool and how can you talk about fake news? What about US ? You probably still believe that 9/11 was real 😉

    Reply
  6. Soul Rebel

    Sorry, but you guys are no better. RT, Sputnik, CNN, MSNBC, FOX & co. All just one sided, propaganda. Journalism is nowhere where it should be. Instead of giving the facts that suit your narrative, how about being a real journalist & give all the details, so the reader can make his own opinion

    Reply

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