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The Strange Story of the Ten Million Dollar MH17 Investigation

July 29, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

For most people, the website Joker.buzz is totally unknown. The site, which offers users the chance to broker information anonymously using the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, has in recent weeks come to the attention of those who have taken a close interest in the shooting downing of Flight MH17 in July last year. At the start of June a new auction was posted online, asking for 10,000 Bitcoins (approximately $3 million at current exchange rates) for evidence collected as part of an investigation by a “private detective agency” into the events on July 17th 2014. It claims to include over 20 sets of evidence, including videos of witness questions, a forensic examination of the wreckage, results of autopsies, and much more.

To bolster these claims two videos were posted on the site, the first showing footage filmed inside a Buk missile launcher, likely part of the 15 minutes of Buk footage listed on the site:

The audio seems to suggest this is the Buk missile launcher that fired at Flight MH17, but it’s impossible to establish if the audio is authentic, or if the video footage is from July 17th. A second video released on June 22nd contains an audio recording, this time between what appears to be a pilot in an aircraft and a second person.

Today audio was released by Life News in an article in which “experts” claim MH17 was in fact downed not by a jet or Buk missile, but by a bomb on board the plane. The audio in the article is claimed to be a conversation between a Ukrainian SU-27 pilot near MH17 and his controller, and includes a claim by the pilot the explosion that downed MH17 was possibly on board. What’s particularly interesting about this recording is it appears to be the same one being sold on the Joker.buzz auction. As pointed out elsewhere, not only does the audio in the Joker.buzz video appears in the Life News video, but the playback device is identical, even down to the precise position and alignment of the smallest screws. The experts who provided the tape said they had to pay $250,000 to purchase the recording, so it is possible they did in fact purchase the tape from the same people selling it on Joker.buzz. That does raise the question of how can it still be part of the Joker.buzz auction if it has already been sold, including the playback device, to the experts featured in the Life News article.

Since the publication of the audio on Life News on July 29th Joker.buzz has announced the price of the information will be raised to 35,000 Bitcoins, $10 million at current exchange rates, justifying the price increase due to the availability of “irrefutable evidence” in the MH17 case.

Another curious audio recording also appeared today, after going unnoticed on a website since July 17th. The article posted on the site Pressbox.co.uk, a site for posting press releases, claims the following:

David L. Stern, a citizen of the USA, working as a CIA agent under cover in international media, in particular in GlobalPost and BBC, in the middle of July of 2014 was near Grabovo village of the Donetsk region of Ukraine where the Boeing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17) was shot down.

The given transcripts of David L. Stern’s phone talks partially clarify the events preceding the air crash on July 17, 2014 in Ukraine.

Audio files were provided by people of the ex-head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Valentyn Nalyvaichenko after his resignation.

For confirmation there is a phone talk with David Stern attached, the audio file is available on: http://s000.tinyupload.com/?file_id=89052498329097996975

The article then has the transcripts of six short phone calls reportedly recording in the days before July 17th 2014, including calls where “David Stern” is discussing the movements of a Buk missile launcher, and preparations of a nefarious sounding plan. The clear intent of these transcripts are to claim David Stern was directly involved with organising the shooting down of Flight MH17 with a Buk as part of some sort of conspiracy.

The Pressbox article went unnoticed until today, when it was identified by users of several forums and social media sites, and it was soon picked up by the Russian media. The Russian articles claims the author of the Pressbox article is Caleb Gilbert, a “British columnist”, but it appears that apart from the Pressbox article itself Caleb Gilbert has no British media presence at all, nor is it possible to find any journalist named Caleb Gilbert. Other Russian sites go further, claiming David Stern has been involved in other CIA conspiracies, with claims of activity going back as far as the 1996 Russian presidential elections.

Despite all these wild accusations there is one fairly major problem with the Pressbox recording. If you actually listen to David Stern speak (for example, in this BBC video), it’s clear his accent is different from the stilted British accent that the speaker in the audio recording has, and that’s ignoring the rather unnatural way the participants in the conversations are talking. But how does this tie to the Joker.buzz auction? In addition to the Pressbox audio file, a 2nd audio file was added to the Joker.buzz auction, and the conversation in this audio file matches the transcript of one of the six conversations on the Pressbox article. It seems these two audio recordings, and the 6 transcribed recordings on the Pressbox article are all most certainly the six “records of mobile phone conversations made by foreign intelligence agents” listed on the auction.

This raises the question why evidence from the auction is seemingly being released bit by bit? If it’s an attempt to drum up interest in the auction why is none of this information being linked to the auction when it’s published? Could it be someone has manufactured a set of evidence pointing to conspiracy around the downing of Flight MH17, and after failing to sell it is now trying to get it into the open piece by piece? It seems that with the continual leak of the information from the auction it’ll only be a matter of time until more is published online.

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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47 Comments

  1. Declan

    That audio of “David Stern” is the most unnatural unrealistic attempt at someone attempting to speak English naturally as a native that I’ve ever heard. It actually reminds me of the computer generated “Fitter Happier” monologue on Radioheads “Okay Computer” CD back in the 90’s.

    Reply
  2. David Jones

    Do we have any evidence on the bitcoin blockchain of any payments actually happening? If they paid $250,000 in Bitcoins then that transaction will be there.

    Reply
  3. Kris Garrison

    It’s interesting that Bellingcat is bothering to pay attention to this particular audio recording while at the same time continuing to ignore the obvious anomalies in the recordings that the new Kiev regime released one hour after the downing of MH-17. If Bellingcat is a legitimate investigative organisation, as you profess to be, then why not provide complete scientific analysis of the SBU recordings to find out whether they are faked or not? Why do you only investigate events that serve western interests while giving the numerous false flags of the Kiev regime and it’s openly fascist neo-nazis battalions a free pass? Here’s the link to the recordings if you want to go down that road and prove your not simply a one sided 21st century social media propaganda tool.

    Shortly after the crash of Malaysian Flight MH17, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) released a video on YouTube, claiming it was intercepted calls between Eastern rebels discussing how the plane was shot down. SBU said this proved that the rebels were behind the downing of the plane. However, a technical analysis of the sound in the video proves the recording is manufactured, hence being fake!
    The analysis is made in Adobe Audition and shows multiple flaws such as merges, background noise coming and going, the endings of the words being cut off and many other things.

    To verify for yourself, just extract the audio from the video uploaded by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on their YouTube channel: Russian analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T34AB6CImTE

    Kiev released audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5E8kDo2n6g

    So what say you Elliiot, why not analyse the recording and verify whether it is fake or not?

    Reply
    • bellingcatadmin

      To quote Fred Westerbeke
      “The talks have been checked for authenticity, and we are going to check further. So far only a few have been published. But we have thousands of them from this region. Because the Ukrainian Secret Service determined there due to previous incidents. Until the crash of MH17 already 20 helicopters and other aircraft were shot down. Therefore, they have listened to so many phone calls. That’s a big advantage for us now. And we carry out many technical procedures to verify the authenticity. Experts from around the world were flown in to ensure that these recordings may be made in court.”
      So it looks like they have it covered.

      Reply
      • Oleg

        The Ukrainians took an intercepted call relating to the downing of a militarey jet with a manpad, and tried to make out is was about mh17. Amateurish.

        Reply
        • Paul

          What is amateurish is the Kremlin coming up with all kinds of scenarios about the downing of the aircraft rather than the obvious answer where the terrorists in conjunction with Russian soldiers supplied and operated a Buk missile system that thought they were shooting down an Ukrainian plane. Oh but I forgot, Russia is not involved in the conflict.

          Reply
      • Andrew

        How do we know the tapes weren’t all authentically made in a Kiev sound studio by radio actors, or by a voice synthesizer from real recordings and then attributed to a phone number? What makes a recording “authentic”?

        How do recordings released 7/17 or 7/18 by the SBU of “Bezler” discussing Cossacks in Chornukhino with a BUK shooting down MH17 fit with a launch from Snizhne, for example?

        Lets assume rebels shot it down. If the SBU has such details, and knew enough from intelligence to find the BUK in Lugansk on its way out within hours of it starting to move, why did it not know it was on the way in and modify its airspace restrictions? Do they pretend ignorance to its capabilities?

        The rebel Militia had been making noise about BUK since 6/29 with capture of A-1402. There were internet posts claiming its use for downings, videos claiming captured BUK’s had been made ready, etc. If a random observer in the US knew about them (me), how could an interested intelligence agency in Ukraine clearly being assisted by US intelligence agencies, be in ignorance and helpless until after MH17 pretending rebels were not talking about BUK and they were blindsided?

        And when will Ukraine man up and take primary responsibility for events resulting from starting the war against its own people in May, ending the June ceasefire, and failing to control its claimed air space in July? Kiev loves to cry like a little girl as if it is a victim of circumstances outside of its control and beyond its own choices in how it chose to relate to its own people. I am trying to remember the horrific events of the Winter of 2013 when Yanukovich turned the Army loose on the people of Galicia and Volhynia after the start of the Maidan and began shelling Lviv in response to the seizure of Ministry of Interior Armories there and the emplacement of field artillery on the barricades by the protestors. Oh, that’s right, the Army attack never happened, because Yanukovich responded peacefully to provocations, unlike the protestors towards their opponents in Donbass when they managed to get control of the government

        https://twitter.com/noclador/status/436299886682591232/photo/1

        Reply
        • boggled

          Sure, he reacted peacefully.
          YEAHHHHHHH Right.
          Snipers to murder people at Maidan to stop protest that were going on ALL over Ukraine, even in Donetsk and Luhansk mind you, he had to do something and the nations military saw it was not defending yanukothief.
          So he called in the Spetsnaz to take control of his Berkut forces in Kyiv because that is about all that supported him and the Kremlin with loyalty because they got rich embezzling from Ukraine’s treasury and demanding bribes regularly.

          There was no organization or sizable force in Crimea,Donetsk or Luhansk.
          It would have been put down quickly, but like Crimea, the Kremlin force fed little green men into the regions so the local police could not squash it.

          Also the local police did not know what way was up, and the Kremlin’s little green men, oh they are not ours, oh yeah they are military teehee, took advantage of this as only they know how.

          Who to take into custody and fight? The Russians who are supposed to be brethren and give them the benefit of the doubt to explain?
          Instead of explaining, the Russians murdered many of Ukraine’s LEOs and people who stood up to them.

          Ukraine was not taking a war to its people, it was taking it to Russian occupying terrorist forces that used human shields and hide inside and alongside and shot from next to schools, orphanages, hospitals, government buildings and apartments.
          They tried to be as careful as they could be, but yes, a few civilians died and UA are willing to investigate those that might targeted at civilians or what the cause was.
          That is the role of a government.
          Let me remind you about Beslan and what Russian military did to murder over 300 people and injure over 700 with government ammunition it could have saved if it acted appropriately.
          186 children!
          The Russian government are child killers and covered it up as best they could.
          Know how many Russians from the federal government forces went to jail over that?
          Family members of the victims of the attacks have accused the security forces of incompetence, and have demanded that authorities be held accountable. Putin personally promised to the Mothers of Beslan group to hold an “objective investigation”. On 26 December 2005, Russian prosecutors investigating the siege on the school declared that authorities had made no mistakes whatsoever.[194]

          vova cover up AGAIN!

          The main brunt of civilians that died were murdered and tortured by Russian occupying forces and you know it!
          And continue to be in INTENTIONAL targeting of civilians buildings and blame it on Ukraine.
          All of it has been proven, and you know it, Andrew if you took the time to read outside of Kremlin and DNR propaganda.

          Oh that is right, you do, but you still spout the same lies over and over again, even though you know the truth.
          Really, what is your stake in the game?

          Are you a moskal hiding out in London or the USA with your embezzled funds and laundered money that you used to buy real estate there and promote the Kremlin in UK or the USA ?
          Is that why you deny facts?

          You continually blame the guy that owns the house – UA – , and not the guy – RF – that broke in and stole your TV – Crimea – , set a fire in the house – destroyed Donetsk and Luhansk – , and murdered your wife and children – MH17.

          Do you understand how much sense that makes?
          Do you know how much of a changito that makes you look?

          Fare thee well

          Reply
          • boggled

            I mean seriously Andrew, is it ‘Leave your brain at home today’ day today and no one told me?

            Fare thee well

  4. Constantine

    Bitcoin transactions can be tracked and if the payment was done indeed it should be on blockchain and can be checked by Bitcoin address of Joker.buzz. Of course if buyer hasn’t hashed his payment in dozen of smaller ones to lose the trail.

    Voice is simple to check with voice biometrics or with help of forensics expert. I can check recordings to get voices likelihood ratio with voice biometrics software.

    Reply
    • boggled

      Constantine and Kris, as I am sure you know, it helps to know which devices were used on both sides as far as communications gear to verify various items.
      Many mobile phones cut in and out to barely loosing a single.
      Satellite phones have different metrics.
      Walkie Talkies, Ham Radio, CB, etc.
      All have their own little quirks.
      And do not forget, you want to be close as possible on the guess of the style of device on BOTH sides of the conversation.
      And then there are the quirks of the recording devices.

      So you cannot tell a lot from just a recording, you have to know a little of the technical background behind the recording as well.
      You can tell some things, but by just doing an analysis from a recording leaves a LOT of errors.
      Probably best left up to the professional investigators who have access to the extra data involved.

      NOW, Kris in your around the mulberry bush way of accusing Bellingcat of being one sided and biased, how about you in your comment?
      You have all the same evidence I do, and many of the battalions of the Russian militias are openly neo nazi fascists.
      Do you really adding that to your comment made it any more valid?
      In my eyes, it made it less worth giving consideration of ANY validity.
      AND putting it in there shows you are a ‘one sided 21st century social media propaganda tool’, because adding it was not necessary in asking BC to look into the recordings.

      Fare thee well

      Reply
  5. Boris Chykulay

    look’s like the play in front of the camera. voices are nervous. look’s like few takes was before. directed cinema stuff

    Reply
  6. Slava

    I know Dave Stern, and that sounds like it could be him, but it sounds like this “recording” was stitched together from a bunch of disparate audio clips. I know him well enough to know he is an unlikely CIA agent. He is about as moderate/balanced as anyone can be who is living in Ukraine at this time.

    Reply
  7. boggled

    Speaking of ten million dollars, if I find a Russian Major inside of Ukraine working with the terrorists, can I get a reward?
    Darn, someone beat me too it.
    Do I get any money for posting the link of more proof of Russian soldiers working in Ukraine?
    Hope about ones that say – Russian soldiers, do not come to Ukraine, it is all a lie!

    Interesting transcript of part of his interrogation with video.

    http://lugansk-news.com/captured-russian-officer-starkov-explained-how-and-how-many-russian-soldiers-get-recruited-to-fight-in-ukraine-full-transcript-of-the-video/

    Fare thee well

    Reply
  8. Darrin

    Seems there is information coming out on Twitter that blows apart bellingcats claim a missle shot down the plane.

    Reply

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