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Stunt Geolocation – Verifying the Unverifiable

March 3, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

When working on open source and social media investigation there’s occasional images that at first seem as if they would be impossible to verify. The following picture, showing a 9S470 Self Propelled Command Post, was shared with us on Twitter.

The image is significant because it shows what appeared to be one of the units that was part of the military convoy seen travelling through Russia in late June 2014 that contained the Buk missile launcher Bellingcat identified as also being seen in Ukraine on July 17th, and linked to the downing of MH17. In the Bellingcat report Origin of the Separatists’ Buk we were able to track the convoy using images from multiple sources as it travelled through Russia to the Ukrainian border.

23

At the very least this new image would add to the details we had gathered about the route of the convoy, and the original version of the image on VK.com already had location information tagged to it, indicating it was taken in Rossosh, Russia (50.202944, 39.510314). However, despite having co-ordinates it’s still important to match what’s visible in the image with images from the ground, to confirm that the co-ordinates provided are accurate. Google Streetview images of the area are available, but the photograph appears to provide little information that could be used to find its precise location.

G8NQGeq7u4Y

However, there is in fact plenty of information in the image that can be used to match the location. First it is possible to establish the position of the camera in relation to the vehicle by examining the road markings. The vehicle is between two sets of dashed lines, the set that is furthest away extending further to the right than the set closest to the camera.dash

In the Google Streetview imagery the same pattern of dashed lines can be seen, and based on the position of the dashed lines in relation to the solid lines the camera must be on the left side of the below image pointing across the road.

SV dash

Street markings are not unique, but other elements of the photograph match to what’s visible in the Google Streetview imagery. Barely visible behind the tire of the vehicle is a white pole that’s also visible in the Google Streetview imagery.

SV comp verge

Also visible in the top left corner of the photograph is a pole that also matches the Google Streetview imagery.

SV poll compIndividually these features are not uncommon, but there is one element of the photograph that is very unusual, and confirms the exact location of the vehicle. A crack is visible in the photograph, running through the middle dashed line, with a patch of discolouration around it that matches to what’s visible in the Google Streetview imagery.

Crack

Unlike other matches in the photograph this pattern of cracks and discolouration would be something that’s very unusual, and combined with the other matching element would establish this as the exact location. This shows that even when a photograph appears to provide no useful information it’s still possible to find the exact location it was taken.

 

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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48 Comments

  1. Max

    Pleas correct inconstistency: on the teaser for this article you write:
    “The following picture, showing a 9S18M1 “Snow Drift” radar, was shared with us on Twitter.”

    At the beginning of this article you claim it as a different type:
    “The following picture, showing a 9S470 Self Propelled Command Post, was shared with us on Twitter.”

    cheers Max

    Reply
  2. Rob

    Eliot,
    I don’t know quite how to say this, but if it were not for the Bellingcat team, and a few other open source fact checkers like ukraine@war and InterpreterMag, we would know virtually nothing about what happened with MH17.

    In all the noise and all the opinions floating around on internet, and in all the he-said-she-said reporting from MSM, open source journalism using openly available evidence and verifiable methods is the ONLY mechanism by which the truth can be distinguished from propaganda.

    Deep RESPECT ! for you guys, and from the bottom of my (since July 17th, deeply hurt) heart THANK YOU for your work.

    Reply
    • Will Toynbee

      But is it truly “independent” if this journalism consistently only gives one view?
      It only looks for evidence of one view and only ever reports one view.
      Is this not fair to say?

      Reply
      • Rob

        No, Will, that is not fair to say.
        Reality has only one view : what really happened.

        And Bellingcat’s investigations provide evidence of what really happened.
        Take this particular analysis as an example (geolocating this picture of a BUK command vehicle).

        Which other “view” other did you have in mind when Bellingcat places this picture at (50.202944, 39.510314), not just based on the “view” of the person that took the picture, but actually on the details visible in the picture itself.

        If you have any different “view” of how a truly “independent” report would look like about this picture, then please bring it forward.

        Reply
        • Will Toynbee

          Oh Please. 🙂 Bellingcat consistently looks for evidence to support one side only in everything it produces. This is not journalism

          Reply
        • Alex Liveson

          Oh please, he did not “geolocate” it, the location was already given.

          Reply
      • seyinphyin

        What evidence? We see some pictures which for themself prove nothing and then a lot of interpretation, which is no evidence.

        If it would be otherwise, all this “evidence” would be of meaning to more than just some MSM squallers.

        Reply
  3. Shelley S

    I found out about you today at Moscow Times and have been spending a few hours looking at your site. Keep up the good work for it is essential that independent journalists show what’s going on in Ukraine.

    Reply
  4. Will Toynbee

    Evidence for the smoketrail from a BUK is lacking apart from one very suspect alleged photo. But thousands and thousands of people would have seen this, and photographed it, as Gordon Duff from veterans Today points out.

    http://rt.com/news/239881-mh17-ukraine-fighter-jet/

    “Duff said he also discussed the possibility of the MH17 flight having been shot by a ground-to-air missile with experts from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), the FBI, the Air Line Pilots Association, as well as air traffic and air operational officers – and they all agreed that no proof of anti-aircraft missile use has been provided to the public.

    It is highly unlikely that the launch of such a missile would have gone unnoticed in the area, Duff stressed, adding that the trail left by the rocket in the air would have been witnessed and filmed by “thousands.”

    “One of the things we settled on early on is that in the middle of the day, if this were a Buk missile, the contrail would have been seen for 50 miles [80km]. The contrail itself would have been photographed by thousands of people; it would have been on Instagram, on Twitter, it would have been all over YouTube – and no one saw it. You can’t fire a missile on a flat area in the middle of the day leaving a smoke trail into the air and having everyone not see it,” Duff said.

    “There is no reliable information supporting that it was a Buk missile fired by anyone,” he added.”

    Reply
    • Rob

      Will,
      Why are you parroting statements made by RT ?
      Can’t you just stop for a second, and THINK if what you are writing makes any sense ?

      Take your first sentence as an example :

      “Evidence for the smoketrail from a BUK is lacking apart from one very suspect alleged photo. ”

      For starters, there are TWO pictures of the smoketrail. Did you know that ?
      Secondly, where is your argument and evidence that the TWO pictures of this missile trail “suspect” ? If you prefer logic and reason, and the laws of physics, then why do you not point out where the geo-location analysis done by ukraine@war on this picture went wrong ? And if you prefer authority, why isn’t the official Dutch investigative report about these two pictures convincing to you ?

      And that was just your first sentence.

      Reply
      • AnnaV

        But why cannot you open the name of the photographer to us?
        Are you sure, nobody really knows who he is?

        Reply
          • AnnaV

            I perfectly know his name. Apart from it, I know where he lives and I had a conversation with his former colleagues.
            So why Bellingcat still did not release his name?

      • Will Toynbee

        Two photos taken at the same time by the same person (and that is assuming the photos are real).
        The pictures are suspect (a) because we don’t know who allegedly took them)
        (b)There has been plenty of misinformation on this issue already.
        (c) There should be many more photos.

        Reply
        • Rob

          Thank you for showing that your reasoning is from belief and trust, not from fact.

          (a) For scientific analysis, it does not matter who took the picture.
          (b) For scientific analysis, it does not matter how much mis-information is spread.
          If you want to discard these two pictures, you ONLY have to show that both of them are fake (and in which way they are fake).
          (c) Why should there be many more photo’s ?
          Just because Gordon Duff says so ?

          Reply
          • Will Toynbee

            I have not claimed they are necessarily fake. I have said they are suspect. If you want to believe they are real then go for it.

          • Rob

            Neither did I claim that were not.
            I’m simply pointing out that your reasoning is based on belief and trust rather than fact.

            Again, If you want to discard these two pictures, you ONLY have to show that both of them are fake. Any argument about who took them or how much mis-information was spread, or what Gordon Duff believes, is totally irrelevant.

        • AnnaV

          We perfectly know who took the photos. We also know perfectly, that he was working for SBU from 2011

          Reply
          • clay

            who? KGB? 🙂 “I also know perfectly, that you were working for KGB from 1976” 🙂

  5. AnnaV

    Send me an e-mail, I will clearly demonstrate you my evidence. “We” – people who like to check all the information by ourselves.

    Reply
    • Alex

      And those of us who have researched and know the photographer also know the position of the camera, 190 metres away from Ukraine@war stated it was.

      Reply
      • AnnaV

        And today Parkhomenko (the one who gave the photos to Koens) presented his own analysis in Meduza. Location is 500 from Ukraine@war according to it.

        Reply
        • Rob

          Nice analysis by Sergey Parkhomenko, but unfortunately not correct.
          That field was not scorched until after MH17 went down.
          So it seems ukraine@war was right after all.

          Reply
          • Rob

            Specifically,
            In this analysis of the MH17 missile trail pictures, by Dutch NEO and Delft University of Technology :
            http://www.rtlnieuws.nl/sites/default/files/content/documents/2014/12/22/Rapport_Rookpluim_analyse_v1.0.pdf
            figure 2 shows the WorldView2 satellite image of the launch area south of Snizhne from July 21.

            Note that the launch site suggested by Sergey Parkhomenko is still prestine.

            So the scorching of the field suggested by Sergey Parkhomenko happened after July 21, and is thus not related to MH17.

            It’s odd that Parkhomenko publishes this analysis of this incorrect launch site suggestion now, since he must have been aware of the Dutch report for more than 4 months now.

    • Rob

      AnnaV said “Send me an e-mail, I will clearly demonstrate you my evidence. “We” – people who like to check all the information by ourselves.”

      Sorry AnnaV, it does not work that way.

      This is Bellingcat. Open source journalism, remember ?
      Just post your evidence for your statement that “who took the photos” was “working for SBU from 2011”.

      Simple, no ?

      Reply
        • Zardos

          Анют, на форуме вебталка сидят одни ватные пидоры уходи от них =)

          Reply
          • AnnaV

            Не лучше чем здесь. Только здесь в другую сторону долбанутые))

          • AnnaV

            И я правда говорила с коллегами Алейникова. Я их через админа Торезской группы ВК нашла. Но видите, здесь никто не верит. Все отрицают. Чем лучше вебталка?
            Хорошо хоть Бутусова не репостят.

        • Zardos

          С какой целью ты пишешь про фотографа? Что ты хочешь донести? PSПархоменко ошибся с выжженым полем, его нету на снимках голландцев.

          Reply
          • AnnaV

            Почему они RAW файлы не публикуют?
            Без этого формата данные фото ничто.
            Они говорят, что это в целях безопасности фотографа. Но если всем его имя и так известно, зачем дальше их скрывать?
            К тому же, почему Бкэт не сообщают, что он давал 2 интервью, показания в которых значительно разняться?

          • Zardos

            Понятно, теории заговоров, всё переплетено с сбу. прочь руки от россии, фото-ничто, хахлы сбили боинг И прочий бред. Я знаю вам стыдно за это не будет.

            PS бутосова я репостил где-то в темах, его ссылку на пэ бука, причин для недоверия у меня нету.
            + http://aug21st.com/slides/SA11premadefrags.pdf

        • Rob

          Just post here whatever you were going to send me in email that would “clearly demonstrate you my evidence”.

          Simply, no ?

          Reply
          • AnnaV

            Да причем тут теории заговора. У меня есть переписка с его коллегами. Могу вам ее показать.

            Это Бутусову стоит доверять? Почему тогда ни один иностранный источник, те же Bcat его не перепостили? И как вы определили по его фото, что тот кусок металла вообще имеет какое либо отношение к боингу? Потому что Бутусов так сказал? Ну тогда это уровень доказательств вебталка.

  6. Anonymous

    Look everyone, this is really easy.

    Anna – Rob is understandably skeptical. The internet forums in general are full of trolls at this time on the subject of Ukraine in particular. By trolls I mean people feeding blatant misinformation and propaganda. I believe people visiting Bellingcat want to know the truth. I believe the people reporting here in general do an excellent job of debunking the lies and misinformation and providing proof – often very cleverly discovered and verified.

    If you have some evidence or proof that directly puts what is presented into question, present it here or to Eliot. I believe Eliot is of a sufficiently open mind to review actual evidence that brings his report into question. If you don’t want to do that tell us why. Does it put someone in danger? Does it put people in uncomfortable positions? Is is simply hearsay?

    Reply
  7. Mitt

    Yes, switching to speaking Russian makes for a good argument here, doesn’t it.

    Reply

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