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How to Find Historical Imagery of Russia’s Faked Satellite Photos

May 31, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

In Bellingcat’s latest report, Forensic Analysis of Satellite Images Released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, we exposed how Russia had falsely claimed satellite imagery from June 2014 was from July 14th and July 17th. As with nearly all of Bellingcat’s work we used open source information, satellite imagery from Google Earth, to expose the fake images. It’s possible for anyone to find this imagery with a few easy steps.

1 – Download, install, and run Google Earth Pro.

2 – Enter the co-ordinates 48.098203, 37.754731 into the search box on the top left of the screen.

google Search

3 – Under the view menu, select “Historical Imagery”.

view hist

4 – A slider will appear on the top left of the map allowing you view imagery from all available dates.

Timeline

Now you can examine the imagery of the area provided by the Russian Ministry of Defence (here, here, and here), and compare it to the historical imagery on Google Earth. In this example we can see the rows in the field in the July Google Earth imagery are missing from the Russian Ministry of Defence imagery, and another track mark faintly visible in the May Google Earth image is present in the Russian MoD image.

Russia MoD 2

So in a few simple steps anyone can see the evidence that the Russian Ministry of Defence shared wrongly dated imagery in its July 21st MH17 press conference. If you believe you’ve found any new discrepancies please share them in the comments below.

 

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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143 Comments

  1. Bjoern

    Although i can’t agree with all the details mentioned in the report, it seems clear that something isn’t right. Otherwise the pictures would fit better together. They are definitely not a complete match…and for those who forgot how to read it doesn’t state that this or that launcher shot the plane down but that there is some sort of discrepancy.

    This is my opinion, honestly i don’t care about all the screaming idiots commenting, no real arguments no value. You may as well call your Mum and cry.

    Reply
  2. danny

    furthermore: the US not showing their own sat-pictures because they are classified is just a way of saying that the US is not showing them because they do not want to.

    which begs the question why.

    especially since the us government AT THE SAME TIME asserts that russia is to blame.

    (however, this is probably does not hint at the us/ukraine being to blame, because as an attempt to deceive it’s just too stupid; it rather seems to me to be an example of the pathologies of doing warfare without an unitary government. you should do it right or not do it at all)

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      What country is going to release such images that would compromise their closely guarded satellite capabilities? None would do this.

      Reply
      • Philip Larkin

        Didn’t the US release such hi res satellite pictures during the incident of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls?

        Reply
        • Not Mark

          Philip, I cannot find the photograph you are referring to. Can you please reference it? Thanks!

          Reply
      • Bob

        So why did the Russians then? They could have withheld their satellite images as they want to guard their imaging capability.

        Oh but hey, they are, they are just hawking around photoshopped google earth pictures instead. You do realise that when a country says it has evidence and pictures but doesn’t then share them then people might be skeptical? It’s like me saying I have photographs of a crime that was committed, or lets say my friend having an affair, but I don’t want to share as I’d give away how good my kit is.

        Reply
        • Not Mark

          The US has not claimed to have such pictures. Additionally, why are all you guys claiming that the US must release any evidence to the public? In crime investigations is all evidence shown to public before the trial? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

          Reply
    • John Smith

      Why so many logic steps here to fit the narrative? Cant things be simpler…. US has its own proof. It says Russia did it. Because it has proof. End of story. The fact they dont want to share own spy tech is very plausible.

      However, who is to say they haven’t shared those with redacted parts to the official investigators?

      Obvious is Russia has switched to a more plausible lie about the events. They want it to be a bit more believable and muddying important details is the new strategy. Seems to be working for some, but Ive read already 4 expert rebuttals of it that seemed far more plausible. This was 5th. The approach from south alone seems insane but again, it suits their narrative. They cannot say rebels did it. Its a PR nightmare for them but they are fighting back – they have a lot of internet trolls and own “experts”. They firmly believe that truth is very subjective. And being called out on a lie again goes well with their global “bohoo we are victims of the west propaganda”.

      Reply
      • ctac ctac

        blaming the party without presented facts is bad , mam should teach you that

        Reply
      • Jim

        Erm….they never release full res photos from their satellites. They could easily show the “images they have” in lower res so as not to show the capabilities of their cameras. The reason they don’t release it, is because they probably don’t have any, or theirs is edited to.

        Reply
        • Not Mark

          Or maybe there was not a US optical imaging satellite overhead? There could be many “ors”.

          Reply
        • watchout

          Absolutely! i think they know very well who shoot that plane. image can be faked, even on google servers or anywhere. lying to the whole world is the business from the politicans and not bellingcats job so i blame every warmonger in the world for not telling the trues to us.
          What Bellingcat is doing is nothing more than reading tea leaves….

          Reply
  3. elliot_au

    There is not photoshop. There is just a different exposure. Actually all 4 images are identical but have different brightness. So some details that are actually presented in Russian photo are poor visible.

    Reply
    • ctac ctac

      Agree, it is looks like the Russian photo very close even in detailed to the pictures presented by belling-cat , looks like dates are write and the difference only in black and white or colored and the sun position and clouds coverage or may be some filters used to improve contrast.

      Reply
      • Not Mark

        If you actually read the report you will see where bellingcat have pointed out the differences. They even used easy to understand arrows and boxes. The dates give by the russian MOD are almost certainly false as shown by the changes in vegetation (e.g. trees).

        Reply
        • CTAC

          May be you right , but I read all of it and it is no smoking gun here as I sad before its the difference in the time of the day, equipment pictures taken with and filtering by Adobe. All this explanation may be reverse by taking in count simple rain or couple very hot days to change appearance of the ground and vegetation, look on the puddle of “oil (fuel)” and you will see big puddle of water on the same picture next to it. The error marking the military vehicles is large then the surrounding just because the vehicles lighter in color. I am sorry, I am going to stay with my skeptic position until official prove comes from USA military, but so far they hiding the images they have may be because Russians don’t lie. And American pictures just show the same .

          Reply
          • Not Mark

            How do you explain the forest that was cut down? Did it grow back instantly?

    • clay

      The ELA for Picture 4 shows five areas with significantly different error levels.

      Reply
  4. Jason

    Hi Eliot.

    Thank you for explaining the procedural information.

    I’ll try my question here since it didn’t register on the other article.

    Please say in simple, clear, non-technical terms so a layperson can understand, WHY the Bellingcat assessment of the satellite images is correct, verified and reliable. A straightforward paragraph explanation about the why would be sufficient.

    The technology geekspeak confuses most people I talk to. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. ctac ctac

    The presented maps just show that the military equipment had been in the area sometime in May or maybe in late April, but it is military stuff and by the time of the later images the equipment may had been under camouflage. Yes it is wrong to present older pictures for later one, but it is actually proved by belling-cat that the stuff had been located in the area, hidden or not, in the time of the MH-17 had been shot.

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      Where do you think there was hidden equipment? Can you locate this equipment on the satellite photo for us? Thanks!

      Reply
          • CTAC

            I did not see any cut down trees mentioned in report , where you found them? and if you check maps provided by Google earth it is no such dates which belling cat using provided in Google history maps. Dates are wrong I found all of them one day off and cut “forest” is back in August.
            Harry Potter is a great idea but as simple as place it under any roof will work too.

  6. Energia

    Russian MoD didn’t just release pictures. That data at the top probably helps determine the authenticity of the photos by showing some sort of geo-reference that some other countries can verify check (e.g., whether this satellite was at that location at that time or not).

    Reply
  7. jim

    NO….. I would say you are wrong. Go ahead look at historical imagery with varying contrasts and you may think, that there are no tracks in the field on 21st July 2014. Well, look at the images from 27th July 2014 onwards…you can see the tracks that you say are only present pre-21st July.

    Reply
  8. Someone

    Has anyone looked into other sources for satellite pictures than google earth? (Like Marble, World Wind, Vizerra etc…) Just to have an answer to people claiming that google is controlled by the US government and changes the dates of their satellite pictures when told to do so. I know most alternatives are also made by US nice i, but it would still be nice to have multiple organisations showing the same evidence.

    Reply
  9. Ken Oath

    Bellingcat has wrongly accused Russia of lying, and falsifying images.
    If the images were false the US would have picked it up from day 1. 😉

    Reply

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