The Role of Open Source Investigation in Understanding the Downing of Flight MH17
As I wrote in the July 19th update, using a variety of open source investigation techniques it had been already possible to establish some interesting details relating to the down of flight MH17 in Ukraine. Since then, more information has emerged and been examined using the tools and techniques that are demonstrated on Bellingcat, both informing our understanding of events in Ukraine, and giving fresh leads to journalists on the ground investigating the tragedy.
In the last update I spoke about Aric Toler's identification of the exact location the following photograph was taken in the town of Torez
Based on the work I detailed on Bellingcat, journalists from Buzzfeed, and the Independent and Guardian newspapers in the UK, where able to visit the place the photograph was taken, and speak to witnesses who had seen the missile launcher on July 17th at that location.
The Daily Telegraph also used open source information gathered and analysed on Bellingcat and the Ukraine@War blog to investigate potential launch sites, using the precise locations given in our research to direct their efforts on the ground.
I often talk about how useful open source information can be when used in combination with traditional journalism methods, something I demonstrated with my work with the New York Times on the smuggling of arms to the Syrian opposition, and what this demonstrates is how investigation of open source information can be used by organisations on the ground to investigate leads, and discover new stories.
Another use for open source investigations is exploring the claims made by others. The following video, posted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior, claimed to show the Buk linked to the down of MH17 leaving Ukraine for Russia
As I wrote on Bellingcat, the transporter in the above video appeared to match the transporter carrying the Buk in the photograph from Torez, now investigated by several media organisations. The same transporter was seen in another video reportedly filmed on July 17th, in a town west of Torez, around 45 minutes before the sighting in Torez, heading in the direction of Torez along a road that runs past the location it was photographed at in Torez
This would seem to be fairly compelling evidence, but in a press conference the Russian Defence Ministry claimed the Ministry of Interior video was filmed in the Ukrainian government controlled town of Krasnoarmeysk, not heading to the Russian border.
This claim was countered by the Euromaidan group, posting the following image which they claimed showed the location the Buk was filmed at in the rebel controlled town of Luhansk, near the Russian border
As I then went on to detail on Bellingcat, other open source information was able to confirm that this was in fact the correct location, and that the Russian Defence Ministry had been caught in a lie.
It's important to note these investigations were done by a variety of people, showing the importance of making open source investigation tools and techniques available to anyone. This is what Bellingcat is about, and with your help we can make sure as many people as possible are engaged with these tools and techniques. We've had open access to the site for the last 48 hours, and all of you who donated should now have received your username and passwords for the Bellingcat beta. Once the Kickstarter is over, Bellingcat will be free for all, and we've got some great projects planned to involve readers in ongoing investigations that will allow them to hone their own skills.
So, if you like what we're doing, please donate, and spread the word.