Roger Cozien, designer of the filtering software Tungstene, has warned against rushing to judge "anomalies" in photographs as intentional falsifications when they may result from the normal process of saving an image or making innocent adjustments.
In an interview in Time magazine, Cozien said, "These filters aim at detecting anomalies. They give you any and all specific and particular information which can be found in the photograph file. And these particularities, called 'singularities,' are sometimes only accidental: this is because the image was not well re-saved or that the camera had specific features, for example.
"The software in itself is neutral: it does not know what is an alteration or a manipulation. So, when it notices an error, the operator needs to consider whether it is an image manipulation, or just an accident."
As Cozien described the process, it becomes clear that the trick of detecting an intentional manipulation rather than some normal or innocuous anomaly -- that might occur in transferring an image from one format to another or making contrast adjustments or adding a word box -- is more art than science.
And, there is no reason to believe that the Middlebury Institute's arms control researchers have some special expertise in photographic forensics beyond having purchased the Tungstene suite of software upon which they based their report at the "armscontrolwonk.com" Web site.
The report's authors also take the Russians to task for the lack of precision of the two images. "The image files are very poor quality," they write. "We are very disappointed that the Russian Federation, in such an important matter, would release such low quality images as evidence. ... Russian officials must know that releasing images in such a format makes it more difficult to verify the integrity of the images..."
Nevertheless, these researchers make sweeping judgments about the presence of a cloud in one photo and the allegedly sharper image of two Ukrainian Buk missile launchers in the other. Yet, why the Russians would add a cloud makes little sense. (July 17, 2014, was a partly cloudy day in eastern Ukraine, so perhaps the cloud is in the image just because the area was under a partial cloud cover.)
The researchers archly note that "UN Security Council Resolution 2166 calls on states to 'provide any requested assistance to civil and criminal investigations.' ... We believe Russia should provide the original, underlying images in an unaltered form to the Joint Investigative Team [which is conducting the criminal investigation into the MH-17 crash] to allow independent experts to verify their claims."
Sure, of course, but the arms control bloggers don't call on the U.S. government to release its satellite and other intelligence data relating to the MH-17 shoot-down.
The real filter that needs to be applied when dealing with either The New York Times or some of the "citizen journalists" who pop up to reinforce the U.S. government's propaganda themes is their unrelenting anti-Russian bias. Can anyone recall the last time The New York Times or any mainstream U.S. news outlet has presented a favorable or even neutral story about Russia?
The U.S. "Dog Not Barking"
Along those lines, neither the researchers' report nor the Times' article offers any criticism of the U.S. government, which has claimed to have satellite intelligence showing where the anti-aircraft missile was fired but has refused to release that important information to the public or apparently even to official MH-17 investigators.
On July 20, 2014, just three days after the disaster, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on all five Sunday talk shows including NBC's "Meet the Press" where he cited some "social media" to implicate the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and added: "But even more importantly, we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar."