But the problem goes much deeper than a couple of Websites and bloggers who find it professionally uplifting to reinforce propaganda themes from NATO and other Western interests. The bigger danger is the role played by the mainstream media in creating an echo chamber to amplify the disinformation coming from these amateurs.
Just as The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major outlets swallowed the bogus stories about Iraq's WMD in 2002-2003, they have happily dined on similarly dubious fare about Syria, Ukraine and Russia.
And just as with the Iraq disaster, when those of us who challenged the WMD "group think" were dismissed as "Saddam apologists," now we're called "Assad apologists" or "Putin apologists" or simply "hacks" who are "all mouth, no trousers" -- whatever that means.
For instance, in 2013 regarding Syria, the Times ran a front-page story using a "vector analysis" to trace the sarin attack back to a Syrian military base about nine kilometers away, but the discovery of the sarin missile's much shorter range forced the Times to recant its story, which had paralleled what Higgins was writing.
Then, in its eagerness to convey anti-Russian propaganda regarding Ukraine in 2014, the Times even returned to a reporter from its Iraq-falsehood days. Michael R. Gordon, who co-authored the infamous "aluminum tubes" article in 2002 that pushed the bogus claim that Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program, accepted some new disinformation from the State Department that cited photos supposedly showing Russian soldiers in Russia and then reappearing in Ukraine.
Any serious journalist would have recognized the holes in the story since it wasn't clear where the photos were taken or whether the blurry images were even the same people, but that didn't give the Times pause. The article led the front page.
However, only two days later, the scoop blew up when it turned out that a key photo supposedly showing a group of soldiers in Russia, who then reappeared in eastern Ukraine, was actually taken in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the entire story.
But these embarrassments have not dampened the Times' enthusiasm for dishing out anti-Russian propaganda whenever possible. Yet, one new twist is that the Times doesn't just take false claims directly from the U.S. government; it also draws from hip "citizen journalism" Web sites like Bellingcat.
In a world where no one believes what governments say, the smart new way to disseminate propaganda is through such "outsiders."
So, the Times' Kramer was surely thrilled to get fed a new story off the Web that claimed the Russians had doctored satellite photographs of Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine just before the MH-17 shoot-down.
Instead of questioning the photo-forensic expertise of these nuclear proliferation specialists at armscontrolwonk.com, Kramer simply laid out their findings as further corroboration of Bellingcat's earlier claims. Kramer also mocked the Russians for trying to cover their tracks with "conspiracy theories."
Ignoring Official Evidence
But there was another key piece of evidence that the Times was hiding from its readers: documentary evidence from Western intelligence that the Ukrainian military did have powerful anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and that the ethnic Russian rebels didn't.
In a report released last October, the Netherlands' Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) said that based on "state secret" information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but "powerful anti-aircraft systems" and "a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country." MIVD added that the rebels lacked that capacity:
"Prior to the crash, the MIVD knew that, in addition to light aircraft artillery, the Separatists also possessed short-range portable air defence systems (man-portable air-defence systems; MANPADS) and that they possibly possessed short-range vehicle-borne air-defence systems. Both types of systems are considered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Due to their limited range they do not constitute a danger to civil aviation at cruising altitude."
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).