No, this is not an April 1 hoax post. Yes, the date is
April 1, and yes, we may be dealing with a hoax. But if so, the leg-puller is someone else -- not me.
A friend to this blog sent a link to this strange article on Before It's News
. Supposedly, one Philip Wood -- an IBM engineer who happened to be a passenger aboard ill-fated flight MH370 -- sent out a message from Diego Garcia, a small island near the equator. The island belongs to the UK. The US has a surprisingly large military presence there and has outfitted the place with an emergency space shuttle landing strip.
The ill-written Before It's News story is confusing, because all of the information is presented out of order. It seems that, after the jet landed on that island, Wood sent out a message indicating that he had been taken captive. He also sent an all-black photo with confirmatory Exif data. (And that
, of course, re-opens the long-simmering argument as to whether and how Exif data can be faked. It seems there's an app for that
.) The BIN article darkly intimates that there is a conspiracy to cover up this "breakthrough."
Wood allegedly sneaked an iPhone into captivity by literally inserting the device into his rectum. Is such a thing possible? Feel free to conduct the experiment; I shall not do so.
At any rate, this story has traveled pretty rapidly throughout the fringe but has yet to receive mention on "normal" news channels. Example
. Another example
Near as I can tell, the tale started with the claim
that the jet had been taken to Diego Garcia. No mention of Wood in the original version, which held that the US had waylaid the jet in order to kidnap twenty Freescale Semiconductor employees aboard the flight. The Wood allegation then popped up on a conspiracy-oriented website (previously unknown to me) run by a guy named Jim Stone
(Some of you may be tempted to make fun of this guy's paranoia, but since I am not without sin myself, I cannot cast...well, there's a pun in there, somewhere...)
Stone used GIMP to pull a very indistinct image out of the black photo. Why is it that, whenever these controversies erupt, blogworld sleuths always use GIMP and not Photoshop? For what it is worth, I've been playing with the same image using the better program and have attained similar results.
In this case, it would be more useful to take a closer look at the metadata.
If you use Photoshop and call up "File info," you can access the Exif data. Yep, it's there -- just as promised:
I see problems here. First, how is it possible for the iPhone to record the longitude and latitude but not the very relevant time stamp
? I can't understand why one piece of information but not the other would appear under the "GPS data" tag. Please understand that I don't own an iPhone, and thus cannot do any experimentation.
And yet there is
a time stamp. You'll find it under the "description" tag. And here's where we make an unusual find...
The image was created at 8:49 on 3/18/2014 -- and modified at 9:08 on the same date, nineteen minutes later.
Can anyone explain that? Perhaps there is an innocent rationale for this oddity -- hey, it's not as though I analyze Exif data for a living!
-- but I certainly did not expect to see that word. We may safely presume that a captive Philip Wood did not fire up Photoshop on the island of Diego Garcia.
Maybe someone out there can mollify my "modified" concerns. But now we come to a more fundamental problem.
The Exif data would be present only if we are dealing with an original
image, not a reduced copy of an image. That means we are being asked to believe that Philip Wood has set his iPhone to snap photos at the surprisingly miniscule resolution of 240 by 320. So small an image seems very "1997" to me. I use an inexpensive cell phone which is quite a bit less impressive than the iPhone 5, yet I take photos at 1280x1024.
I'm not even sure that an iPhone 5 can create a photo of that size. (Apparently, someone else has gone down the same research trail
I've been exploring here.) But even if an iPhone has the technical capability of producing such an image -- why would anyone in this day and age use that setting routinely? Maybe you
know someone who prefers teensy-tiny snapshots, but I don't.
Needless to say, I'm rather suspicious of this Stone fellow.
It seems possible that he is working hand-in-hand with the folks at Before It's News. But I can't be sure of a linkage, since we're dealing with a region of the internet in which I do not often travel.
Bottom line: Is this a case of disinformation?
So far, I've seen no evidence backing that idea. Remember, the term "disinformation" (which some conspiracy fans toss around far too freely) refers to the cunning admixture of truth and falsehood proffered by an intelligence service
, usually with the purpose of deceiving a competing service. As of this writing, no one has yet made a convincing argument that the MH370 mystery is spooky. Confounding? Sure. This thing is confounding as all hell. But not all enigmas trace back to the world of spy-vs.-spy.
Did Jim Stone concoct a yarn to drive up traffic? Since his site does not appear to be a money-making enterprise, I can't see any conventional motive for him to do such a thing.
If Stone or someone else is making a joke, it is in execrable taste.
The same friend to this blog (an iPhone owner) informs me that this phone's smallest resolution is indeed 320x240. But my question still stands: How many people use that setting in the real world? The friend adds this:
Maybe the photo sent 19 min later was modified by the phone itself when adjusting resolution for sending:
That makes a certain amount of sense, but I still doubt that the Exif data would read "modified" after a lapse of nearly twenty minutes. But I'd be happy to hear from someone who has conducted a few experiments along those lines.
Finally (from the same friend):
The connection to the Freescale employees is interesting. Apparently, there is something about a new Super Fast Chip that will be blowing the doors off Moores Law and the Patents were just about to be filed. Because of the deaths of those employees, the valuable multi-Billion Dollar Patent falls to the Company SOLELY.
To paraphrase Arte Johnson on Laugh-in
interesting. But unproven."