Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Investigating another MH370 conspiracy tale: Did the jet land on Diego Garcia?

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...

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.

Modified? 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.

Added note: 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: "Verrrrry interesting. But unproven."
That picture and the story that goes with it sounds like somebody just pulled it out of their ass.

But if spooks did have that plane on Diego Garcia and wanted to cover their tracks, stripping some identifiable buoyant items from the interior of the jet, then dropping them out of a plane somewhere over the eastern Indian Ocean might be a good start.
Apparently that method of phone storage is quite common among folks in prison.

As for the EXIF data, it seems an odd mix of clever and clueless. Why would you not start with a full set of good data, then insert the relevant lat/long?

Look at who owns this company now


I think it's at DG
Conspiracy theorists, low budget. Photoshop, very high priced. GIMP, free with the same functionality as Photoshop.
"Wood used GIMP to pull a very indistinct image out of the black photo."

I assume this should have been, "Jim Stone used GIMP to pull ..."?

CBarr, thanks. I've made the correction.

(Actually, the original post had a couple of other "Wood/Stone" mix-ups.)

Bob, you're right. And GIMP is indeed a terrific piece of freeware. Nevertheless, I am both surprised and glad that more conspiracy buffs don't use torrents.

Why "glad"? Because downloading torrents is wrong. Very, very wrong. This, we must never do.
Given the state of unrest between Russia and the US I kind of suspect that if there was a 777 on Diego Garcia Russian satellites would of shot an image and posted world-wide. (Or the Chinese or the EU)

The airbase at Diego Garcia services heavy bombers and has large aircraft hangers. It seems likely they could hide a 777.

Now this is interesting;

"Today it was also revealed that a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a runway long enough to land a Boeing 777 was programmed into the home flight simulator of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Police are now urgently investigating whether Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had practised landing at Diego Garcia, an island south of the Maldives occupied by the US navy."

"The investigation into the Diego Garcia, an overseas territory of the UK, which is rented to the US and is now a huge American naval base follows fresh eyewitness accounts of a 'low flying jumbo jet' being spotted in the Maldives.

People on the island of Kuda Huvadhoo reported seeing a plane on the morning of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, according to a Haveeru, a news website in the Maldives.
Islanders said a white aircraft with red stripes across it - which would match the missing plane - was seen travelling North to South-East towards Addu, the southern tip of the Maldives.

An eyewitness told the website: 'I've never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We've seen seaplanes, but I'm sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly.

'It's not just me either, several other residents have reported seeing the exact same thing. Some people got out of their houses to see what was causing the tremendous noise too.'"


The KGB has done a few jobs recently of revealing intercepted information.

What is the specific building at those coordinates in Diego Garcia?

I don't know. But someone does. And someone who isn't Philip Wood might be sending someone a message.

And why has someone written what looks like "Google 2006" on the Google Earth image of the roof of the building immediately to the north?

Honestly... battery is good in iPhone 5 but .. 3 weeks later is still working?
Bull shit. If they are in that island i think that they dont have phones.
2nd.. why someone cant check if they are on this island???? I mean malaysian or other authorities.
This is a one Big bullshit for me. There is something wrong and they dont tell world whars happened
I turned to my favorite photo-analysis site, which indeed has a pretty thorough debunking of the EXIF data:
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