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Catch Carlos If You Can
Gepost door  redactie redactie Gepostop  14-03-2018 21:33 14-03-2018 21:33 342  keer gelezen 342 keer gelezen  0 reacties0 reacties News News
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NewsA mysterious Twitter persona launched one of the most enduring Moscow-friendly hoaxes of the MH17 airline tragedy. We found the ex-convict behind the lie.

in early may 2014, as ukraine's conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the east was exploding into all-out war, the Spanish-language channel of Russia's state-funded RT network brought on a guest to discuss the crisis.

Seemingly in his 30s or 40s, he sported a blue-and-white-striped Puma polo shirt, a five-o'clock shadow, and short brown hair slightly tousled on his forehead. RT Spanish identified the man as "Carlos," a Spaniard the network described as an air-traffic controller who "had been working in Ukraine for five years." He had agreed to speak on the condition that his name not be used, RT Spanish said. His face was blurred to guard his anonymity.

Carlos claimed to have fled Kyiv after his social-media posts prompted death threats against him from supporters of the Euromaidan protests that swept Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, from power in February of that year. The segment featured posts from the Twitter account attributed to the guest: @spainbuca.

This man, however, was a fabulist. And two months later, the Twitter account shown in the interview would launch one of the most notorious and enduring hoaxes of the Ukraine conflict -- one that would later be cited by a top Russian military official and, ultimately, President Vladimir Putin himself.

On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over territory held by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Immediately after the tragedy, @spainbuca purported to be watching the events unfold from an air-traffic control tower at Kyiv's Boryspil Airport. It posted a string of dramatic claims suggesting Ukraine had shot down the plane and was attempting a cover-up.

One claim in particular ricocheted across Russian state media and Twitter: that two Ukrainian fighter jets had flown close to the Boeing 777 shortly before it disappeared from the radar.

But red flags about @spainbuca's credibility emerged quickly as well. Why was a Spanish air-traffic controller working in Kyiv? Where were the reports corroborating his claims? Why was he back in Ukraine after telling RT Spanish that he'd fled the country?

No evidence ever emerged that such a Spanish air-traffic controller actually worked at Boryspil, and @spainbuca was suspended by Twitter shortly after its MH17 tweets. Journalists and social-media users widely dismissed "Carlos" as a ruse. Still, some conspiracy theorists insisted his story was real and that he had either been targeted by Western intelligence services or gone into hiding. Others claimed he was part of the notorious Russian troll farm eventually indicted in the United States for alleged meddling in U.S. elections. One Ukrainian official has suggested the Carlos persona was a Russian intelligence operation.

The claims by Carlos about MH17 and his professional background were indeed a hoax.

But a niggling question remained: If Carlos was a fake, who was the man in the RT Spanish interview?

Today, RFE/RL and the RISE Project, a Romanian investigative-journalism group based in Bucharest, can reveal that he is a Spanish ex-convict detained by Romanian police for alleged fraud in August 2013 -- nine months before his appearance on RT Spanish.

We also found substantial evidence linking this man to the @spainbuca account that posted the bogus MH17 tweets.

Our investigation tracked Carlos through the Spanish courts and the Romanian criminal-justice system, to the posh Bucharest neighborhood where he lived, and even to a Romanian cooking show he appeared on in 2015 -- when some people were still positing that he was in hiding for his alleged MH17 whistle-blowing.

Ultimately, we made contact with someone credibly claiming to be the very same Carlos in the RT Spanish interview -- and who spun fresh provocative claims about the bizarre role he played in the Ukraine conflict.

'A Specialist Of Spanish Origin'

kyiv and washington quickly concluded that MH17 had likely been brought down by a ground-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. A Dutch-led criminal investigation in September 2016 determined the same, saying the plane was hit by a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missile that was brought into Ukraine from Russia before the shootdown and subsequently taken back across the border. The international investigation, whose conclusion Russia called "biased and politically motivated," has ruled out the possibility that MH17 was downed by an air-to-air missile -- a scenario that the @spainbuca tweets fueled speculation about and which Russia has periodically trotted out.

"There was no other aircraft flying in the vicinity of flight MH17 that could have shot it down," the international investigation's report states.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, spelled out within a day what Russia's guiding position on the tragedy would be: Ukraine is to blame. "The state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy," Putin told a meeting of economic advisers.

Almost immediately after MH17 was shot down, Russian officials, media, and separatist leaders began floating theories suggesting that Ukraine was responsible. Early on, the tweets by Carlos figured prominently in what Kremlin critics have called a deliberate Russian attempt to muddy the waters surrounding the investigation into MH17.

In early reports on the @spainbuca claims, RT stated unequivocally that the Twitter user was a "Spanish air-traffic controller who monitored" MH17. The state-run Vesti news website wrote that "the Spanish air-traffic controller Carlos" had "monitored" MH17 and had observed the two alleged Ukrainian jets flying nearby.

"Carlos also writes that the military has confirmed that the plane was shot down by the Ukrainian side," the Vesti report said. "But it is unknown who gave the order."

State-run news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS also published reports about Carlos, as did the Russian government's official newspaper.

Two days after the tragedy, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov -- currently the Russian ambassador to the United States -- appeared on state television to deliver a list of questions that Moscow had for Kyiv, one of which concerned Carlos.

"Can official Kyiv today comment on social-media messages allegedly from a Spanish air-traffic controller working in Ukraine that the Boeing shot down over Ukraine was accompanied by two Ukrainian military jets?" Antonov said on Rossia-24 television.

Ultimately, the false claims by @spainbuca reached the most important desk in Russia, according to a book published in the United States and Russia last year.

In 2017, the U.S. cable network Showtime aired a four-part documentary based on American director Oliver Stone's series of interviews with Putin. There is no mention of Carlos in the final cut of the film, but expanded transcripts of Putin's interviews with Stone were included in a June book released by a New York publisher. In the book, also titled The Putin Interviews, the Russian president is quoted as citing @spainbuca's claim in a July 2015 discussion about what happened to MH17.

"As far as I know, right away after this terrible catastrophe, one of the Ukrainian air controllers -- I think he is a specialist of Spanish origin -- announced that he had seen a military aircraft in the corridor assigned for civil aircraft. And there could have been no other military aircraft there but Ukraine's," Putin is quoted as saying in the Russian-language version of the book.

"I am not claiming that this plane shot down the civil aircraft, but the question nonetheless remains: What was it doing there in the corridor assigned for civil aircraft?" Putin added, according to Stone's book.

The Kremlin press office did not respond to our questions concerning Putin's reference of Carlos, though it confirmed receipt of our March 6 faxed inquiry. On March 8, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment by telephone about Putin's interviews with Stone, telling us to submit our questions in writing. We informed him his office had received our written inquiry.

In its endnotes, Stone's book offers some background on "the Spanish air-traffic controller in Kiev mentioned by Putin." It directs readers to a July 25, 2014, article published by a website teeming with conspiracy theories.

"'Carlos' was reporting from the Kiev airport in real time on Twitter, of the downing of MH17 as the tragedy was taking place -- during that very time and in the very next hour -- only to disappear immediately, along with his Twitter account," the article states. "Again, real mounting evidence which points to an obvious cover-up by Kiev and its NATO partners."

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