As tales of high-stakes espionage go, it is a bit more Carry On Spying than John le Carré. An audio recording purporting to be two American CIA agents conspiring to bring down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 has been ridiculed online, after a series of embarrassing errors exposed it as poorly made Russian propaganda.
The seven-minute recording is presented as being a series of bugged telephone conversations between two secret operatives, but the stilted greetings and cumbersome dialogue suggest that both men are reading from a script and are unfamiliar with the English language.
One of the two “spies” speaks in an affected US accent, while the other sounds British for half of the recording before becoming increasingly American as it progresses. At the end of their first conversation, both men say “Luck!” to each other – a common farewell in Russian.
The recording, which was released by the Russian tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda earlier this week, is said to feature two men called David Hamilton and David L. Stern, speaking about three weeks before MH17 was shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine. But it was immediately dismissed as poor-quality propaganda created by the country’s security service, the FSB.
Flight MH17 crashed on 17 July last year, killing all 298 people on board. Ukraine and some western governments have accused pro-Russian rebels of shooting it down, suggesting that they could have used a Buk missile system supplied by Vladimir Putin’s regime. Earlier this week, fragments of a Buk system were found at the crash site by air investigators.
But in the recording, the two men can be heard referring to “orders” from their leaders to implicate the separatists in the plane crash. They also discuss a possible Plan B of placing a bomb inside the aircraft. The implication is that the tragedy was in fact an inside job carried out by the west to embarrass Russia.
The social network site LinkedIn features a profile of a Mr Hamilton who works as an international affairs consultant and as an adviser to the US Agency for International Development, while a profile for a Mr Stern states he is a freelance journalist based in Ukraine who has worked for the BBC. Another David Hamilton listed on the business networking website appears to have been a defence industry analyst with the CIA between 1997 and 2000.
A video of the recording has already been viewed almost 100,000 times on YouTube, but many of the internet users commenting underneath are brutal in their analysis, with one giving it “three out of five spy stars”.
Another wrote: “This is the dumbest thing I have heard in a long time. For the non-English speakers this might sound convincing, but when a native English speaker listens to this it is easy to hear they are reading a script.”
Another user added: “I don’t know what’s worse, that the FSB is so incompetent they’d make such a ridiculously scripted video that anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of English can understand is fake, or that they have such a low opinion of the intelligence of the average Russian, that they thought this would be enough to convince them.”