Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iran Unveils Secret Weapon

It’s called “Photoshop.”

The New York Times reports:

As news spread across the world of Iran’s provocative missile tests, so did an image of four missiles heading skyward in unison. Unfortunately, it appeared to contain one too many missiles, a point that had not emerged before the photo appeared on the front pages of The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, The Chicago Tribune and several other newspapers as well as on BBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo! News, and many other major news Web sites.

Here's the photo in question, with the duplications highlighted by the Times' photo editors.

The "first" doctored photo of the Iranian missile test, with duplications circled (New York Times photo illustration)

Looking at the photo, it’s easy to see it was digitally altered. The trajectories, exhaust plumes and clouds of smoke for two of the missiles are identical. Apparently, some enterprising Iranian decided to make the missile display more impressive, using Photoshop to add another launch to the image.

And, western news outlets eagerly ran the photograph, until the deception was finally discovered. According to the Times notes that Agence France-Presse originally ran the doctored image, which was picked up by scores of newspapers and on-line media outlets. Interestingly, the Associated Press ran a similar photograph, showing three simultaneous rocket launches. A fourth rocket can be seen on its launcher, in the foreground.

The AP image of the missile test, obtained from the same Iranian source and distributed today. Note the berm next to the launcher in the foreground. It appears higher and more rounded than in the first photo. Additionally, a small dirt pile, visible in the first photo, is missing from the second shot, apparently replaced by the launcher and support vehicle (AP photo via The New York Times).

Both the AP and Agence France-Press obtained their images from Sepah News, the media arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The AP got its picture on Thursday, while Agence France-Press obtained the “four-launch” photo a day earlier.

But, it’s hard to tell if the AP image is any more authentic than the “doctored” shot distributed by AFP. Take a look at the later image, and compare it to the Wednesday photo, obtained by AFP. An earthen berm, which appears just above the fence line, looks higher and more rounded in the AP photo. Additionally, a small mound of earth next to the berm (and visible in the AFP shot), is missing in the Associated Press image--apparently replaced by the rocket launcher and a support vehicle.

Why does that matter? Because the missiles, plumes and exhaust clouds in both photographs are the same, with the exception of the “extra” launch in the AFP image. The berm changes and that missing mound of dirt (the launcher and support vehicle) suggest that the AP shot may have been doctored as well.

Dirt work is frequently conducted in support of missile tests; launch areas are often groomed or leveled, making the ground more stable for TEL (transporter/erector/launcher) vehicles. But such activity would leave tell-tale signs, such as tire or track marks from heavy equipment.

Those signs are missing from the AP photograph (or we can't see them because of the angle of the image). The referenced dirt pile, clearly visible in the AFP image, simply disappears in the later photo. It would be easy to simply delete the dirt pile with Photoshop and insert the launch vehicle and the support truck, or vice versa.

Our guess is that the second photo is a blended image. Note the launcher is on a slight incline; that suggests a presurveyed (and prepared) launch site, extremely common among older rocket and missile systems. The launcher and support vehicle probably arrived at the site hours after the launch, and after additional dirt work was completed. To create a more "dramatic effect," the Iranian Photoshop artist simply placed that activity against the backdrop of the earlier launch. The launch vehicle seen in the AP image was probably deployed for the second round of missile tests, conducted today.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs was among the first to note the use of Photoshop in Iranian military displays. Unfortunately, many MSM outlets have a less critical eye, allowing the Iranians to plant their exaggerated claims in western publications and broadcast outlets with nary a challenge. The Times deserves credit for spotting the obvious fabrication in the missile photographs, but such reporting has been the exception, rather than the rule.

In fact, the most serious analysis of Iranian military claims can be found in the blogs, including this one. As we’ve noted in previous posts, Tehran’s displays of armed might sometimes laughable, if you only bother to take a closer look.

But give Iran some credit. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to pass off a World War II torpedo as an unbeatable naval weapon, or advertise a 50-year old rocket design, coated with radar-absorbing paint, as a “stealth missile.” And it takes a lazy, gullible press to fall for those claims, hook, line and sinker.

For what it’s worth, AFP has now retracted the image, calling it “apparently digitally altered.”


As an alternate theory, some analysts suggest that the missile in the foreground was erased because it failed to launch. However, that still doesn't explain the apparent "dirt work" between Wednesday's photo, and the image obtained by the AP on Thursday.


Allsouls Jedaye said...

What is the targeting accuracy of the Iranian missiles? Improved accuracy is the factor that could turn the Islamic rocketeers' efforts into a real threat.

IMO it is in Iran's best interest to not attack Israel or use nuclear weapons. Instead, high accuracy, conventional warhead strikes on oil production targets on the Arabian peninsula would be my prediction.

The Russians and Chinese could step in and defend the "vital remaining oil production facilities" in Iran and throw a monkey wrench at plans for U.S. and Israel retaliation.

Allsouls Jedaye said...

Sizing up Iran's oil threat

"...n response to a preemptive strike from either Israel or the United States, Iran would be tempted to fire missiles on key production facilities in neighboring states, according to Ruppel. Targets could include Iraq's oil loading facility in the port city of Basra, which exports most of the country's daily output of more than 2 million barrels, or Saudi Arabia's massive Abqaiq plant, which process over 6 million barrels of crude a day..."

lgude said...

From a media specialists viewpoint I blogged today at about how all news photography manipulates to some degree by framing, angle etc. How refreshing to see what a differently educated eye sees in this bit of flummery by a totalitarian regime on the make. Your analysis leaves me realizing that all the photos - not just the one with four missiles - might be faked in various ways. Sometimes the Net actually does lead to a better informed public. Nice job.

BarbaraS said...

Other blogs have reported this is a 2006 photo doctored up and released as current.

CT Guy said...

I'm wondering if these are new long range or old short range tactical missiles. I've never seen a US or ex Soviet long range missile launch at an angle. For the guidance system to work,the missile has to be vertical .These may be old Scud hit over there types with the TLAR (That Looks About Right) guidance systems.