Aric Toler’s face is illuminated only by the glow of the video playing on his laptop. It’s dashcam footage, supposedly captured by a driver in the town of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine, showing a Russian military convoy on its way to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 on July 17, 2014. At least, that’s the theory. Toler just has to prove it.
To the untrained eye, the video is awfully dull. But to Toler, who’s part of a global team of digital detectives known as Bellingcat, it’s a goldmine. He trains his eyes on the screen and watches as, about 45 seconds in, a white Volvo truck enters the frame. It’s attached to a bright red trailer, which carries a Buk missile launcher bearing a resemblance to the one thought to have been used in the attack. There’s a Jeep following close behind, and a gas station to the right. A few seconds later, Toler presses pause, as the sign advertising the gas station’s prices comes into view. The gas station and the prices on the board, he explains, are both clues to where and when the video was filmed.
Toler then navigates over to Google Earth, and drills down to the town of Makiivka. He finds the gas station from the video on the map, and then scrolls back in time to see the satellite image of that area taken on July 17, 2014. He zooms in, and sure enough, he spots the outline of a white truck
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