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Putin on the Ritz (hackerfactor.com)
208 points by yoha on Feb 19, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

Haha, the modified photo appeared in a satirical post on Index.hu, there's nothing to see here people, move on. :)


Here're the other posts from the same series: http://index.hu/szarvas/

All entries are simple montages, they're only funny for people who know Hungarian politics, but for them they're quite obvious.

Edit: the man in the middle of the photo is the Hungarian President of the State, and well, he probably won't kneel when signing an agreement -- even if Putin's there. :)


  I don't have a bad personal relationship with Putin. When we have
  conversations, they're candid, they're blunt, oftentimes they're
  constructive. I know the press likes to focus on body language and
  he's got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back
  of the classroom. [1]
Putting Russia-United States relations aside, I thought that was a spot-on description of Vladimir Putin's body posture, that he uses to great effect, when he wants to be perceived as not being terribly interested in what's going on.

It is quite funny.




This article offers an interesting look at Russia-US relations:

"Diagnosing Sochi Media Coverage: Virulent Russophobia...

The water, the toilets, the hotels – nothing pleases our pampered media divas, whose hatred of all things Russian oozes from between the lines of their "reporting" like pus from an old wound."

All the antipathy we saw aimed at Russia during the cold war years is now being revomited up by the political class, albeit in a new flavor: instead of genuine martyrs like Andrei Sakharov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn being lionized, we see the professional provocateurs of "Pussy Riot" elevated by Western media to the status of "dissident" stars.


So a bit like someone reading The Onion and not knowing it's fake? :)

It's a bit like being a well-known expert in finance, reading The Onion, and writing a post on your personal blog on ft.com on why the government should not dump dollars into the giant money hole. :D

Amazing how language barriers can create this kind of confusion.

That's not just the matter of language barriers -- that's basically a situation where you have some information and you try to draw conclusions without trying to get some context. Quite common with people who know a very narrow field very well which gives them the false sense of competency in other issues.

Actually, that is somewhat informative. I was skeptical of the used methodology and conclusion which reminds me of conspiracy theory nonsense. Knowing that the guy in the middle is pasted in is pretty helpful.

I'm still not convinced about the relevance of the white outline on Putin.

I am skeptical of anyone using the expression "conspiracy theory nonsense" so casually.

I can't think why. Almost all conspiracy theory is compounded of excess credulity, overactive pattern-matching, and reheated leftover California counter-culture convictions regarding the so-called "Establishment".

The first part might be true for the Aliens/Elvis Alive/Illuminati kind of conspiracy theories.

But conspiracies happen all the time, and expecting them is not a "theory", it's a fact of politics and government, since before there was Machiavelli.

Everytime a government decision is taken behind closed doors for things that affect politics/the public/etc, it's a conspiracy.

It can be as simple as a few party heads deciding on who to push for the presidency (outside official party prodecures). Or a company paying a politician to pass some favorable law.

Or some public prosecutor trying to get some black kid thrown in jail, because he is convinced it's guilty, and not hesitating to supress witness and withold evidence (as has happened thousands of times).

Or it can be the head of FBI secretly keeping tabs on politicians and blackmailing them or giving tidbits to the press for those he didn't like. Like this Hoover guy.

It can be the President of the United States ordering people to break in the headquarters of the opposition party or eavesdrop on them. You know, like this Nixon guy.

It's idiotic to think conspiracies do not exist, or that "counter-culture convictions regarding the so-called "Establishment" were somehow proven wrong.

If anything, the whole Snowden affair proves otherwise. As if we needed such a thing.

People living in countries with actual heated political history, even places like Spain or Italy, know all about state conspiracies, including murder of dissidents (tons of them taken to court and proved from later, freeer, governments). Case in point:


It's only apolitical people living work-to-home and back everyday lives, and only getting their information from mainstream news that can claim that conspiracies don't exist. Open a history book -- preferably one that's not about the Civil War but modern history, and you'll find aplenty.

Oh, conspiracies, sure. You'd think that something called "conspiracy theory" would have more to do with them, wouldn't you? But the sort of person who, when presented with a big list of interests, would briefly consider checking the "conspiracy theory" box and then not just refrain from doing so in case the Men in Black might notice, but actually feel himself quite wise and clever for having entertained this train of thought, tends to be the sort of person who finds things which actually ever happen rather dull.

The problem is there's also the inverse sort of person, who casually dismisses stuff that happens as "conspiracy theory".

The NSA eavesdropping on Americans? Conspiracy theory.

The head of FBI blackmailing politicians? Conspiracy theory.

And then, when such things came to light, there's this other person (ofter the same as the one dismissing them before), saying:

"Well, duh, we knew all along that something WAS happening, nothing new here...".

Between them it's nearly impossible to get a better understanding of the kind of shitty stuff governments and big corporations do.

Somehow managing to believe everything while believing nothing. Aliens at Roswell? Sure! US managed to land on the moon? Ridiculous!

I'm still surprised, when I bother to think about it, that no eager beaver has come up with the idea that perhaps the US did land on the moon, but only thanks to alien technology reverse-engineered from the remains of 1947 Roswell crash.

I can't speak for your specific example, but there are some theories that equate the massive technology leap we had in the 50s->present day has been due to reverse engineered alien technology.

In fact Star Trek: Voyager did a two part episode that used this conspiracy theory as part of the main story line.

I think I remember that episode.

I suppose "aliens" are a much more attractive explanation than "government-funded wartime R&D centers plus post-war prosperity plus Cold War arms race equals massive scientific advancement"

The main angle of the post (dressing exactly the same all the time) is a very interesting one, but the end points are somewhat scary.

Think of it: if it's so easy to fake color photos so that people won't notice, isn't it easier to fake black&white photos? How do you know this is real: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Yalta_Con...? I don't. If we routinely don't trust colour pictures in newspapers, why should we trust historic photographs?

We've reached a point in time when we can start actually faking history. The only way to check if something happened now would be to find original copies of old photographs and books. But it's only matter of time before they'll be gone forever, or stuck deep in museum vaults, to be accessed by selected few. We could rewrite the history for next generation and no one would likely notice it.

> We've reached a point in time when we can start actually faking history.

It has always been possible to fake history, inadvertently or intentionally. There was a narrow stretch of time when photography became widespread which made it a bit harder to fake history, but photographs were being faked and staged long before we had computers to do digital editing of them. And before we had photographs, it was possible to fake manuscripts, etc.

There is an interesting thoery called Phantom Time http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_time_hypothesis related to a preiod in the middle ages that may not have existed. supposedly a king wanted to be on the throne during the millennium so faked a few hundred years of history.

If true we would only be in the 17th or 18th century. Which may explain why the world didn't end in 2012, or why there still aren't hover boards.

Your last sentence makes it clear you are joking, but just so no one is confused: Without even reading the Wikipedia article, it's trivial to imagine how that hypothesis could be readily disproven. Recorded astronomical phenomena, correspondence of cross-cultural events—even carbon dating is accurate enough to catch a discrepancy of several centuries like that.

Yes I think Halley's comet appears in the Bayeux Tapestry which I assume has been linked to an appearance in the 12th century. Better check the stitching on that to make sure it wasn't modified ;)

[EDIT] Halley's comet apparitions are roughly every century so not that conclusive... cue twilight zone music

There's a theory that the lizard people actually control human brains from within their secret lair in the centre of the world too.

Europeans weren't the only ones with calendars and keeping time, y'know. Our current calendar matches up with other calendaers.

Here's a conspiracy theory for you: Pratchett's History Monks exist, and this was their doing. But nothing much happened during those three centuries anyway, not even the horse collar, and such stretches of fallow time come in handy when you've also got to worry about centuries like the nineteenth and twentieth, where a mere hundred years doesn't start to be enough time for everything to happen in.

And the further back we go in time, the less independent reporter we can find. For example, how much can you trust Caesar's account of its campaign in Gaul ?

No more than I would trust a Bill Clinton or George W. Bush autobiography- but all these types of works provide fascinating insight into the psychology of the people involved, just maybe not the facts of events :)

Although, even from Ceasers time we can find accounts by other Romans, Greeks, etc and use archeology to see where he is likely bending the truth.

The problem now days is accounts of events, due to ease of communication, while more plentiful are less independent.

...and that brings us to The Holy Bible.

We know the Bible has been edited multiple times and disagreeable stuff chopped off. I also hear it isn't even internally logically coherent. Of course it's not reliable, but it's some of the best stuff we have from that time period.

Yes - if anything the internet makes it easier to keep alternatives to the official fictions alive.

But in this case, how can you trust the alternatives more? You might find yourself in the situation, where there is no true story left, there are only fictions pushing different agendas.

Indeed. Hard to tell the nutcases from the truth tellers. Perhaps this is why some folks don't bother to refute the outrageous tales against them.

> isn't it easier to fake black&white photos

Stalin did use black and white photo montages. Check out the Wikipedia article [1].

> The only way to check if something happened now would be to find original copies

For now. Consider fine-grained 3D printing in the future.

> We could rewrite the history for next generation and no one would likely notice it.

It is actually a fairly practical problem in medium-term future. The only plausible solution seems to have resilient duplicated information on trusted peers. But with time, even trust rusts.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photo_manipulation

We could rewrite the history for next generation and no one would likely notice it.

Nearly all tellings of history have a bias, and people nearly always mistell history, espeically history about their tribe/country/ethnicity/country. This is nothing new.

They say history is written by the winners of wars.

History is written by the writers with the most popular narrative. Military hegemony is the most common way to ensure your narrative's popularity, but it's not the only way.

I think that there are just as many counter examples of this as there are confirmations. The Mongols are probably the best counter example.

Counter-examples: The Vikings. Most of the history of the Viking was by Christian monks in England and the like, who were the victims of the Vikings.

We've reached a point in time when we can start actually faking history

...again. We're always getting better at faking history, because our creative tools are always a step ahead of the forensic tools. A few centuries ago it was easy for a skilled craftsman to make fake Roman antiquities/medieval manuscripts/whatever, and not so easy to detect the fraud by analysis of the pigmentation in paint or ink, for example.

Trust is something hard to come by and when dealing with foreign sources you have to rely on translators and their issues. What is worse, even if the translators are reliable, alterations can be made after the fact, but verification is difficult because of language barriers.

Here is an example that my father found about Putin's person of the year interview with Time. Time published a full transcript [1] in English and Kremlin published the full transcript [2] in Russian. The very first question is different! Kremlin's version includes a question where the reported bungled the Putin's birthday and though he was born in 1946 instead of 1952, but Time omits it. It wasn't a very substantive question, but it did set the tone for the interview and the difference is upsetting. As far as I know this particular issue has not been widely discussed for the past 7 years.

If media and/or governments alter the smallest records for reasons of incompetence, what do they do to hide larger errors?

[1] http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/personoftheyear/a... [2] http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ru&tl=en&u=ht...

Truth is hard come by with non foreign sources as well, we just comfort ourselves by thinking its foreigners who seek to deceive us.

This is why I really like the points Glenn Greenwald made in his debate with Bill Keller from the NYTimes. His meta point was that there is no such thing as being objective in reporting and any attempts to be objective just functions to obfuscate the bias that is unavoidable. At least when sources are openly biased and wear that bias on their sleeve, it becomes much easier to separate fact from opinion.


The cool digital analysis aside, what if people who do this aren't pulling a Kim Jong Il, but rather are pulling a Steve Jobs?


No need to feed conspiracy theorists unnecessarily. Always look for the story behind the story too. Now of course, all of that evidence of digital alteration is another thing. And it may very well have been simply a newspaper who wanted some kind of photo, but didn't have the photographer to get a real one (or the opportunity didn't exist). Maybe Putin ordered it. Maybe he didn't. Maybe his people did. Maybe they didn't. Likewise on the Hungary side.

"... with some guy in the middle signing papers."

His name is in the tags with the photo. He's the president of the country. All that effort but can't be bothered to identify the president.

I think the storywriter's distortion lens is always more powerful than some altered digital photos.

Daniel Radcliffe annoyed paparazzi by wearing the same outfit every day. They couldn't sell the photos since it looked like they were all taken the same day. http://www.imdb.com/news/ni0051271/ Video of the interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJT0hq3lHDE

The middle figure in the picture is János Áder, president of Hungary. The image was created by a Hungarian blogger/artist named szarvas: http://szarvas.tumblr.com/image/76316693473

The news portal index.hu regularly republishes his work, this is where the confusion may have originated from: http://index.hu/szarvas/2014/02/11/ader_alair/ you can see the post among other posts here: http://index.hu/szarvas/

Here is a thread where a commenter points out how photo manipulation is frowned upon by professional photographers on their forum, and they can't believe "how a political journalist can do this while a war correspondent can't draw smoke near an explosion.", linking to his republished image on index.hu.

Of course szarvas is not a political journalist, he is a funny guy with a tumblr: http://szarvas.tumblr.com/post/76316693473/nyomomneki-lvnte-...

I wonder how the article talks about clues detectable only by applying filters to the image, yet misses the most obvious sign of retouching: the middle figure's knees, the blur around them can be seen with the naked eye, not to mention the irregular shape.

Regarding the other conclusion of the article (the outline around Orban and Putin seen in the histogram image), to me it simply looks like sharpening. I may be wrong.

Huh, I live in Russia and I never noticed that Putin always wears the same clothes. Fascinating. I certainly wouldn't put using Communist-era photo-op tactics past him.

Putin admires the USSR and used to be part of the KGB. More likely than unlikely!

However, the biggest clue appears when we apply a basic color histogram to the picture

Can anyone explain what this means? It doesn't match my understanding of what a histogram is (i.e., a graph of values vs frequency of occurrence).

I can't see the images in the article but you have it right - the histogram is color values against frequency.

You can then use the histogram to identify and highlight particular color values in the image. This would identify the simple artefact described in the text.

Link to Photoshop example use: http://www.ephotozine.com/article/using-the-histogram-in-ado...

I'm not sure about that rainbow colour-scheme used.


` PCA measures JPEG artifacts.`

Just for some clarification - how does that work, exactly? If you decompose an image using PCA/SVD and find a cliff in the spectrum, is that a fingerprint of JPEG compression?

The name doesn't ring a bell, but judging by the pic its this stuff:


All the chunks of a JPEG image should be saved with the same quantizer. If part of an image is pasted in from a different JPEG, there will be a difference in the level of compression.

Interestingly, Steve Jobs was also known for wearing the same outfit year-by-year.


>Kim Jong Il rarely appeared in digitally altered photos. Instead, he did a different type of misdirection. In almost every photo of him, KJI wore the same clothing. It's as if he only owned one set of clothing (or a closet full of the same discount gray suits). This wasn't because KJI had no taste. Instead, it allowed his counter-intelligence people to publish any photo of him over the decades as if it were a recent photo. People couldn't just look at a photo and identify when it was taken.

And that's a feature we intended to get by wearing the same clothes because?

How is the ability to publish any old photo as recent relavent at all?

If you were ill and worried that a political rival might take the chance to over throw you, you could publish photos of you looking fine, doing dictator stuff, and they'd never know...

But actual people in your circles (including rivals) WOULD know. They don't get their information from pictures, the masses do that.

Depends on how tight the circles are and the compartmentalization. I would assume dictator dudes have multiple overlapping inner circles that compete with each other. Geodesic thought crime.

As the author said "counter-intelligence". It allows Kim to post pictures of him visiting a factory in one city when he is really at a completely different one. The less any one knows with certitude about him the safer he is.

OK, this makes more sense I guess. Or, you know, he just likes the outfit. After all it worked for Steve Jobs.

OK, this makes more sense I guess.

Russian contemporary novelist Victor Pelevin explored a similar theme in his "Generation P" book (1999). The idea was that there were no "real" politicians, because all of them were fabricated digital images to sell more ads. Quite an entertaining read.

On goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9667484-generation / http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/337672.Homo_Zapiens (translated version)

The author has up a website [1] that gives an overview of what forensics can do with photos.

[1] http://fotoforensics.com/

Didn't Steve Jobs always wear the same outfit? Perhaps that's so if he's in a photo now they could say it was taken years ago!

The one table leg being longer can be easily be attributed the lens distortion.

One would expect that, being in a room, a fisheye lens has been used in the original picture. But that would have led to a barrel distortion. Instead, a zoom lens was used. This has an interesting side effect: Putin, sitting at the border of the photo, then appears larger.

If you enjoy conspiracies theory about Putin, I heard about two.

First is very realistic, that in 2013 he fabricated fishing in Tyva:


Second is that he has multiple doubles, including one mongoloid.

Searching for 'putin heineken' gives me images of Putin dressed as an astronaut drinking beer:


So there are your pics and it did happen

What never cease to amaze me is how secret services around the globe waste so much time on trivial things like that.

I read somewhere that the US president always traveled with its own toilets in fear of spies analyzing his "production" oO

Meanwhile people are still dying of hunger ...

Some of these security reasons make sense. I've heard whenever a US embassy needs equipment (e.g. a photocopier), they get it delivered from the USA, rather than use a local supplier. The USA used to set up fake local suppliers and was able to get a compromised photocopier in a Soviet embassy.

And the USA snuck a printer into Iraq in the first Gulf War with a virus on it, or was that a hoax?

Some hackers p0wn3d printers at the Navy and sent duplicates of all print jobs overseas. Seems like a great hack.

Huh. So, reincarnation exists, and Robert A. Wilson's spirit speaks Russian now. Who knew?

Totally offtopic, but the title reminded me of: http://putintheritzon.ytmnd.com/ (has audio)

On a very long list of Russian transparency problems, faking photos of diplomatic meetings is one of the least objectionable.

Not everyone can take a selfie with Obama!

The whole pose looked off to me. It seemed odd that important papers would be signed kneeling. Is that customary anywhere?

I am currently reading Orwell's 1984 to my daughter. I am able to tell her that it is mostly fiction ...

IMHO even the one with Gheddafi could be a fake, the light is not the same on the subjects..

Are the photos appearing for anyone? Or are we all getting unable to load?

Putin died three years ago, fact.


ras-Putin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRWiqjgOyX0

You can thank me later.

I don't get the connection between Putin wearing the same clothes and the photo manipulation explained at the end.

Looks like he wanted to write about two different things but smashed them into just one without coherence...

I think the implication he failed to properly address is that Putin wears the same suit specifically so it's easier to photoshop him in to other pictures. That was my interpretation.

Another interpretation that requires less guesswork on my part is that his interest was piqued by noticing that Putin wears the same suit, and that was what led him to start investigating other pictures of Putin, culminating in his analysis of this doctored photo.

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