By Tommy Hansen
A story on a BBC-lookalike web page which raises questions about the authenticity of YouTube footage of the killing of a police officer by a gunman during the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris last week has gone viral on social media.
The web page leads with a story based on comments by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts - an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury under the Reagan Administration who helped co-found the "Reaganomics" economic strategy and an associate editor of the Wall Street Journal - republished from Press TV.
The spoof BBC page published on Monday led with the republication of a genuine story on remarks made by Roberts, who has voiced his concern that the brutal attacks carried out in France may be part of a "false flag" operation "designed to shore up France’s vassal status to Washington".
The website harvests real time content from the BBC News online domain and looks identical to the authentic BBC website, with the only noticeable differences being a hyphen being inserted into the news corporation's URL and a full stop being used in the headline.
The article spread rapidly across the internet as people believed they were reading a genuine BBC story.
It contained genuine comments written by Roberts saying: "The suspects can be both guilty and patsies. Just remember all the terrorist plots created by the FBI that served to make the terrorism threat real to Americans."
'False flag operations'
Dr. Roberts argues in the link to a genuine story on Iranian website, Press TV, that U.S. agencies have planned "false flag operations" - missions carried out by intelligence agencies which deflect blame onto other nations, group or targets - in Europe to create hatred against Muslims and bring European countries under Washington’s sphere of influence and to support the "war on terror" launched during the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.
Roberts, a noted economist and journalist, states in his personal columns that “the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an inside job and that people identified by NSA as hostile to the Western wars against Muslims are going to be framed for an inside job designed to pull France firmly back under Washington’s thumb.”
His article finishes with him declaring the U.S. "government tells Americans whatever story the government puts together and sits and laughs at the gullibility of the public".
Peter Kruse, founder of Cyber Security Intelligence Services Security Group (CSIS) and head of the CSIS eCrime Unit, told Anadolu Agency: "The fake website mirrors the content on the real BBC website in the last detail and real-time, and then puts in its own article.
“Clearly this is an illegitimate use of BBC's reputation and very problematic, but it is something which, technically today, is very easy to do," says Kruse.
The false story also states that a "video clip broadcast by news agencies across the world in relation to the recent events in Paris is now under scrutiny" referring to discussion on social media about perceived anomalies in a YouTube video of the actual Charlie Hebdo massacre.
'Blanks, not bullets'
The web link points to the existence of what it describes as "place markers" in the video of two gunmen killing a police officer - two dark lines at a right angle on the road where the gunmen's car is centered when the video begins, as well as a shoe positioned squarely in front of the car door from which the armed passenger exits.
The text suggests that a break in the footage which appears after the policeman is "apparently" shot in the head, shows after it restarts the passenger-side gunman returning to the vehicle, which then appears to be sited slightly behind its original position - with a second dark line at right-angles to the road direction showing up more clearly by the offside front wheel.
The gunman then picks up the shoe and carries it with him back into the car.
The text also quotes a "David Mayhew" saying: “If the video shows events as they actually occurred, then in my opinion it is most likely that the firearm shown is discharging blanks rather than conventional ammunition”, describing him as a "forensic and ballistics expert".
The fake article concludes: “Whilst numerous theories have sprung up concerning this and other details, the general consensus among not just skeptics, but some major news agencies, is that the entire event was a ‘False Flag’ attack perpetrated by the CIA and/or Mossad in a “psy-ops” exercise to rouse hatred against Islam and support for what has been so far, a failing campaign in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East”.
Such discussions mirror authentic critics on the internet and social media sites who have repeatedly voiced concern over what the U.S.-led "war on terror" and the constant warring led by the U.S. which has marked the post-9/11 events in New York in 2001.
The website was apparently registered on Dec. 28 last year by a UK individual by the name of Michael Jones, who opted to leave out his address in the international WHOIS domain registration service.
It was last updated on Jan. 9, while the fake story is dated Jan. 11.
According to Peter Kruse, the domain name was originally registered by a Cayman Island company in 2011 and now active on a Kansas web server with mainly pornographic content.
The act of masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication on the internet is known as Phishing – from “phony fishing” and is normally used in an attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details from individuals.
It is the first known Phishing-attack against a major global media outlet used to spread alternative information from that disseminated in the mainstream media.
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts is one of the most highly ranked former U.S. officials to openly criticize U.S. foreign policy.
The economist and columnist claims the U.S.' "war on terror" - launched under the Bush administration and continued under President Barack Obama - has destroyed Americans' civil liberties, including habeas corpus and due process in law, which had been protected under the U.S. Constitution.
'U.S. a police state'
He has also opposed the "War on Drugs" and criticized Israel's policies, actions and brutal attacks carried out against Palestinians.
In his latest column on his website, www.paulcraigroberts.org, published on Monday under the headline: Suspicions are Growing that the French Shootings are a False Flag Operation, Roberts declares: "The failure of Americans to think is why they are 13 years into war and live in a police state."
He goes on to argue the Charlie Hebdo attacks could have been planned or facilitated as a result of French President Francois recently saying that U.S.-led economic sanctions against Russia should be terminated, as the French President was allying himself with French economic interests instead of with Washington’s "hegemonic foreign policy".
He writes that another purpose could be to stifle growing European sympathy for Palestinians and to realign Europe with Israeli interests, as well as to counter rising European opposition to more wars in the Middle East, including against Syria and Iran.
BBC spokesperson Helen Mitchell told Anadolu Agency that the BBC was aware of the fake website.
“We are currently looking into the matter, but we have no further comments," she said.