Kim Jong-un humiliated as air display shots labelled photoshop job

North Koreans cheer missile launch in bizarre propaganda film

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North Korea has been caught out using photo-editing tools to doctor images of an aerial display, pasting in extra warplanes to make their air force look more imposing. Officials in Pyongyang said that 150 aircraft participated in exercises over the coastline of Wonsan last Thursday, which they alleged demonstrated the “might of the people’s air force” and its “matchless bravery and indomitable fighting spirit”. It was reported that Kim Jong-un — who appeared in an unflattering white ensemble — praised the pilots and urged them to “discharge their sacred mission of defending the country”. The pilots were said to have been rapturous in their responses.

The deception was rumbled by image manipulation expert Dr Thorsten Beck of the Humboldt-Elsevier Advanced Data and Text Centre (HEADT) in Berlin, Germany using specialist “clone detection” software.

Dr Beck explains: “It analyses identical or similar elements in images and shows some of the similarities quite nicely. I think the assumption that elements have been cloned in a number of images is correct.

“Whoever created or manipulated these pictures certainly had some command of Photoshop. It does not look amateurish, but the composition, the purpose and the nature of the manipulation speak a different language.

“Partly because the images dramatise the power of North Korea’s air force, they appear somehow too good to be tru and that creates a funny effect in some of the images.”

Dr Beck singled out some examples of how it is possible to tell that the images had most likely been manipulated to make the air show appear more formidable than in reality.

One shot features a variety of fighter planes against a dramatic backdrop of clouds.

Dr Beck commented: “The image looks very artfully composed, almost too good to be true.

“In clone analysis, you can see which groups show similarity, and my visual analysis largely coincides with this.”

Another photo included 30 warplanes in a single shot. Dr Beck said: “Here, the planes don’t change size toward the viewer, despite their different heights and distances.”

“It also looks like they have the same sharpness — no matter how far they are away.”

Dr Beck cautioned that the accusation of photo manipulation couldn’t be proved irrefutably, given the poor resolution of the images, lack of different camera angles and the absence of metadata.

Clone detection software is also capable of making false positives, he conceded, noting: “It would not be unusual for aircraft of the same type flying in formation like this to be recognised as clones.”

Despite this, however, the expert said that he conducted his own independent analysis of the images — and picked out the exact same irregularities as his software did.

Dr Beck concluded: “In summary, copied elements are likely in many of the images — even if visual analysis cannot give absolute certainty.”

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Alongside the irregularities in the images detected by Dr Beck’s analysis, defence experts have said that the apparent formations in the images make no sense.

Samuel Archer is a Senior Military Analyst with Aviation Week Network.

He commented: “From the perspective of a military exercise, the concentration and volume of the aircraft makes no tactical or strategic sense.

“It strikes me that the only real reason you’d put that many aircraft in flight that close together would be to make it appear in photos that there were far more of them than actually exist.”

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