Brilliantly Righteous While Half Baked
Ukrainians have known for years that foreign linguistic experts pick up on much less in conversation than native speakers. However, few expected that the time would come when the standard of competency turns out to be the ability of smart alecs to construe accurately what have been officially classified as state secrets.
Wiretapping Medvedchuk: Ties with Poroshenko, Putin and Russia-occupation forces (Part 1) is a case in point. The 46-minute YouTube reportage published by Bihus.info of May 17, 2021 has been viewed more than 570,000 times. Unfortunately, the “investigation” so far raises more questions than it answers.
Who made the recordings? Who leaked them? Why Now?
It’s nearly impossible to detect manipulation in digital recordings with a nearly absolute level of certainty, so it’s important to first establish the chain of custody of the archive.
It seems to be generally accepted that the recorded voices are without doubt those of the Medvedchuk, his assistant in Donbas and Russian officials. The main task is now to identify the authenticity of the incriminating conversations.
According to IOCE principles (International Organization of Computer Evidence), the delivery of digital evidence must be carried out by a person who is forensically competent. Furthermore, access, storage or transfer of digital evidence must be fully documented, preserved and available for review, in order to be of any forensic value.
While Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his interlocutors seem to understand exactly what they are saying in the excerpts presented, Bihus.info and the President’s Office of Ukraine are still struggling to digest all the conversations fully, at least publicly.
If the existing evidence consists only of the approximately 10 minutes long snippets presented, one could possibly imagine some manipulations or doctoring by a “potential aggressor.” However, authors tell us they have in their possession four years worth of Medvedchuk’s chit chats, so it seems hard to believe that such a huge amount of evidence could have been doctored or manipulated.
Those familiar with the recordings cannot effectively ask decision-makers to listen faster, nor will study of non-normative speech per se produce direct improvement in their ability to hear at the rate Medvedchuk and his comrades speak.
Local journalists who have listened to all the leaked intercepts are either finding it enormously difficult to report what was actually said or are playing dumb while busily compartmentalizing the information for future use in political campaigns.
That some hear what may be obscured or totally lacking in the recordings is principally because a significant portion of what can be understood is supplied by the context of the exchanges. Native speakers draw on vast amounts of shared knowledge to construct meaning when they are listening. It is not so much that the speech sounds contain meaning; it is rather that they trigger meaning.
As an example, consider this dialogue in which Medvedchuk on July 15, 2014 chit chats with his assistant in Donetsk, Dmytro Doroshenko. Relying chiefly on voice quality and hesitant speech, both appear to understand that a major scandal is in the offing.
Here is a partially translated transcript of a 90-second exchange, which purportedly took place on July 15, 2014.
Dmytro Doroshenko: Do you have any thoughts about what happened yesterday?
Medvedchuk: Are you talking about the video?
Doroshenko: I mean thoughts about the plane. Because you understand that this is topic number 1 now.
Medvedchuk: Of course. But there are many versions.
Doroshenko: Based on what I’m seeing it’s obvious this will only benefit officials in Kyiv.
Medvechuk: Well, who knows. It’s definitely a serious thing, an international scandal, especially if it happened as a result of someone’s mistake, but I don’t think the plane was deliberately shot down. It was either a mistake or happened out of carelessness. To say that one side or the other deliberately shot down the plane does not hold water.
The informed listener can easily fill in the missing elements of the conversation by assuming that both Medvedchuk and Doroshenko are interested in who is responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Donetsk region a day earlier, killing all 298 people on board.
One can also deduce that even though Medvedchuk references a “video,” he means the gruesome footage of the plane wreckage, body parts and children’s toys strewn across fields and posted to the Internet.
The ability to fill in missing information, a commonplace in human behavior, has been termed analysis by synthesis by psychologists. it refers to the strategy of internally generating or shadowing what people say (or do) so that we may more easily reduce the number of possibilities to consider.
Policy makers in the west should take the time and make full use of their processing capacity to thoroughly examine, accurately translate and correctly date all of the intercepted telephone conversations involving Medvedchuk. That way we don’t have to rely on Bihus.info to tell us what was meant by what they reported him as saying.