A Russian newspaper posted an audio tape on its website that purports to reveal two U.S. spies plotting to bring down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine last year.
One hitch: The conversations are so stilted and oddly worded that they have been widely dismissed by native English-speakers as obviously fake.
The two men alleged to be Americans, identified by Komsomolskaya Pravda in its Wednesday posting as David Hamilton and David Lloyd Stern, speak with accents and in words and phrases that resemble Russian manners of speaking that have been translated into English and read from a script.
"Hello. How are the preparations?" the voice identified as Hamilton opens the call said to have been made on June 25, 2014, about three weeks before MH17 was shot out of the sky by what investigators have widely suspected was a Russian-made ground-to-air missile.
"Everything is according to plan," answers Stern in British-accented English and in a tone that recalls the sinister, hand-rubbing anticipation of Boris and Natasha in a Cold War-era "Rocky and Bulwinkle" cartoon.
In the series of six recordings allegedly intercepted between the two men said to be CIA agents, they refer to orders from their leaders to implicate pro-Russia separatists in the plane's destruction -- a scenario Russia's state-run media have put forward since the July 17, 2014, crash of MH17 in which all 298 on board were killed.
"If you wanted to believe the CIA is responsible for downing MH17, now you've got the 'proof,'" the self-exiled Russian online newspaper Meduza headlined its report pointing out the awkward language used by the purported spies.
Foreign Policy magazine, in a commentary posted under the rubric Propaganda Watch, called the recordings "comically bad."
"Two inept CIA impersonators tried to pin the MH17 bombing on America -- and Russian media lapped it up," said the Week, an international online news digest.
The posting of the audio by Komsomolskaya Pravda appeared to be part of an intensifying Russian campaign in anticipation of the final report of international investigators probing the MH17 crash that is due in October. A preliminary report by the Dutch-led probe said the Boeing 777 was destroyed by "high-energy objects from outside the aircraft," consistent with the theory that it was shot down by a missile as it flew at 33,000 feet.
Investigators disclosed this week that the final report, which is circulating among an international prosecution team conducting a separate investigation to determine who fired the weapon, concludes that the missile was launched from territory held by pro-Russia rebels.
While the audio tape posted Thursday appeared to convince few outside of Russia's selectively informed citizens that the plane was destroyed by the CIA, the presentation of the two agents provided a window into how Russian officials view their U.S. intelligence rivals.
Hamilton and Stern speak in thinly disguised code that any Russian operative would find laughable, exposing the low regard for the savvy of their U.S. counterparts. The agents express contempt for their Ukrainian allies on whose behalf the operation is supposedly being conducted, dismissing them as "dopers and drunks," telegraphing to former Soviet neighbors that their new American friends are duplicitous and unreliable.
The two agents exchange paranoia-driven blackmail threats in the last of the recordings, casting the U.S. spy agency as a den of back-stabbers. In the conversation said to have taken place the day after the MH17 was shot down, Stern tells Hamilton that he has documentation of their criminal deed hidden away in case he needs to prove he hadn't acted alone, warning the apparently senior agent that he won't be set up "to take the fall."