A Twitter user by the name of ‘Cathy Rolanova’, who claims to be an open-source intelligence expert, frequently posts about India’s ties with other South Asian countries. Only that, many a times, the information shared by this handle falls flat on grounds of facts, raising serious questions about the source and motives of its posts.
With over 4,000 followers amassed in less than two months, ‘Cathy’ often broadcasts unverified and misleading images and videos to her audience on Twitter.
The Quint was able to identify four such instances where misinformation regarding defence and security-related issues was shared by the said Twitter handle over a span of 54 days.
1. Old Image Shared as ‘Jawan Injured in Galwan Valley Face-Off’
On 16 June, amid rising tensions between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) ‘Cathy Rolanova’ shared an image showing army personnel carrying a person on a stretcher with a claim that it shows an injured soldier being shifted to a hospital by the Indian army.
The claim came in the wake of a violent face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in which about 20 Indian Army personnel lost their lives, on the night of 15 June.
We found that the aforementioned image is unrelated and has no connection with the Galwan Valley face-off. A Google reverse image search helped us find multiple news reports suggesting that the image was used in a three-month-old story from March.
After Twitter users pointed out that the image is old and unrelated, ‘Cathy’ justified saying that an unrelated image was deliberately posted as “respect for the fallen soldier” and posted another image as proof of having accessed images from the face-off between Indian and Chinese troops. But, guess what, even that image turned out to be unrelated.
A Google reverse image search directed us to several Pakistani twitter handles who had uploaded the full image on 4 May, claiming that it shows Indian soldier killed by Pakistani forces in Kashmir a day after the Handwara encounter.
Four Indian Army personnel, including Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Commanding Officer of 21 Rashtriya Rifles unit, a Major, two soldiers and one Jammu and Kashmir policeman were killed in the Handwara encounter on 3 May. Two terrorists were also killed by the forces.
While we cannot independently verify the image, it is clear that it has been in existence before the clash between Indian and Chinese troops on 15 June.
2. Shares Cropped Image of INS Viraat as ‘Damage Caused to INS Vikrant Due to Cyclone Nisarg’
On 11 June, the 'Cathy' shared an image with a claim that it shows India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant 'damaged' by Cyclone Nisarga.
“After Cyclone Nisarg, certain compartments of INS Viraat were filled with water & extensive level of damage was done to the carrier. This will delay the project. Image of the carrier in May 2020,” the claim shared along with the image read.
Defence journalist Shiv Aroor pointed out that the image used is of INS Viraat and not INS Vikrant. He also added that the image is from the month of April.
Originally built for the UK’s Royal Navy, INS Viraat was sold to India in 1986 and served in the Indian Navy for 30 years before being decommissioned in the year 2017. At present, Viraat is at Mumbai's Naval dockyard.
A Google Maps view of the Naval dockyard throws up results which confirm that the image shared by Cathy Rolanova is of INS Viraat off the Mumbai shore.
3. Labels ITBP Camp as Chinese Military Installation
In another instance of spreading misinformation, the Twitter profile in question shared satellite images on 30 May claiming that China has occupied the Pangong Tso lake.
The caption shared along with the images read: “India China OSINT. Pangong Tso lake. Satellite image. At the foot of Finger 8, there is a whole Chinese base with helipads. China has the lake. Indian media or Govt will never admit this. (sic)”
The mountains on the northern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake cut forward into spurs, which are called the “Fingers”.
This report, by India Today, states that, “India has been patrolling the area up to Finger 8. But Indian forces have not had active control beyond Finger 4. China, on the other hand, says the LAC passes through Finger 2. It has been patrolling up to Finger 4, mostly in light vehicles, and at times up to Finger 2.”
Using a simple Google Earth search, we found that what 'Cathy' was referring to as Chinese Military Installation is in fact, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) camp.
It can be clearly seen that the actual map was cropped to wrongly label the ITBP camp as Chinese military establishment.
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4. Did India Encroach Nepalese Territory After 1962 Indo-China War? No
Recently, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli alleged that India had encroached Kalapani in 1962 after Nepal allowed retreating Indian Troops to camp in the region. The Twitter profile in focus reiterated similar claims in a tweet on 26 May.
The tweet should be viewed in the context of rising tensions between India and Nepal over the disputed territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura.
In the Tweet, ‘Cathy’ said: “Nepal India conflict background In 1962 when India got defeated to China & was retreating Nepal gave permission to retreating India troops to take shelter in this land for protection. After the war was over India Army stayed there and never returned the land.”
The Kalapani territory lies at the eastern border of Uttarakhand and Nepal’s Sudurpaschim Pradesh in the west. The disputed territory of Kalapani is considered to be a part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district by India while Nepal claims that is a part of Darchula. The origin of river Mahakali forms the basis of this dispute.
Multiple contradicting reports have surfaced regarding the connection of Kalapani to the 1962 India-China War. While some suggest that Nepal conceded the territory to India others say India illegally occupied the land in Nepal.
We spoke to Nihar Nayak, Associate Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis and an expert Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Maoist conflict in India. Nihar told us that there is little truth to the claim that India illegally occupied Nepalese territory after the 1962 war.
“Kalapani was never a border point. We have been there even before 1962. So, linking it with the Indo-China war is not factually correct,” he said.
“Our troops never needed Nepal’s approval or consensus to be stationed at Kalapani. In fact, Kalapani was one of the most neglected areas from the Nepalese side. It was never a focal point for them,” Nayak added.
This report, by The Indian Express, quotes political scientist Leo E Rose as saying, “Nepal virtually ignored the Kalapani issue from 1961 to 1997, but, for domestic political reasons, it became a convenient India-Nepal controversy in 1998.”
While Nepal government only raised the issue in 1998, officials in India claim that revenue records dating back to the 1830s show that Kalapani area has traditionally been administered as part of the Pithoragarh district.
Clearly, this claim by ‘Cathy’ too falls short of being factual and finds no backing of domain experts.
While the actual identity of the user operating the ‘Cathy Rolanova’ Twitter profile is yet to be ascertained, the pattern of misinformation shared via the handle clearly suggests that the account’s designation, of being an ‘OSINT expert', is far from being accurate.
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