The Halifax Examiner recently posted a story on Maritime Launch Services based on fake news, tainting the company with alleged Ukrainian corruption.
Maritime Launch Services (MLS) is a Halifax based startup looking to build a spaceport in Nova Scotia to launch satellites. They plan on initially using a Ukrainian Cyclone 4M (C4M) medium-class rocket.
The article, titled “Ukrainian corruption and the Canso spaceport“, was brought to SpaceQ’s attention in part by Michael Byers, one of a small group of people who are opposed to the MLS spaceport.
Byers tweet, which was still online at the time of publication, linked to Examiner article and read “Proposed spaceport in Nova Scotia linked to corruption scandal in Ukraine.” The truth is, MLS has not been linked to any corruption.
The Halifax Examiner are a digital publication that says it exposes “corruption and misspending” in Halifax and Nova Scotia and bills itself as “an independent, adversarial news site devoted to holding the powerful accountable.”
Adversarial they are, fact checkers, they aren’t, at least not as far as this story was concerned.
The Examiner’s negative story on MLS is based on a story written in a publication called the Chicago Morning Star. That story is titled Space Scandal. The Contract with the American Company FireFly Led to the Dismissal of the Head of the Ukrainian Space Agency and doesn’t even mention MLS.
When first made of aware of this story SpaceQ had a look at the story and something seemed off with it.
In my research I quickly came to the conclusion that the Chicago Morning Star is a fake news site that uses bots to publish machine generated synopsis of actual news along with distributing disinformation.
So there are actually two stories here.
The first is that of bot driven website, the Chicago Morning Star, which is generating fake news. The second story is that of a real publication, the Halifax Examiner, using the fake news story to make a point which makes MLS look bad.
Chicago Morning Star
So what tipped me off that the Chicago Morning Star was a fake news site? After examining dozens of news articles it was clear the stories were machine generated. Sentences didn’t make sense, the vocabulary didn’t read the way a human would write.
The story of how the website was created didn’t ring true either. So I looked deeper.
I was curious as to who registered the domain name. It turns out it was a private registration, though one based in Hong Kong. So why would a US company use a Chinese registrar? There are plenty of cheap, good options in the US.
I tried calling the publication. The phone number, a mobile phone, was not in service. I tried emailing all five listed staff members. No response.
I looked up their physical address. It turned out to be a co-working space in downtown Chicago. I called the co-working company and they said there was no company by that name working there.
I also looked up the staff on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. None had accounts. Am I supposed to believe that all five young journalists that supposedly work there, aren’t on one of those services?
Also, the person who supposedly wrote the story, well you can buy his head-shot, the identical one used on the website, at a Chinese modelling agency.
In fact, none of the five staff exist.
The website has been online for a year and half. The five “staff writers” generate on average 150 stories a month! The publication is free and there’s no advertising. How does it generate money?
This is a classic bot generated website.
A question you have to ask yourself is who benefits from a story that allegedly links the current Ukrainian government to a US company in a corruption scheme?
The Chicago Morning Star Space Scandal story is different than other stories published on the website. It reads more like something a human would write, though someone whose native language isn’t english. There could be more disinformation stories like this one, but my focus was on this one.
As well, while many of the Chicago Morning Star stories are based on local news releases, this one has more information and draws a conclusion not found elsewhere in english media.
The fake news story outlines how the dismissal of Pavlo Degtiarenko, who was the head of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, is tied to an alleged corruption scheme between himself and Yuzhnoye to amalgamate Yuzhmash into Yuzhnoye so as to benefit from a contract with US launch provider FireFly.
The allegations were in part spurned on by the fact that Degtiarenko tried to dismiss the director of Yuzhmash on October 30 only to have the order rescinded the next day.
SpaceQ sources, including in the Ukraine, say the alleged corruption story is completely made up. And yes, Ukraine has had, and may still have corruption, but this isn’t one of those instances.
According to SpaceQ sources, Degtiarenko, was not well liked by the new Ukrainian government of President Zelensky and when he was dismissed, it came as no surprise to many people.
The Ukrainian government issued a press release November 3rd about their new budget and several changes in government, including the firing of Degtiarenko.
Afterwards, as Ukrainian media speculated as to why Degtiarenko was replaced, Prime Minister Aleksey Goncharuk stated, and translated from Ukrainian; “We are gradually analyzing the effectiveness of all central executive bodies. Based on the results of our analysis, we decide whether to continue working with the person who heads this body. In this particular case, we looked at how efficiently this body worked and decided that we want to change the person. Announced competition and we are looking for young professional honest people who would like to take this.”
In reading the press release and Ukrainian media reports, it’s clear President Zelensky and his government are cleaning house.
Another development in the Ukraine prior to the budget and government changes of November 3rd, is a new law that could foster the creation of new space companies. President Zelensky signed into law on October 31 a measure that will allow private entities to create businesses in the space sector. Up to this point all Ukrainian space activities have been State controlled.
It’s an important step forward for a country which has seen its State space enterprises suffer after the conflict with Russia started. Its two main State space companies, Yuzhmash and Yuzhnoye, have seen major layoffs and plant closures. Ukraine used to be an important supplier of rockets and missiles to Russia prior to the ongoing conflict.
One foreign company looking to do business with Yuzhmash is FireFly, a US based launch services company that is now owned by Noosphere Ventures. Noosphere is the creation of Ukrainian ex-pat Max Polyakov who is the managing partner of the company.
To sum up the story, the Ukrainian government is cleaning house, and one of the old guard, Degtiarenko was fired. Yuzhmash and Yuzhnoye are both looking for business, and FireFly is looking to work with Yuzhmash.
What’s the difference between Yuzhmash and Yuzhnoye? Yuzhmash manufactures rockets, while Yuzhnoye designs them. They have worked closely together since their inception.
How does MSL fit in? They are contracting both Yuzhmash and Yuzhnoye as suppliers for their spaceport efforts.
The Examiner narrative
The Halifax Examiner can not be faulted for trying to expose “corruption and misspending” in Halifax and Nova Scotia, but their story and previous reporting on MLS shows a bias against the company.
There is no evidence or even an allegation of any corruption involving MLS.
So why link MLS to a story that alleges corruption in the Ukraine but doesn’t mention MLS? Aside from the fact that the story they try to link them to is fake news, should anyone doing business with Yuzhmash and Yuzhnoye be a party to corruption? What about Northrop Grumman and Arianespace? They both have ties to these companies.
The Halifax Examiner is also falsely pushing the narrative that MLS is only a Ukrainian creation when it publishes statements from others that state “MLS was directly created by Yushnoye. There is no degree of separation.” And then later states that MLS has unnamed Urkrainian partners.
The facts are that Steve Matier’s consulting company was hired to do a study to find a suitable location for a spaceport that could launch Ukrainian rockets. That report selected Nova Scotia.
The dilemma was what to do next. Yuzhnoye could not legally setup a new company in Canada. At the same time, they did not want to build or operate a spaceport. They were looking for a partner. With the project seemingly at a dead end, Matier made the decision that creating a new company and building a spaceport is something he might want to do. MLS was born.
The company was created in October of 2016 and John Isella was tapped to be the CEO, while Matier would be the COO and President. Isella tenure as CEO was short as he was replaced by Matier in June of 2017, just 8 months later. Isella did have ties to Yuzhnoye, as a consultant, until Feb. 2018. Isella remains a minority shareholder in the company but is not active in the company.
SpaceQ has had several discussions with Matier about the company including whether any Ukrainian company or individual is a shareholder. He has been very clear in stating that no Ukrainian company or individual is a shareholder.
Seemingly lost on the Halifax Examiner and others opposed to MLS, is the fact that the company wants to build infrastructure, not rockets. Aside from launching Ukrainian rockets at first, other companies are interested in using a Canadian spaceport to launch from. This includes several rockets under development. Like an airport, a spaceport will attract other businesses who want to be close by.
A Canadian spaceport with multiple launch tenants would be good for the local economy. To use a line from the movie Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.” Nova Scotia has been dreaming of a strong, robust economy for some time. A spaceport in Nova Scotia could possibly help that dream along.