The Saudi Military Stole Footage from a War Documentary to Justify an Attack

Al-Samoud 2 missiles as seen in the Iraq War documentary "Severe Clear." (Sirk Productions)

"Severe Clear" was a landmark 2009 documentary about the invasion of Iraq that made extensive use of video shot in 2003 by First Lt. Mike Scotti using a mini-digital video camera. This footage might as well be from ancient times, since it comes from an era back before YouTube and almost a decade before smartphones put quality video cameras in everyone's back pocket. Getting these kinds of shots was incredibly difficult in the early days of the war.

Scotti was filming his role in the invasion to record material for a memoir he hoped to write. He ended up writing "The Blue Cascade," a book about his experiences reintegrating into civilian life after combat, and turned the footage over to documentarian Kristian Fraga, who made Scotti's footage the backbone of "Severe Clear."

Imagine the filmmakers' surprise last month when they saw footage of a press conference led by Saudi Arabia Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesperson for the Arab coalition fighting against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Yemen civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis took over the capital city of Sanaa and has continued for more than seven years as Saudi-backed forces try to restore the government to power.

According to a news story in the Hollywood Reporter, Al-Maliki showed a video clip of a camera panning around a warehouse full of weapons and announced, "Hodeidah port is the primary port for receiving Iranian ballistic missiles. The missiles are put together and assembled in [the port] under the supervision of Iranian security officials. This is in a specific location inside Hodeidah port, which is composed of workshops of ballistic missiles, which are then transported out of the port."


Director Fraga was shocked when he saw a clip of the conference and realized that Al-Maliki had just used footage from "Severe Clear" to justify military action in Yemen. "It's disturbing," Fraga told the Hollywood Reporter. "You hear everyone brings their own point of view to a film, but you never dream of someone taking your work out of context and using it for nefarious purposes."

Misbar, a fact-checking website focused on the Middle East, outed Al-Maliki the next day and correctly identified "Severe Clear" as the source of the footage. The spokesman immediately apologized but also defended himself. "The footage was erroneously passed from a source, we are dealing in an area of operations that has many sources, and this comes within the margin of error of dealing with sources," Al-Maliki said in a statement.

That sounds dicey, until you realize that maybe the Saudi military bit on a piece of fake intel sent their way by Iran. Or possibly they decided to use the footage in hopes that no one noticed where it actually came from. "It would not be surprising if the Iranians planted this for the Saudis in order for this 'egg on their face' moment to happen," Prof. Ryan C. Maness, director of the Department of Defense Information Strategy Research Center at the Naval Postgraduate School, told the Hollywood Reporter. "However, this could have been Saudi propaganda in order for them to justify the actions taken, as they have been purveyors of disinformation for their domestic audiences as well."

If you're wondering, this is what actual fake news looks like. If you're interested in seeing "Severe Clear" for yourself, it's streaming for free on Tubi or available to buy or rent from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and YouTube.

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