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What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine?

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

Russian-made Buk anti-missile battery.
Russian-made Buk anti-missile battery.
(image by
Consortium News)

In the heat of the U.S. media's latest war hysteria -- rushing to pin blame for the crash of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet on Russia's President Vladimir Putin -- there is the same absence of professional skepticism that has marked similar stampedes on Iraq, Syria and elsewhere -- with key questions not being asked or answered.

The dog-not-barking question on the catastrophe over Ukraine is: what did the U.S. surveillance satellite imagery show? It's hard to believe that -- with the attention that U.S. intelligence has concentrated on eastern Ukraine for the past half year that the alleged trucking of several large Buk anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia to Ukraine and then back to Russia didn't show up somewhere.

Yes, there are limitations to what U.S. spy satellites can see. But the Buk missiles are about 16 feet long and they are usually mounted on trucks or tanks. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 also went down during the afternoon, not at night, meaning the missile battery was not concealed by darkness.

So why hasn't this question of U.S. spy-in-the-sky photos -- and what they reveal -- been pressed by the major U.S. news media? How can the Washington Post run front-page stories, such as the one on Sunday with the definitive title "U.S. official: Russia gave systems," without demanding from these U.S. officials details about what the U.S. satellite images disclose?

Instead, the Post's Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung wrote from Kiev:

"The United States has confirmed that Russia supplied sophisticated missile launchers to separatists in eastern Ukraine and that attempts were made to move them back across the Russian border after the Thursday shoot-down of a Malaysian jetliner, a U.S. official said Saturday.

"'We do believe they were trying to move back into Russia at least three Buk [missile launch] systems,' the official said. U.S. intelligence was 'starting to get indications ... a little more than a week ago' that the Russian launchers had been moved into Ukraine, said the official... whose identity was withheld by the Post so the official would discuss intelligence matters."

But catch the curious vagueness of the official's wording: "we do believe"; "starting to get indications." Are we supposed to believe -- and perhaps more relevant, do the Washington Post writers actually believe -- that the U.S. government with the world's premier intelligence services can't track three lumbering trucks each carrying large mid-range missiles?

What I've been told by one source, who has provided accurate information on similar matters in the past, is that U.S. intelligence agencies do have detailed satellite images of the likely missile battery that launched the fateful missile, but the battery appears to have been under the control of Ukrainian government troops dressed in what look like Ukrainian uniforms.

The source said CIA analysts were still not ruling out the possibility that the troops were actually eastern Ukrainian rebels in similar uniforms but the initial assessment was that the troops were Ukrainian soldiers. There also was the suggestion that the soldiers involved were undisciplined and possibly drunk, since the imagery showed what looked like beer bottles scattered around the site, the source said.

Instead of pressing for these kinds of details, the U.S. mainstream press has simply passed on the propaganda coming from the Ukrainian government and the U.S. State Department, including hyping the fact that the Buk system is "Russian-made," a rather meaningless fact that gets endlessly repeated.

However, to use the "Russian-made" point to suggest that the Russians must have been involved in the shoot-down is misleading at best and clearly designed to influence ill-informed Americans. As the Post and other news outlets surely know, the Ukrainian military also operates Russian-made military systems, including Buk anti-aircraft batteries, so the manufacturing origin has no probative value here.

Relying on the Ukraine Regime

Much of the rest of the known case against Russia comes from claims made by the Ukrainian regime, which emerged from the unconstitutional coup d'etat against elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22. His overthrow followed months of mass protests, but the actual coup was spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias that overran government buildings and forced Yanukovych's officials to flee.

In recognition of the key role played by the neo-Nazis, who are ideological descendants of Ukrainian militias that collaborated with the Nazi SS in World War II, the new regime gave these far-right nationalists control of several ministries, including the office of national security which is under the command of longtime neo-Nazi activist Andriy Parubiy. [See's "Ukraine, Through the US Looking Glass."]

It was this same Parubiy whom the Post writers turned to seeking more information condemning the eastern Ukrainian rebels and the Russians regarding the Malaysia Airlines catastrophe. Parubiy accused the rebels in the vicinity of the crash site of destroying evidence and conducting a cover-up, another theme that resonated through the MSM.

Without bothering to inform readers of Parubiy's unsavory neo-Nazi background, the Post quoted him as a reliable witness declaring: "It will be hard to conduct a full investigation with some of the objects being taken away, but we will do our best."

In contrast to Parubiy's assurances, the Kiev regime actually has a terrible record of telling the truth or pursuing serious investigations of human rights crimes. Still left open are questions about the identity of snipers who on Feb. 20 fired on both police and protesters at the Maidan, touching off the violent escalation that led to Yanukovych's ouster. Also, the Kiev regime has failed to ascertain the facts about the death-by-fire of scores of ethnic Russians in the Trade Union Building in Odessa on May 2. [See's "Burning Ukraine's Protesters Alive."]

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at more...)

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Alarming news: "Rebels move corpses from site; Reb... by Ethan Hollow on Sunday, Jul 20, 2014 at 11:12:07 PM
Ethan, you almost make me believe in parallel univ... by John Dalton on Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 8:40:08 PM
LIES! ... by Trevor Storm on Thursday, Jul 24, 2014 at 6:11:34 PM
BUK M1-2 TELAR (Transport Erect Launch Aquisiton R... by Ethan Hollow on Sunday, Jul 20, 2014 at 11:21:59 PM
Not exactly. Range of TELAR without any support v... by John Dalton on Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:35:19 PM
MORE LIES! ... by Trevor Storm on Thursday, Jul 24, 2014 at 6:12:13 PM
30+km is within the capability of a fully-deployed... by Ethan Hollow on Sunday, Jul 20, 2014 at 11:35:04 PM
"Fourteen OSCE observers have been working at the ... by Ethan Hollow on Sunday, Jul 20, 2014 at 11:41:19 PM
This is the most important story in the United Sta... by Michael Collins on Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 3:16:40 AM
The Russian Defence Ministry briefing this AM comp... by Paul from Potomac on Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 11:54:28 AM
So Kerry said separatists did it.Russian Defense M... by John Dalton on Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:51:14 PM
The Russian Defence Ministry briefing this morning... by Paul from Potomac on Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 12:15:09 PM
Hmm. It reminded me of the movie Jagged Edge wher... by John Dalton on Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 12:04:01 AM
I'm glad that State finally revealed their "data... by Paul from Potomac on Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 7:06:15 AM
You have got to be kidding!!! And THIS is whatgets... by christopher diamant on Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 2:44:16 PM
From Christopher's bio:" My writing career began w... by Jim Arnold on Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 9:14:01 PM
I am savvy enough after fourteen years of bullshi*... by Sandra Parson on Monday, Jul 21, 2014 at 6:42:09 PM
So far U.S./Ukr "proof" of Russian involvement is ... by Doug Robertson on Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 2:47:49 AM
"What I've been told by one source, who has provid... by BFalcon on Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 9:32:56 AM
I am waiting to see what the black boxes, now in t... by Michael David Morrissey on Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 at 12:49:37 PM
The Malays turned the boxes over to the Brits. The... by Paul from Potomac on Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 11:40:10 AM
Paul,I fully understand Your feelings, but sorry, ... by Guglielmo Tell on Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 6:09:19 PM
Flightaware has changed his flightdata on MH17, li... by Raymundo Hooten on Thursday, Jul 24, 2014 at 3:25:31 AM
You're missing the REAL most likely explanation of... by Trevor Storm on Saturday, Jul 26, 2014 at 9:13:12 AM
I think there is a lot of data here but hard to ve... by crispy on Sunday, Jul 27, 2014 at 8:49:10 AM