Reprinted from Consortium News
A Malaysia Airways' Boeing 777 like the one that crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
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The Dutch-led investigation into the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 relies heavily on information provided by the Ukrainian security service and operates primarily from a field office in Kiev, despite the fact that Ukraine should be a principal suspect in the mystery of who was responsible for killing 298 people.
The cozy relationship between the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the Ukrainian government's secret service emerges from a report presented to Dutch families of MH-17 victims in the last few days, a portion of which was made available to me.
What was perhaps most startling in the breezy travelogue-style "e-zine" report was how dependent the investigation has become on data supplied by Ukraine's security and intelligence service, the SBU, which also is an active participant in the war against ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and is responsible for protecting state secrets.
Yet, according to the report, the SBU has helped shape the MH-17 investigation by supplying a selection of phone intercepts and other material that would presumably not include sensitive secrets that would implicate the SBU's political masters in Ukraine. But the JIT report seems oblivious to this obvious conflict of interest, saying:
"Since the first week of September 2014, investigating officers from The Netherlands and Australia have worked here [in Kiev]. They work in close cooperation here with the Security and Investigation Service of the Ukraine (SBU). Immediately after the crash, the SBU provided access to large numbers of tapped telephone conversations and other data. ...
"At first rather formal, cooperation with the SBU became more and more flexible. 'In particular because of the data analysis, we were able to prove our added value', says [Dutch police official Gert] Van Doorn. 'Since then, we notice in all kinds of ways that they deal with us in an open way. They share their questions with us and think along as much as they can.'"
The JIT report continued: "With the tapped telephone conversations from SBU, there are millions of printed lines with metadata, for example, about the cell tower used, the duration of the call and the corresponding telephone numbers. The investigating officers sort out this data and connect it to validate the reliability of the material.
"When, for example, person A calls person B, it must be possible to also find this conversation on the line from person B to person A. When somebody mentions a location, that should also correlate with the cell tower location that picked up the signal. If these cross-checks do not tally, then further research is necessary.
"By now, the investigators are certain about the reliability of the material. 'After intensive investigation, the material seems to be very sound,' says Van Doorn, 'that also contributed to the mutual trust.'"
So, despite the fact that some "cross-checks do not tally" and require "further research," the JIT has decided that the SBU's material is "very sound" and underpins a "mutual trust."
Another personnel concern is that the long assignments of investigators in Kiev over a period of almost two years could create compromising situations, especially considering Kiev's reputation as a European hotbed for prostitution and sex tourism as well as the possibility of less transactional human interaction.
According to the JIT report, four investigating officers from Australia are stationed in Kiev on three-month rotations while Dutch police rotate in two teams of about five people each for a period of a "fortnight," or two weeks.
The Russian Buk missile system
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The relative isolation of the Australian investigators further adds to their dependence on their Ukrainian hosts. According to the report, "The Australian investigators find themselves a 26-hour flight away from their home country and have to deal with a large time difference. 'For us Australians, it is more difficult to get into contact with our home base, which is why our operation is quite isolated in Kiev,' says [Andrew] Donoghoe," a senior investigating officer from the Australian Federal Police.