Reprinted from Consortium News
Now more than six months after the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine, the refusal of the Obama administration to make public what intelligence evidence it has about who was responsible has created fertile ground for conspiracy theories to take root while reducing hopes for holding the guilty parties accountable.
Given the U.S. government's surveillance capabilities -- from satellite and aerial photographs to telephonic and electronic intercepts to human sources -- American intelligence surely has a good idea what happened on July 17, 2014, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine killing all 298 people on-board.
But the U.S. government has gone largely silent on the subject after its initial rush to judgment pointing fingers at ethnic Russian rebels for allegedly firing the missile and at the Russian government for supposedly supplying a sophisticated Buk anti-aircraft battery capable of bringing down the aircraft at 33,000 feet.
Since that early flurry of unverified charges, only snippets of U.S. and NATO intelligence findings have reached the public -- and last October's interim Dutch investigative report on the cause of the crash indicated that Western governments had not shared crucial information.
The Dutch Safety Board's interim report answered few questions, beyond confirming that MH-17 apparently was destroyed by "high-velocity objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside." Other key questions went begging, such as what to make of the Russian military radar purporting to show a Ukrainian SU-25 jet-fighter in the area, a claim that the Kiev government denied.
Either the Russian radar showed the presence of a jet-fighter "gaining height" as it closed to within three to five kilometers of the passenger plane -- as the Russians claimed in a July 21 press conference -- or it didn't. The Kiev authorities insisted that they had no military aircraft in the area at the time.
But the 34-page Dutch report was silent on the jet-fighter question, although noting that the investigators had received Air Traffic Control "surveillance data from the Russian Federation." The report also was silent on the "dog-not-barking" issue of whether the U.S. government had satellite surveillance that revealed exactly where the supposed ground-to-air missile was launched and who may have fired it.
The Obama administration has asserted knowledge about those facts, but the U.S. government has withheld satellite photos and other intelligence information that could presumably corroborate the charge. Curiously, too, the Dutch report said the investigation received "satellite imagery taken in the days after the occurrence." Obviously, the more relevant images in assessing blame would be aerial photography in the days and hours before the crash.
In mid-July, eastern Ukraine was a high priority for U.S. intelligence and a Buk missile battery is a large system that should have been easily picked up by U.S. aerial reconnaissance. The four missiles in a battery are each about 16-feet-long and would have to be hauled around by a truck and then put in position to fire.
The Dutch report's reference to only post-crash satellite photos was also curious because the Russian military released a number of satellite images purporting to show Ukrainian government Buk missile systems north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk before the attack, including two batteries that purportedly were shifted 50 kilometers south of Donetsk on July 17, the day of the crash, and then removed by July 18.
Russian Lt. Gen. Andrey Kartopolov called on the Ukrainian government to explain the movements of its Buk systems and why Kiev's Kupol-M19S18 radars, which coordinate the flight of Buk missiles, showed increased activity leading up to the July 17 shoot-down.
The Ukrainian government countered these questions by asserting that it had "evidence that the missile which struck the plane was fired by terrorists, who received arms and specialists from the Russian Federation," according to Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, using Kiev's preferred term for the rebels.
Lysenko added: "To disown this tragedy, [Russian officials] are drawing a lot of pictures and maps. We will explore any photos and other plans produced by the Russian side." But Ukrainian authorities have failed to address the Russian evidence except through broad denials.
On July 29, amid escalating rhetoric against Russia from U.S. government officials and the Western news media, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity called on President Obama to release what evidence the U.S. government had on the shoot-down, including satellite imagery.