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MH-17: The Dog Still Not Barking

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Reprinted from Consortium News


The Dutch Safety Board report concludes that an older model Buk missile apparently shot down Malaysia Airline Flight 17 on July 17, 2014, but doesn't say who possessed the missile and who fired it. Yet, what is perhaps most striking about the report is what's not there -- nothing from the U.S. intelligence data on the tragedy.

The dog still not barking is the absence of evidence from U.S. spy satellites and other intelligence sources that Secretary of State John Kerry insisted just three days after the shoot-down pinpointed where the missile was fired, an obviously important point in determining who fired it.

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On July 20, 2014, Kerry declared on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar."

But such U.S. government information is not mentioned in the 279-page Dutch report, which focused on the failure to close off the eastern Ukrainian war zone to commercial flights and the cause of the crash rather than who fired on MH-17. A Dutch criminal investigation is still underway with the goal of determining who was responsible but without any sign of an imminent conclusion.

I was told by a U.S. intelligence source earlier this year that CIA analysts had met with Dutch investigators to describe what the classified U.S. evidence showed but apparently with the caveat that it must remain secret.

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Last year, another source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me they had concluded that a rogue element of the Ukrainian government -- tied to one of the oligarchs -- was responsible for the shoot-down, while absolving senior Ukrainian leaders including President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. But I wasn't able to determine if this U.S. analysis was a consensus or a dissident opinion.

Last October, Der Spiegel reported that German intelligence, the BND, concluded that the Russian government was not the source of the missile battery -- that it had been captured from a Ukrainian military base -- but the BND blamed the ethnic Russian rebels for firing it. However, a European source told me that the BND's analysis was not as conclusive as Der Spiegel had described.

The Dutch report, released Tuesday, did little to clarify these conflicting accounts but did agree with an analysis by the Russian manufacturer of the Buk anti-aircraft missile systems that the shrapnel and pieces of the missile recovered from the MH-17 crash site came from the 9M38 series, representing an older, now discontinued Buk version.

The report said: "The damage observed on the wreckage in amount of damage, type of damage, boundary and impact angles of damage, number and density of hits, size of penetrations and bowtie fragments found in the wreckage, is consistent with the damage caused by the 9N314M warhead used in the 9M38 and 9M38M1 BUK surface-to-air missile."

Last June, Almaz-Antey, the Russian manufacturer which also provided declassified information about the Buk systems to the Dutch, said its analysis of the plane's wreckage revealed that MH-17 had been attacked by a "9M38M1 of the Buk M1 system." The company's Chief Executive Officer Yan Novikov said the missile was last produced in 1999.

Who Has This Missile?

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The Russian government has insisted that it no longer uses the 9M38 version. According to the Russian news agency TASS, former deputy chief of the Russian army air defense Alexander Luzan said the suspect warhead was phased out of Russia's arsenal 15 years ago when Russia began using the 9M317 model.

"The 9M38, 9M38M, 9M38M1 missiles are former modifications of the Buk system missiles, but they all have the same warhead. They are not in service with the Russian Armed Forces, but Ukraine has them," Luzan said.

"Based on the modification and type of the used missile, as well as its location, this Buk belongs to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. By the way, Ukraine had three military districts -- the Carpathian, Odessa and Kiev, and these three districts had more than five Buk anti-aircraft missile brigades of various modifications -- Buk, Buk-M, Buk-M1, which means that there were more than 100 missile vehicles there."

But Luzan's account would not seem to rule out the possibility that some older Buk versions might have gone into storage in some Russian warehouse. It is common practice for intelligence services, including the CIA, to give older, surplus equipment to insurgents as a way to create more deniability if questions are ever raised about the source of the weapons.

For its part, the Ukrainian government claimed to have sold its stockpile of older Buks to Georgia, but Ukraine appears to still possess the 9M38 Buk system, based on photographs of Ukrainian weapons displays. Prior to the MH-17 crash, ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine were reported to have captured a Buk system after over-running a government air base, but Ukrainian authorities said the system was not operational, as recounted in the Dutch report. The rebels also denied possessing a functioning Buk system.

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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 secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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