Seriously, is that it? US national intelligence presented its «evidence» this week on the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Anyone waiting to see a «smoking gun» implicating Russia and pro-Russian militia in eastern Ukraine in the disaster should have been left underwhelmed by the supposed American «killer evidence». Less smoking gun and more like one of those circus pistols that pop out a joke flag emblazoned with the word «Bang!»
The Washington Post – a favoured outlet for US intelligence – published an article on Tuesday with the headline: «US discloses intelligence on downing of Malaysian jet».
The article primes the reader’s expectations: «The Obama administration, detailing what it called evidence of Russian complicity in the downing of a Malaysian airliner, on Tuesday released satellite images and other sensitive intelligence that officials say show Moscow had trained and equipped rebels in Ukraine responsible for the attack».
So what was this knock-out evidence that US officials have over the past week been basing their claims of Russian involvement on? What has underpinned Obama and his Western minion Britain’s David Cameron in their strident calls to slap more economic sanctions on Moscow?
Exhibit A, according to the Post, was a satellite image of «a sprawling Russian military installation near the city of Rostov».
The location is across the border from eastern Ukraine well within Russian territory. It is not verifiable if the published satellite image is actually of the said military installation in Rostov. But even if it is, so what? Is Russia not allowed to have a military base on its own territory?
But the really underwhelming aspect of this supposed «killer» American intelligence is the complete tenuous link to the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 last Thursday in which all 298 civilians on board lost their lives in the crash.
How exactly does an unverified satellite photograph of a military installation in Russian territory supposedly prove anything about the circumstances of the plane’s demise? It doesn’t.
Unless, of course, you work for the Washington Post. The newspaper, with doe-eyed credulity, goes on to tell us – courtesy of US intelligence briefers – that the Rostov military installation is «a hub of training and weapons that has expanded dramatically over the past month… The officials said that tanks, rocket launchers and other arms have continued to flow into Ukraine even after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17«.
That’s unverified hearsay, not evidence, which would not stand up in a court of law. In fact, it would be laughed out of court. It’s simply based on an unquestioning trust on what you are being told, not on what you are being shown.
Then the Post goes on to report that its unnamed US official sources say «the intelligence assembled in the five days since the attack points overwhelmingly to Russian-backed separatists in territory they control in eastern Ukraine».
Again, this is not evidence, just assertion that cannot be verified.
There were some other scraps of «evidence» presented by the Washington Post and its US intelligence handlers. Unverified photographs of rocket launchers being driven along public roads supposedly in eastern Ukraine, and on various social media communications. The latter have been cited as showing that the eastern Ukrainian militia claimed responsibility for shooting down MH17.
With an annual budget of some $100 billion, courtesy of hard pressed US taxpayers, is this the best that American military intelligence can come up with? In the old days of the Cold War we had real spies risking their lives with microdots and arsenic behind enemy lines. Now we have US intel geeks surfing Facebook like millions of other teenage sleuths around the world.
Besides, the so-called audio intercepts and photographs cited by US intelligence have since been shown to be fabrications. Russian audio analysts have reliably debunked the alleged phone calls implicating Ukrainian self-defence militia as cack-handed forgeries, concocted from doctored separate and unrelated phone calls. Yet, the Washington Post and other Western media outlets continue to cite this as «evidence».
In particular, the video and photographs of a Buk M1 anti-aircraft missile launcher, which Western intelligence and mass media claim to show it crossing over the Russian border after the airline crash, turn out to be taken from the town of Krasnoarmeisk – some 100 kilometres from the crash site and in an area under the control of Ukrainian military forces loyal to the Western-backed regime in Kiev. A billboard sign caught in the images inadvertently reveals the real location.
Recall that this latest presentation of «smoking gun facts» from American secret services follows a challenge from Russian army intelligence the day before. On Monday, Lieutenant General AV Kartapolov, the Deputy Chief of General Staff of Armed Forces, requested Washington to makes its case with specific details.
The high-ranking Russian military man – note how his identity is open and verifiable unlike the anonymous US spooks – provided an array of Russian satellite and radar data showing a very different picture from what Washington has been asserting. Russia’s evidence showed that Kiev forces were operating in the area of the crash site with Buk missile launchers, their target radar signals tracking the doomed airliner, and that these launchers were then removed from the vicinity the following day.
This contradicts both what the Kiev regime and American intelligence have been asserting, namely, that pro-Kiev army units did not have Buk anti-aircraft missile systems in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine within firing range of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
Furthermore, the Russian army information shows that a Kiev-controlled SU-25 fighter jet was tailing the airliner just before it disappeared from the radar, and that following the crash another unidentified military aircraft was recorded as circling the crash site, strongly indicating that it was surveilling the aftermath.
What is interesting in all this is that US intelligence appears to be crumbling from its own internal uncertainty. At the same time that the Washington Post was telling its readers of «sensitive intelligence that officials say show Moscow had trained and equipped rebels in Ukraine responsible for the attack» another US intelligence outlet, Radio Free Europe was giving a more hesitant slant.
The RFE report on Tuesday said: «US intelligence officials say they believe pro-Russian rebels probably shot down the Malaysia airliner over eastern Ukraine ‘by mistake’. The officials say no direct link to Russia has been found».
So, on one hand, Russia is implicated, while on the other hand «there is no direct link». That suggests that American intelligence does not have any reliable information to implicate Russia or the Ukrainian rebels.
However, it does not seem credible that the grainy satellite imagery presented so far of the Russian military base in Rostov is the best or the only intelligence that Washington has on the whole matter. As Russian army intelligence disclosed this week, a US space satellite was passing the crash location at the time of the airliner going down. It seems incredible that the US does not have any images of what really happened on that horrific Thursday afternoon. Unless of course, the US is deliberately suppressing that information to suit a preordained narrative, aimed precisely at trying to implicate Russia over the disaster.
More sinisterly, the with-held US intelligence may support what Russia is beginning to disclose – that Malaysia Airlines MH17 was in fact attacked by pro-Kiev forces. If that is the case and US intelligence is found to be covering up then the incriminating links to Washington will be explosive.
From smoking gun to silver bullet, but in the wrong direction – Washington.