Obama should release MH-17 intel

Memorandum for the President

by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

A year ago, the U.S. government issued a sketchy report on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down citing “social media” and other flimsy data implicating eastern Ukrainian rebels and Russia, but then – as hard intelligence became available – went silent. Now, U.S. intelligence veterans are demanding release of that intel.
    It has been a year since the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, resulting in the death of 298 passengers and crew. The initial response by the U.S. government supported the contention that the likely perpetrators were anti-government forces in southeastern Ukraine (the customary media misnomer for them is “separatists”), and that they were possibly aided directly by Moscow.
    On July 29, 2014, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) suggested that the United States government report publicly what intelligence it actually had relating to the shoot-down lest the incident turn into another paroxysm of blaming Russia without cause. We are still waiting for that report.

Tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine are fast reaching a danger point. A major contributing factor in the American public’s negative perception of Moscow is last year’s downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
A public report detailing the investigation of the incident by the Dutch Safety authorities is expected by October but the draft is reportedly already in the hands of the United States government. There is speculation that the report will dovetail with media and leaked government sources that have placed primary blame on the ethnic Russian Ukrainians in southeastern Ukraine opposed to the government put in place after the Western-engineered coup of Feb. 22, 2014, in Kiev.
As the relationship with Moscow is of critical importance, if only because Russia has the military might to destroy the US, careful calibration of the relationship is essential. If the United States signs on to a conclusion that implicates Russia without any solid intelligence to support that contention it will further damage an already fractious bilateral relationship, almost certainly unnecessarily. It is our opinion that a proper investigation of the downing would involve exploring every possibility to determine how the evidence holds up.
Currently, the only thing the American public and worldwide audiences know for sure is that the plane was shot down. But the shoot-down might have been accidental, carried out by any one of a number of parties. Or it might have been orchestrated by anti-government forces, with Moscow either conniving in some way in that action or not. It is also possible that the downing was deliberately carried out by the Kiev government or one of Ukraine’s powerful oligarchs to implicate the anti-Kiev forces and Russia in this mass murder. And finally, though less likely, it might even be that based on the available intelligence it is impossible to determine who did it.
In light of the high stakes involved both in terms of our extremely important relationship with Russia as well as in establishing a trustworthy narrative that does credit to the White House, the failure of the Administration to issue a coordinated intelligence assessment summarizing what evidence exists to determine who was responsible is therefore puzzling. If the United States government knows who carried out the attack on the plane it should produce the evidence. If it does not know, it should say so.
In what follows, we former intelligence professionals with a cumulative total of some 360 years in various parts of U.S. intelligence provide our perspective on the issue and request for a second time that the intelligence over the downing be made public to counter the fuzzy and flimsy evidence that has over the past year been served up – some of it based on “social media.”

The Russian dimension

It would not be the first time for a tragic incident to be exploited for propaganda reasons with potentially grave consequences. We refer to the behavior of the Reagan administration in the immediate aftermath of the shoot-down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Siberia on August 30, 1983.1
Hours after the tragic shoot-down on August 30, 1983, the Reagan administration used its very accomplished propaganda machine to manage a narrative emphasizing Soviet culpability for deliberately killing all 269 people aboard KAL-007 in full knowledge that it was a civilian airliner. In reality, the airliner had been shot down after it strayed hundreds of miles off course and penetrated Russia’s airspace over sensitive military facilities in Kamchatka and Sakhalin Island. The Soviet pilot tried to signal the plane to land, but the KAL pilots did not respond to the repeated warnings. Amid confusion about the plane’s identity – a U.S. spy plane had been in the vicinity hours earlier – Soviet ground control ordered the pilot to fire.
The Soviets soon realized they had made a horrendous mistake. U.S. intelligence also knew from sensitive intercepts that the tragedy had resulted from a blunder, not from a willful act of murder (much as on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people, an act which President Ronald Reagan dismissively explained as an “understandable accident”).
The story of KAL-007 should come to mind when considering the fate of MH-17. There might be legitimate reasons for opposing the increasingly authoritarian government of President Vladimir Putin, but exploiting a tragedy does not equate to constructive statecraft for dealing with an adversary.
At a minimum, the White House and State Department one year ago displayed unseemly haste in deciding to be first out of the starting gate with a narrative implicating Russia, at least indirectly – a narrative that may not be based on fact. That twelve months have passed and there has been no effort made to either correct or amplify the record is unacceptable.

Someone is lying

Both Russia and Ukraine deny any active role in the MH-17 shoot down. So do the anti-coup forces in southeastern Ukraine. Someone knows something and is lying to conceal a role in the incident. From the U.S. perspective what happened needs to be clarified and become a matter of public record. No other nation has the resources that the U.S. had to come up with an evidence-based answer; and intelligence collection and analysis are the tools that must be used. The information released to date does not bear close scrutiny; it does not permit an informed judgment as to who is lying about the shoot-down of Flight 17.
One year ago today, National Intelligence Director James Clapper authorized a background briefing including some sketchy talking points in a very short “Government Assessment” for selected mainstream journalists. It was just five days after the shoot-down and two days after Secretary of State Kerry pointed the finger of blame at anti-coup Ukrainians and Russia. Understandably, corroboration was being sought.
Like Kerry’s presentations on the Sunday talk shows of July 20, 2014, however, much of the “Government Assessment” was derived from postings on “social media.” The July 22, 2014 briefing addressed, inconclusively, the key issue of who fired the Buk anti-aircraft missile widely believed to have downed the airliner on July 17, 2014.
No update to that five-day-after “Government Assessment” has been provided over the past year. Are we asked to believe that one year later the intelligence community still cannot adduce evidence that goes beyond insinuation regarding the Buk missile?
The July 22, 2014 briefing also suggested that the missile might have been fired by a Ukrainian “defector.” Has there been no clarification on that point? It is, frankly, very hard for us to believe that the U.S. intelligence community has been unable to expand its understanding of these key issues over the past year.
To be sure, there has long been a tendency in Washington to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” to quote the Downing Street memo relating to the inglorious start of the Iraq War. More recently, we note the claim repeatedly made by Secretary of State John Kerry on August 30, 2013, that “we know” the regime of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical incidents near Damascus nine days before.
In that case, Kerry also cited a “Government Assessment” to support his charges.  We saw the introduction of this unique genre of “assessment,” instead of the normally required “Intelligence Assessment,” as evidence that honest intelligence analysts were refusing to go along with the preferred narrative. In fact, Kerry’s accusations turned out to have been based on false and even fabricated intelligence provided by opponents of the Syrian government.

Choosing to reveal the truth

If the White House has concrete, probative intelligence regarding MH-17, we strongly suggest that the time is right to approve it for release before the “blame Russia” narrative becomes completely dominant. The American people are perfectly capable of judging for themselves what took place but they need to have all the information presented without bias and without any attempt to evade unpleasant conclusions. And it should be done even given the risk of compromising “sources and methods,” as the broader issue of war or peace with Russia is something that should be of paramount concern to every American.
What is needed is an Interagency Intelligence Assessment – the mechanism used in the past to present significant findings. We are hearing indirectly from some of our former colleagues that the draft Dutch report contradicts some of the real intelligence that has been collected. Resorting to another “Government (not Intelligence) Assessment” to sidestep the accountability issue is not appropriate and is itself an insult to the integrity and professionalism of the intelligence community.
Mr. President, we believe you need to seek out honest intelligence analysts now and hear them out, particularly if they are challenging or even opposing the prevailing groupthink narrative. They might well convince you to take steps to deal more forthrightly with the shoot-down of MH-17 and minimize the risk that relations with Russia might degenerate into a replay of the Cold War with the threat of escalation into thermonuclear conflict. In all candor, we suspect that at least some of your advisers fail to appreciate the enormity of that danger.
The courtesy of a reply is requested.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, National Security Agency

Daniel Ellsberg, former State Department and Defense Department Official (VIPS Associate)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003

Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)

Coleen Rowley, Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)

Peter Van Buren, US Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret.); Foreign Service Officer (resigned)

 

1    The original English text evidently refers to the flight departure time in New York respectively to the local time.

Source: https://consortiumnews.com/2015/07/22/obama-should-release-mh-17-intel/

Crash of Malaysia Airlines MH-17 – Statement of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Documentation
 
cc. In a vote of the Security Council on 29 July 2015, the representative of the Russian Federation, Vitaly Churkin, rejected to commission an International Criminal Court with investigations about the crash of the flight MH-17 of the Malaysia Airlines via Ukraine. In most Western media this voting behaviour was sharply criticised without putting forward the arguments of the Russian government appropriately. For information we are therefore documenting our readers with a statement by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, which illustrates the position of the Russian government. The keypoints were already published some days before 29 July by different embassies of the Russian Federation.
We express our deepest condolences to the relatives of all 283 passengers and 15 crew members – victims of this dreadful tragedy.

  • We condemn the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 by unidentified individuals and confirm our position in favor of the inevitability of punishment for having committed this criminal act once the investigation is completed.
  • We consider the issue of establishing an international tribunal concerning the MH-17 catastrophe to be premature and counterproductive. We are convinced that UNSC Resolution 2166 remains the only basis – acceptable to all – for international cooperation in the interests of an independent and transparent investigation of downing the Malaysian airliner. We call for a return to the legal framework of this Resolution and for the full implementation of the investigation mechanisms provided for in this document.
  • Russia is interested in a thorough and objective international investigation of the catastrophe of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17. We do not see this happening at the moment. This is due in part to the fact that Russia has been barred from any substantive participation in the investigation (the involvement of the Russian representative has been purely nominal and has not resulted in his opinion, and the data presented by Russia, being taken into account). Russia has been intentionally excluded from required objective standards of “transparency” by those who conducted the investigation – for example, Russian specialists were essentially denied full and equitable access to the materials which were in the possession of the Joint Investigation Team. The Ukrainian side has refused, up to this moment, to make public the recording of the air-traffic controllers radio exchange with the pilots of Flight MH-17.
  • Russia has been insisting on making the investigation transparent to the fullest possible degree, first of all, with respect to the UN Security Council. We have proposed discussing the course of the investigation in the Council, so as to find answers to the most obvious questions (a list of such questions was distributed by Russia to the Council in 2014). There has been no reaction to these proposals from members of the Council.
  • We are forced to conclude that UNSC Resolution 2166, which set out clear and professionally founded requirements for investigating the MH-17 catastrophe, has not been implemented.
  • There are many serious questions concerning the organization and conduct of the investigation. Russia’s numerous calls for making use of the UN Security Council to monitor the implementation of UNSC Resolution 2166 have been consistently ignored. The investigation is being conducted without due observance of international aviation standards and without recognition of the key role of ICAO in such matters.
  • We are surprised by the fact that the members of the Joint Investigation Team have not undertaken preparatory work on the basis of UNSC Resolution 2166 and have not discussed with the Council their plan of further actions. Instead, they have tabled a far-reaching draft resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. UNSC Resolution 2166 does not qualify the downing of the plane as a threat to international peace and security. The tragedy, though horrifying and tragic, was an isolated act of a criminal nature. Thus a trial could be organized on the basis of either national, international or mixed law. In any case, this matter does not fall within the Security Council’s purview.
  • Russia is surprised by the proposal of adopting – literally within a number of days – such a fundamental decision, without even discussing any other possible options.
  • Despite the provisions of UNSC Resolution 2166, the UN Secretary-General has not identified and submitted to the Council possible options for United Nations support to the investigation.
  • Since the day of the disaster we have been witnessing a powerful information attack on our country in international media and fora (including the UNSC). It has been groundlessly claimed that Russia or “separatists controlled by Russia” were responsible for the downing of Flight MH-17. Such irresponsible and unproven statements are being issued up to this moment. Their aim is to negatively influence the media background surrounding the investigation. We consider such statements and unfounded accusations as an attempt to dissimulate the true facts concerning the catastrophe and to cover up the identities of the true perpetrators of the crime.
  • UNSC practice shows that the mere principle of establishing international judicial mechanisms by a decision of the Council has become a subject of serious and robust criticism by many countries and the international legal expert community. The practice of the existing international tribunals – the ICTY (former Yugoslavia) and ICTR (Rwanda) – confirm the validity of such skepticism. The activities of these two judicial organs are costly, inefficient and slow. Their decisions are highly politicized. They have not been able to finish their work – for over two decades – with acceptable results.
  • Up to this moment there has been no precedent in creating an international tribunal for bringing to justice those who were accused of perpetrating an act of violence against a civilian airliner: not when a Russian airliner belonging to the Air Company “Sibir” was shot down in 2001 by Ukrainian armed forces over the Black Sea; not when the American Navy destroyed Iran Air Flight IR-655 over the Persian Gulf on July 3rd 1988; not after Pan American Flight PA103 was blown up as a result of a terrorist act over Lockerbie in 1988 ort “Cubana de Aviacion” Flight CU-455 – over Barbados in 1976; not after Libyan Arab Airlines Flight LN-114 was shot down as a result of Israeli air force action in 1973. No international tribunals were created in other similar circumstances.
  • The haste in pushing the adoption of a resolution and its extended scope of reference seem to indicate that the UN Security Council is being used to find a pretext for using the MH-17 tragedy to organize a “trial” over Russia on the Ukrainian dossier.
  • In view of the above Russia will not engage in textual work on the draft resolution on the establishment of an international tribunal or its proposed draft Charter. At the same time we hope that our partners will understand our position and support completion of the investigation in a transparent manner which would provide a solid basis for a subsequent identification of a suitable trial formula.

Source: Statement of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation