In Background, Digest, Malaysia Airlines crash, Robert Parry, Ukraine

Introduction by website editors, July 21, 2014

Two articles by Robert Parry of Consortium News, published on July 20 and 21, raise serious concerns and doubts about the integrity of a needed, thorough and impartial inquiry into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 crash site, screenshot image frmo The GuardianParry’s article today slams U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for a “reckless rush to judgement” as voiced by Kerry on the Sunday, July 20 television talk show circuit in the United States. Parry writes, “[Kerry] essentially dictated the outcome of an inquiry that risks pushing the world into a new and dangerous Cold War.”

And in an article on July 20, Parry writes, “In the recent past, this sort of sloppy American journalism has led to mass slaughters in Iraq – and has contributed to near U.S. wars on Syria and Iran – but now the stakes are much higher… this sort of recklessness is careening the world toward a very dangerous moment, conceivably its last.

The July 20 article raises serious questions about why the U.S. is not providing satellite imagery or other evidence of what missile systems, exactly, were present in Ukraine and who was controlling them. “Instead of pressing for these kinds of details, the U.S. mainstream press has simply passed on the propaganda coming from the Ukrainian government and the U.S. State Department, including hyping the fact that the Buk system is “Russian-made”, a rather meaningless fact that gets endlessly repeated.”

Two other articles that provide important context to events have appeared recently in The Guardian:
* Punishing Russia for the MH17 tragedy will not help Ukraine, by Oliver
Bullough, The Guardian, July 20, 2014
* MH17 and its aftermath: ‘ordinary Russians are horrified and
frightened’
, by Natalia Antonova, The Guardian, July 19, 2014

* * *

Kerry’s latest reckless rush to judgment

By Robert Parry, Consortium News, Monday, July 21, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry boasts that as a former prosecutor, he knows he has a strong case against the eastern Ukrainian rebels and their backers in Russia in pinning last Thursday’s shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on them, even without the benefit of a formal investigation.

During his five rounds of appearances on Sunday talk shows, Kerry did what a judge might condemn as “prejudicing the case” or “poisoning the jury pool.” In effect, Kerry made a fair “trial” almost impossible, what a bar association might cite in beginning debarment proceedings against prosecutor Kerry.

But what Kerry did was actually much worse. He essentially dictated the outcome of an inquiry that risks pushing the world into a new and dangerous Cold War. With his didactic – all-tell-no-show – presentation of the “evidence,” Kerry made any objective assessment of the actual evidence nearly impossible, certainly for U.S. government investigators and even for many international officials whose jobs often depend on the goodwill of the United States.

If you were, say, a U.S. intelligence analyst sifting through the evidence and finding that some leads went off in a different direction, toward the Ukrainian army, for instance, you might hold back on your conclusions, knowing that crossing senior officials who had already pronounced the verdict could be devastating to your career. It would make a lot more sense to just deep-six any contrary evidence. Indeed, one of the lessons from the disastrous Iraq War was the danger of enforced “group think” inside Official Washington. Once senior officials have made clear how they want an assessment to come out, mid-level officials scramble to make the bosses happy.

If Kerry had cared about finding the truth about this tragedy that claimed the lives of 298 people, he would have simply noted that the investigation was just beginning and that it would be wrong to speculate based on the few scraps of information available. Instead he couldn’t resist establishing a narrative that has – in the eyes of the world – made Russian President Vladimir Putin the guilty party.

Kerry’s TV performance recalled his rush to judgment in blaming the Syrian government for a still-mysterious sarin gas attack last Aug. 21. In both instances, the Secretary of State stitched together circumstantial evidence around the repeated refrain, “we know.”

However, in the Syrian case, much of what Kerry claimed to “know” later turned out to be false. Yet, relying on this unreliable “evidence,” Kerry pushed the United States to the edge of a major bombing campaign before President Barack Obama pulled back and – with the aid of President Putin – reached a compromise that avoided another U.S. war and got Syria to surrender its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “John Kerry’s Sad Circle to Deceit.”]

But Kerry apparently learned no lesson from the Syrian fiasco, nor from getting snookered by President George W. Bush in 2002 about Iraq’s non-existent WMDs, nor from the pattern of U.S. government deceptions that dispatched him and millions of other young Americans into the jungles of Vietnam in the 1960s. [For more on that, see Consortiumnews.com’s “What’s the Matter with John Kerry?”]

Back on the high horse

On Sunday, Kerry was off again on his high horse, charging beyond the bounds of any serious evidence or investigation to leave little doubt who should be found guilty regarding Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 which was shot down by a missile over war-torn eastern Ukraine. Though one of the natural suspects would be the Ukrainian military, Kerry only focused on the ethnic Russian rebels and Moscow.

During his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with David Gregory, Kerry said, “Let me tell you what we know at this point, David, because it tells you a lot about what is going on. In the last month, we have observed major supplies moving in.

“Several weeks ago, about 150-vehicle convoy, including armored personnel carriers, tanks, rocket launches, artillery all going in and being transferred to the separatists. We know that they had an SA-11 system in the vicinity literally hours before the shoot-down took place. There are social media records of that. They were talking, and we have the intercepts of their conversations talking about the transfer and movement and repositioning of the SA-11 system.

“The social media showed them with this system moving through the very area where we believe the shoot-down took place hours before it took place. Social media – which is an extraordinary tool, obviously, in all of this – has posted recordings of a separatist bragging about the shoot-down of a plane at the time, right after it took place.

“The defense minister, so-called self-appointed of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, Mr. Igor Strelkov, actually posted a bragging statement on the social media about having shot down a transport. And then when it became apparent it was civilian, they quickly removed that particular posting. We –“

David Gregory: “Are you bottom-lining here that Russia provided the weapon?”

Kerry: “There’s a story today confirming that, but we have not within the Administration made a determination. But it’s pretty clear when – there’s a build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence. I’m a former prosecutor. I’ve tried cases on circumstantial evidence; it’s powerful here.

“But even more importantly, 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. We also know from voice identification that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterwards.”

Gregory: “Right.”

Kerry: “So there’s a stacking-up of evidence here which Russia needs to help account for. We are not drawing the final conclusion here, but there is a lot that points at the need for Russia to be responsible. And what President Obama believes and we, the international community, join in believing, all, everybody is convinced we must have unfettered access. And the lack of access – the lack of access, David, makes its own statement about culpability and responsibility.”

Yet, like the case with Syria, Kerry presented no verifiable proof from the U.S. government, no images of the 150-vehicle convoy, no support for the claims about the rebels possessing the SA-11 Buk system (beyond allusions to “social media”), no countervailing information about the Buk systems possessed by the Ukrainian military, no effort to allow for contrary explanations for comments made during the confusion that followed the crash within a disorganized rebel organization that has poor command and control, no demands for cooperation from the Kiev regime.

Also, there was no explanation for why Kerry’s statements were at variance with public remarks by senior U.S. military personnel. For instance, the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported on Saturday that Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, U.S. commander of NATO forces in Europe, said last month that “We have not seen any of the [Russian] air-defense vehicles across the border yet.”

Whitlock also reported that “Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said defense officials could not point to specific evidence that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system had been transported from Russia into eastern Ukraine.”

Of course, the only skepticism expressed by NBC’s Gregory was over why the Obama administration hadn’t jumped to the conclusion of Russian guilt even faster. Instead of citing the contradictory information in Whitlock’s article, Gregory cited a belligerent Post editorial.

Gregory: “The Washington Post has editorialized this weekend what was missing from the President’s comments when he spoke out on Friday was a clear moral conclusion about the regime of Vladimir Putin or an articulation of how the United States will respond. What about it? … Call Vladimir Putin what he is. What is the threat that he and Russia present to the United States and to the West?”

When Kerry’s response wasn’t bellicose enough, Gregory egged him on:

“But I detect in your words, Mr. Secretary, some reluctance to make this a one-on-one battle. You want to give Russia a little bit more room here. But the question is still about consequences.”

One-sided reporting

There also was nothing in the interview about the shared responsibility for the nasty civil war gripping Ukraine; nothing about the reckless U.S. support for the neo-Nazi spearheaded overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, just a day after he had signed an agreement with three European nations to reduce his powers and hold early elections. Instead of supporting that deal, Kerry’s State Department immediately embraced the coup regime as “legitimate.”

Though the Ukraine reality is complex and murky – with blame on both sides – Official Washington’s narrative has been black-and-white: the western Ukrainians, including a significant number of neo-Nazis who trace their ideology back to Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, are the good guys and the ethnic Russians from eastern Ukrainians are the bad guys, with Vladimir Putin the baddest of the bad guys.

A less biased journalist than David Gregory might have asked Kerry if he thought that Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko was wise in terminating a partial ceasefire in late June and launching a brutal offensive against the towns and cities of rebellious eastern Ukraine. That fighting was the context for the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines plane.

But the immediate pressing issue should be to determine who fired the missile that brought down the plane. If indeed Russia recklessly provided the rebels this high-powered anti-aircraft weapon, whoever approved that transfer should be held accountable along with the rebels who fired it, even if the Boeing 777 was mistakenly identified as a military aircraft.

Similarly, if elements of the Ukrainian military fired the missile – possibly thinking the plane was a Russian reconnaissance flight on its way back to Russia – then a thorough investigation should determine who in that chain of command was responsible.

I was told by one source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts that some satellite images suggest that the missile battery was under the control of Ukrainian government troops but that their conclusion was not definitive.

Which is why Kerry’s outbursts on Sunday could be so harmful to any pursuit of the truth. By clearly pointing the finger of guilt away from the Kiev regime and toward Moscow, Kerry has made it much harder for any intelligence analyst to assess the evidence without fear of some painful consequences.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

 

What did U.S. spy satellites see in Ukraine?

By Robert Parry, Consortium News, July 20, 201

Exclusive: The U.S. media’s Ukraine bias has been obvious, siding with the Kiev regime and bashing ethnic Russian rebels and Russia’s President Putin. But now – with the scramble to blame Putin for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down – the shoddy journalism has grown truly dangerous, says Robert Parry.

In the heat of the U.S. media’s latest war hysteria – rushing to pin blame for the crash of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin – there is the same absence of professional skepticism that has marked similar stampedes on Iraq, Syria and elsewhere – with key questions not being asked or answered.

The dog-not-barking question on the catastrophe over Ukraine is: what did the U.S. surveillance satellite imagery show? It’s hard to believe that – with the attention that U.S. intelligence has concentrated on eastern Ukraine for the past half year that the alleged trucking of several large Buk anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia to Ukraine and then back to Russia didn’t show up somewhere.

Yes, there are limitations to what U.S. spy satellites can see. But the Buk missiles are about 16 feet long and they are usually mounted on trucks or tanks. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 also went down during the afternoon, not at night, meaning the missile battery was not concealed by darkness.

So why hasn’t this question of U.S. spy-in-the-sky photos – and what they reveal – been pressed by the major U.S. news media? How can the Washington Post run front-page stories, such as the one on Sunday with the definitive title “U.S. official: Russia gave systems,” without demanding from these U.S. officials details about what the U.S. satellite images disclose?

Instead, the Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung wrote from Kiev: “The United States has confirmed that Russia supplied sophisticated missile launchers to separatists in eastern Ukraine and that attempts were made to move them back across the Russian border after the Thursday shoot-down of a Malaysian jetliner, a U.S. official said Saturday.

“‘We do believe they were trying to move back into Russia at least three Buk [missile launch] systems,’ the official said. U.S. intelligence was ‘starting to get indications … a little more than a week ago’ that the Russian launchers had been moved into Ukraine, said the official” whose identity was withheld by the Post so the official would discuss intelligence matters.

But catch the curious vagueness of the official’s wording: “we do believe”; “starting to get indications.” Are we supposed to believe – and perhaps more relevant, do the Washington Post writers actually believe – that the U.S. government with the world’s premier intelligence services can’t track three lumbering trucks each carrying large mid-range missiles?

What I’ve been told by one source, who has provided accurate information on similar matters in the past, is that U.S. intelligence agencies do have detailed satellite images of the likely missile battery that launched the fateful missile, but the battery appears to have been under the control of Ukrainian government troops dressed in what look like Ukrainian uniforms.

The source said CIA analysts were still not ruling out the possibility that the troops were actually eastern Ukrainian rebels in similar uniforms but the initial assessment was that the troops were Ukrainian soldiers. There also was the suggestion that the soldiers involved were undisciplined and possibly drunk, since the imagery showed what looked like beer bottles scattered around the site, the source said.

Instead of pressing for these kinds of details, the U.S. mainstream press has simply passed on the propaganda coming from the Ukrainian government and the U.S. State Department, including hyping the fact that the Buk system is “Russian-made,” a rather meaningless fact that gets endlessly repeated.

However, to use the “Russian-made” point to suggest that the Russians must have been involved in the shoot-down is misleading at best and clearly designed to influence ill-informed Americans. As the Post and other news outlets surely know, the Ukrainian military also operates Russian-made military systems, including Buk anti-aircraft batteries, so the manufacturing origin has no probative value here.

Relying on the Ukraine regime

Much of the rest of the known case against Russia comes from claims made by the Ukrainian regime, which emerged from the unconstitutional coup d’etat against elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22. His overthrow followed months of mass protests, but the actual coup was spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias that overran government buildings and forced Yanukovych’s officials to flee.

In recognition of the key role played by the neo-Nazis, who are ideological descendants of Ukrainian militias that collaborated with the Nazi SS in World War II, the new regime gave these far-right nationalists control of several ministries, including the office of national security which is under the command of longtime neo-Nazi activist Andriy Parubiy.[See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine, Through the US Looking Glass.”]

It was this same Parubiy whom the Post writers turned to seeking more information condemning the eastern Ukrainian rebels and the Russians regarding the Malaysia Airlines catastrophe. Parubiy accused the rebels in the vicinity of the crash site of destroying evidence and conducting a cover-up, another theme that resonated through the MSM.

Without bothering to inform readers of Parubiy’s unsavory neo-Nazi background, the Post quoted him as a reliable witness declaring: “It will be hard to conduct a full investigation with some of the objects being taken away, but we will do our best.”

In contrast to Parubiy’s assurances, the Kiev regime actually has a terrible record of telling the truth or pursuing serious investigations of human rights crimes. Still left open are questions about the identity of snipers who on Feb. 20 fired on both police and protesters at the Maidan, touching off the violent escalation that led to Yanukovych’s ouster. Also, the Kiev regime has failed to ascertain the facts about the death-by-fire of scores of ethnic Russians in the Trade Union Building in Odessa on May 2. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Burning Ukraine’s Protesters Alive.”]

The Kiev regime also duped the New York Times (and apparently the U.S. State Department) when it disseminated photos that supposedly showed Russian military personnel inside Russia and then later inside Ukraine. After the State Department endorsed the “evidence,” the Times led its newspaper with this story on April 21, but it turned out that one of the key photos supposedly shot in Russia was actually taken in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the story. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Retracts Ukraine Photo Scoop.”]

But here we are yet again with the MSM relying on unverified claims being made by the Kiev regime about something as sensitive as whether Russia provided sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles – capable of shooting down high-flying civilian aircraft – to poorly trained eastern Ukrainian rebels.

This charge is so serious that it could propel the world into a second Cold War and conceivably – if there are more such miscalculations – into a nuclear confrontation. These moments call for the utmost in journalistic professionalism, especially skepticism toward propaganda from biased parties.

Yet, what Americans have seen again is the major U.S. news outlets, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, publishing the most inflammatory of articles based largely on unreliable Ukrainian officials and on the U.S. State Department which was a principal instigator of the Ukraine crisis.

In the recent past, this sort of sloppy American journalism has led to mass slaughters in Iraq – and has contributed to near U.S. wars on Syria and Iran – but now the stakes are much higher. As much fun as it is to heap contempt on a variety of “designated villains,” such as Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Ali Khamenei and now Vladimir Putin, this sort of recklessness is careening the world toward a very dangerous moment, conceivably its last.

*****

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