Tuesday, October 21, 2014

German intelligence report on MH17

by Alexander Mercouris

It seems the German intelligence agency the BND has provided a Bundestag committee with a report that once again attributes the MH17 shoot down to the NAF.

The report has not been published but for me the single most interesting thing in it is that it apparently finally demolishes the theory that MH17 was shot down by a BUK system secretly transferred to the NAF by the Russians. We are back it seems to the theory that the NAF shot down MH17 with a BUK missile system it captured from the Ukrainians.

There are a number of points to make here:

1. At the time when MH17 was shot down the western media were in full flood that the Russians were responsible. All sorts of stories circulated about how a BUK missile system was supposedly secretly smuggled by Russia across the border and supplied to the NAF, which the NAF then used to shoot MH17 down. These stories played a key role in influencing western public opinion against Russia. The Germans forced other EU states to impose sectoral sanctions on Russia on the grounds it was responsible for the tragedy because it was arming the NAF. The stories of a BUK missile system being secretly smuggled back and forth across the border (and films supposedly culled from social media supposedly showing it doing just that) undoubtedly played a part in giving credence to these claims. The BND has now admitted that the Russians were not involved in the shooting down of MH17 and that MH17 was not shot down by a BUK missile system smuggled by the Russians across the border. It turns out therefore that all those stores that gained so much attention and which did Russia's image so much harm were untrue. I wonder whether sectoral sanctions would have been imposed on Russia if it had been known then that those stories were untrue.

2. By saying that MH17 was shot down by the NAF using a captured BUK missile system, the BND is contradicting what the junta said at the time and is still saying. The junta still denies that any of its BUK systems have been captured by the NAF. By contrast the BND now admits that what the Russians were saying in July - that they did not transfer a BUK system to the NAF and that they were not involved in the shooting down of MH17 - was true.

3. The BND has also apparently admitted that the "evidence" the junta produced supposedly culled from social media was fabricated or falsified. This is important because it is the first western admission of the fact that the junta has lied. Up to now no western government or agency has ever called into question anything the junta has ever said. Of course if the junta falsified or fabricated evidence about MH17 it might have done so about other matters (eg. the Kiev snipers or the Odessa fire).

4. There were some reports before the MH17 tragedy that the NAF had indeed captured a BUK missile system. It is difficult to say how credible those reports were. As I have previously said, given that the capture of such a system would have been a considerable coup, one might have expected the NAF to make more of the fact by publishing photographs of the BUK system they had captured. That however never happened. Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence but I would still like to see some convincing evidence that the NAF really did have a BUK missile system in its possession (and a crew able to operate it) before I accepted the fact. Uncorroborated claims denied then and since by the Ukrainians and made in the midst of an armed conflict when all sorts of exaggerated claims are made are not sufficient evidence and do not prove anything. In the absence of such evidence all I can do is note (1) that the NAF continues to deny that it had or was operating a BUK system when MH17 was shot down and (2) that no evidence exists or has been made public which refutes that denial. .

5. The media reports about the BND report say that the BND has shown such evidence to the Bundestag committee and that supposedly it includes satellite imagery. The evidence has not however been made public and again one has to ask why? It is scarcely believable that there is something so secret about the way this evidence was collected that prevents it from being made public. The Russians and the Chinese certainly know everything there is to know about how the western powers collect imagery and other intelligence from their satellites. It is not as if publishing this evidence is therefore going to compromise any intelligence source or capability. Why then the secrecy especially over an issue of such importance? Whether the western powers want to admit to the fact or not, their refusal to make their evidence public casts doubt on how much weight this evidence really has.

6. In the absence of publication of this evidence (which would allow it to be properly examined and tested) it remains impossible to accept any claims based on it. There have just been too many cases of western intelligence agencies assuring us on the basis of "evidence" kept secret of the truth of things that turned out to be false. Recent examples include the false claims made by all western intelligence agencies including the BND about Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the wrong claims of massive Russian slush funds hidden away in Cyprus, which actually originated with the BND, and the denials last year made by all western intelligence agencies including the BND that the Syrian rebels have used sarin gas, which a UN report has since admitted they almost certainly have.

7. There is one point about MH17 I do however wish to make.

On balance and despite the fact that the body of one of the passengers was found wearing an oxygen mask, I still think the most likely explanation for the tragedy is that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile. I realise others (eg, Petri Kohn) disagree. I am not technically qualified to decide the question.

I am however concerned that some people are trying to reduce this issue to a false binary of SU25=junta versus BUK=NAF. That is precisely what the BBC for example sought to do in a recent Panorama programme.

The attraction of insisting that MH17 was shot down by a SU25 is that in that case only the junta could have done it since no one says the NAF had an operational SU25 capable of shooting MH17 down. The danger of insisting that MH17 was shot down by an SU25 is that if it does turn out that MH17 was in fact actually shot down by a BUK missile, then some in the west will treat that as proof that it was the NAF that shot it down.

It is nothing of the sort. It cannot be said too strongly that as of now there is no proof that at the time when MH17 was shot down the NAF was in possession of either an operational SU25 aircraft or an operational BUK system, whereas there is conclusive proof that the junta was in possession of both. Until the BND or some other western intelligence makes evidence public that proves the contrary that remains the position.