The Dutch Safety Board's (DSB) preliminary report on the causes of the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 is noteworthy for what it fails to report. It tells us pretty much what we already know or have surmised from analysis of damaged sections of the plane at the crash site. The report states that - "The damage observed in the forward section of the aircraft appears to indicate that the aircraft was penetrated by a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft... It is likely that this damage resulted in a loss of structural integrity of the aircraft, leading to an in-flight break up."
No word as to what the mysterious "objects" may have been... whether they were the result of a missile attack (the word "missile" isn't mentioned in the report) or other fire and no hint either when it comes to possible parties involved.
The report has confirmed that the cockpit took a lot of the damage... damage noted at first hand by one of the first OSCE investigators at the scene of the crash, Canadian Michael Bociurkiw. In a CBC interview Bociurkiw said that he saw sections of the plane that were "pockmarked." He described the visual appearance as resembling "machine gun fire... very very strong machine gun fire."
The report has no comment either on other pertinent matters leaving the field open for spin that a few commentators have been quick to supply. Much of the speculation on the heels of the report's release has come from "experts" in government and media, a number of whom are more than willing to fill in the gaps in order to further their case about Russian involvement.
That a surface-to-air missile of the Buk type - possibly armed with a fragmentation warhead - may have been involved is a distinct possibility. Who the investigators believe was behind the targeting of the plane is a question unlikely to be addressed until a much later date, if at all. Given the DSB's extremely cautious approach at this stage of the investigation it's hard not to conclude that a number of key considerations remain opaque or have been understated or shelved for whatever reason.
Radar data is a case in point. The DSB received ATC surveillance data from the Russian Federation yet remains silent on the issue of the Ukrainian Su-25 fighter that the Russians claimed their radar tracked as it climbed to within 3 to 5 kilometers of MH-17.
Russian radar isn't the only source that places Ukrainian fighter/fighters in the vicinity of MH-17 on July 17. As mentioned in an earlier post, a BBC report by correspondent Olga Ivshina places eye witnesses at the scene who specifically refer to the presence of Ukrainian military aircraft in the proximity of MH-17 before it crashed. The women who Ivshina spoke with were not militia members, just local civilians. They came across as entirely credible in the related BBC video.
The report by Ivshina was subsequently deleted by the BBC. Was it censored because every eye witness interviewed claimed the presence of Ukrainian military aircraft on July 17? Or did it have anything to do with claims - mentioned in other reports - that Kiev has used civilian planes flying over the region as cover for its military aircraft when carrying out strikes, a number of which have resulted in civilian casualties?
In a recent article - Malaysian Airlines Whodunnit Still a Mystery - investigative journalist Robert Parry points out another missing link in the Dutch report:
The report is also silent on the “dog-not-barking” issue of whether the U.S. government had satellite surveillance that revealed exactly where the supposed ground-to-air missile was launched and who may have fired it.
The Obama administration has asserted knowledge about those facts – initially pointing the finger at ethnic Russian rebels using a powerful Buk anti-aircraft missile system supposedly supplied by Russia – but the U.S. government has withheld satellite photos and other intelligence information that could presumably corroborate the charge.
Curiously, too, the Dutch report, released on Tuesday, states that the investigation received “satellite imagery taken in the days after the occurrence.” Obviously, the more relevant images in assessing blame would be aerial photography in the days and hours before the crash that killed 298 people on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
In mid-July, eastern Ukraine was a high priority for U.S. intelligence and a Buk missile battery is a large system that should have been easily picked up by U.S. aerial reconnaissance. The four missiles in a battery are each about 16-feet-long and would have to be hauled around by a truck and then put in position to fire.
Parry also notes in his article that Russian satellite imagery purported to show "... Ukrainian government Buk missile systems north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk before the attack, including two batteries that purportedly were shifted 50 kilometers south of Donetsk on July 17, the day of the crash, and then removed by July 18."
If the claims about the Ukrainian Buk systems are accurate it is safe to assume that the Americans have similar satellite images for the dates in question. So it seems curious that they have only released satellite images for days following the crash. The DSB report states that the investigation received “satellite imagery taken in the days after the occurrence.”
Why would Ukrainian forces position their Buk missile systems in that location and at that time, when the east Ukraine self-defence militias they are fighting possess no air capability? The positioning of the Ukrainian Buks appears to have been for another purpose.
The Dutch report doesn't take us far on the road of discovery. There remain many unanswered questions. Assurances by the DSB that the final report will be released before the first anniversary of the crash in 2015 suggests we are in for a long wait. When the final report is released memories of MH-17 will have receded and we may be looking at an entirely different state-of-affairs in the Ukraine. This may suit the agenda of those for whom the revelation of key information pertaining to the downing of MH-17 could prove to be politically compromising.