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No link to Russian govt in plane downing - US

23 July 2014, 09:03

Washington - Senior US intelligence officials have offered no evidence of Russian government involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 despite saying that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the incident.

The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the US had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.

The officials briefed reporters on Tuesday under ground rules that their names not be used in discussing intelligence related to last week's air disaster, which killed 298 people.

The officials speculated that the plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, citing intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by US experts.

But the officials said they did not know who fired the missile or whether any Russian operatives were present at the missile launch.

In terms of who fired the missile, "we don't know a name, we don't know a rank and we're not even 100 percent sure of a nationality," one official said, adding at another point, "There is not going to be a Perry Mason moment here," a reference to a fictional detective who solved mysteries.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the US was still working to determine whether the missile launch had a "direct link" to Russia, including whether there were Russians on the ground during the attack and the degree to which Russians may have trained the separatists to launch such a strike.

"We do think President Putin and the Russian government bears responsibility for the support they provided to these separatists, the arms they provided to these separatists, the training they provided as well and the general unstable environment in eastern Ukraine," Rhodes said in an interview with CNN.

The officials made clear they were relying in part on social media postings and videos made public in recent days by the Ukrainian government, even though they have not been able to authenticate all of it.

For example, they cited a video of a missile launcher said to have been crossing the Russian border after the launch, appearing to be missing a missile.

But later, under questioning, the officials acknowledged they had not yet verified that the video was exactly what it purported to be.

From satellites, sensors and other intelligence gathering, officials said, they know where the missile originated - in separatist-held territory - and what its flight path was.

But if they possess satellite or other imagery of the missile being fired, they did not release it on Tuesday. A graphic they made public depicts their estimation of the missile's flight path with a green line. The jet's flight path was available from air traffic control data.


- AP


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