Update 10/03/2019: Pay attention to current events. United States President Donald Trump is facing impeachment for interfering with congressionally approved aid, including weapons, for Ukraine, as a means of pressuring Ukraine to help Trump's election race against Joe Biden. Look below the surface, and you will see a pattern of Trump behavior supporting Russian interests against Ukraine and other friends of the USA, such as Afghanistan. Regarding Ukraine, it is highly offensive that Trump wants to help Vladimir Putin, who has lied from day one about Russia's role in the attack on MH-17. Neither the lives of MH-17 passengers and crew, nor truth, matter to Putin and Trump. Like gangsters, they suggest "thoughts and prayers" for the dead, but no mea culpa by Russia. Eat your neighbors, you cannibals, but don't forget to say grace!
Update 10/10/2015: See the Bellingcat report on MH17 - The Open Source Evidence Russia downed MH-17 in the course of forcibly and unlawfully taking territory from Ukraine.
Malaysia Airlines flight 17 departed Amsterdam Schipol Airport (EHAM) at 1014 UTC, with 298 people aboard, including a flight and cabin crew of fifteen. The Boeing 777-200, registration 9M-MRD, was enroute to Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport (WMKK). The passengers aboard were from several countries: Malaysia, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere. Many were traveling to points beyond Kuala Lumpur, and were on Malaysia Airlines because the schedule and price were what suited their travel plans. Some were intending to visit Kuala Lumpur for business. Others were visiting family there. Conversely, some of the passengers were returning home from business or tourism elsewhere in the world. Each person on the airplane had an expectation of safe travel. Surely, no one expected to be killed by a murderous missile crew picking a target randomly from traffic on the international airways above the Ukraine.
The flight's situation was routine as it cruised at FL330 over Ukraine, just northwest of the towns of Pelahilvka and Grabovo. Suddenly, and without warning, all contact with MH17 was lost at 1315 UTC. Minutes later, aircraft parts, human remains, luggage, and other kinds of debris emerged from the clouds above the Ukrainian countryside and rained down on a 15 square kilometer area between Pelahilvka and Grabovo. Gruesome beyond imagination, people on the surface witnessed their roads, houses, and fields being pelted by the debris. One elderly woman reported that a passenger, still strapped in his seat, slammed through her home's roofing and came to rest as a mangled mass on her bed. Others reported the falling of aircraft structure into their yards. Wheat and sunflower fields between the two Ukranian towns were peppered with most of the wreckage from MH17. Clothing was torn from the passengers bodies when the airplane disintegrated, and fluttered down for some time after everything else had reached the surface.
MH17 PARTIAL ATC TRANSCRIPT: RAD = RADIO (VHF Air Band, English language) TEL = TELEPHONE DNP = Dnipro Radar (Air Traffic Control, translated) RST = Rostov (Air Traffic Control, translated) TIME FROM TO TYPE CONTENT ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 13:08:00 MH17 DNP RAD Dnipro Radar, MALASIAN one seven, flight level 330. DNP MH17 RAD MALASIAN one seven, Dnipro Radar, good day, radar contact. MH17 DNP RAD MALASIAN one seven. 13:19:21 DNP RST TEL Yes? RST DNP TEL So. Dniepr, Rostov one. Can you give a course (direction) for Malaysian to Rostov to the RND point, we have three of those there. DNP RST TEL To the Malaysian that is seventeen? RST DNP TEL Yes, we will return it back then to TIKNA. DNP RST TEL Great (ok). RST DNP TEL Yes, thanks. 13:19:49 DNP MH17 RAD MALASIAN one seven, due traffic proceed direct to point ROMEO NOVEMBER DELTA. 13:19:56 MH17 DNP RAD ROMEO NOVEMBER DELTA, MALASIAN one seven. 13:20:00 DNP MH17 RAD MALASIAN one seven, and after point ROMEO NOVEMBER DELTA expect direct to TIKNA. 13:21:10 DNP MH17 RAD MALASIAN one seven, how do you read me? MALASIAN one seven, Dnipro Radar. 13:21:36 DNP MH17 RAD MALASIAN one seven, Dnipro Radar. 13:22:02 DNP MH17 RAD MALASIAN one seven, Dnipro Radar. 13:22:05 RST DNP TEL Listening (to) you, its Rostov. DNP RST TEL Rostov, do you observe the Malaysian by... by the response? (asking about the transponder signal) RST DNP TEL No, it seems that its target started falling apart. (no transponder, multiple primary radar echoes) DNP RST TEL Well, its not responding for our calls too. RST DNP TEL And not responding for the calls, yes? DNP RST TEL Yes. And we don‘t see it yet. So you gave them a turn, they confirmed and... RST DNP TEL And that‘s all, yes? DNP RST TEL Yes its disappeared. RST DNP TEL Wait, I'll ask. DNP RST TEL Don't you observe anything on primary? RST DNP TEL Yes, yes, yes, nothing. We see nothing DNP RST TEL Ok then, we are calling them here now. [End of MH17 ATC Transcript]
United States security analysts later reported that a missile was launched from near the town of Torez. The missile traveled northbound, meeting and destroying Malaysia Airlines flight 17. Radar signals and the exhaust plume bore traits of the Russian Buk (also known as the SA-11 / Gadfly) surface-to-air missile system. These are not the weapons one associates with poorly armed separatist punks. An SA-11 missile is large, requires a well trained crew to operate, and requires careful maintenance to keep the system operable. All of that makes it a tool of states and state-sponsored military units. There is video footage which claims to show an SA-11 launcher a position in Torez about 2 hours prior to the attack and then escaping across the border with Russia shortly thereafter.
Where could the murderous separatists of the eastern Ukraine obtain Buk missiles? Capture them from their Ukranian adversaries or get them from their Russian supporters just across the border. Videos have appeared in internet video sites, such as Liveleak.com which appear to show a buk missile battery moving about the town of Torez and also crossing the border into Russia.
From the very start, there is obvious contempt for the victims of the missile strike on MH17. Militiamen, curiosity seekers, thieves, and thugs immediately began walking among the wreckage and disturbing valuable evidence for investigators. Videos contain verbal comments pejoratively describing the victims as "foreigners," as though they really mean "f--king foreigners." The separatist guard, nicknamed "Grumpy" made more than one angry comment that the world "only cares about the crash because foreigners died." The mangled corpses and body fragments laying all around have been used as entertaining content for "gore sites" on the internet. Looters have run off with victims' cash and credit cards. Obviously, the victims are regarded as worthless, or as dead enemies on a battle field. They have been left to rot in the sun, and have been trampled under foot by untrained people unaware of what they are stepping on. That is totally unacceptable to civilized people.
Untrained people walking through a crash site compromise evidence of what happened during the crash. By touching, moving, breaking, spraying water on, or otherwise tampering with things on the site, they chemically contaminate evidence. If there are chemical residues on the wreckage from explosives, they may be washed away or destroyed - making testing inconclusive. If there is information in how parts bent or broke inflight, further deforming by untrained people will make it impossible for investigators to trace the sequence of the Boeing 777's inflight breakup. Medical evidence - injuries to bodies, chemical residue on clothing or skin, or shrapnel in the flesh - is delicate and rendered useless by mishandling the human remains.
Crash sites are also dangerous to untrained persons walking through them. There are dangerous chemicals, metals such as depleted uranium, broken glass, sharp objects, and biological hazards all present in a debris field such as that containing the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight 17. To walk around there without protective clothing is to risk peril to oneself.
One goal of the separatists preventing access to professional crash investigators seems to be the suppression of evidence incriminating Russia and themselves in shooting down MH17. They would really like to claim that there's no proof that a Buk / SA-11 missile destroyed the aircraft. The less data supporting that, the better for them. Therefore, the separatist and Russian murderers benefit from every minute the human remains decay, every day the chemicals break down in the sun, and every less gram of physical evidence recovered. Even the flight recorders are being withheld from investigators. It would not be surprising if the recorders are subjected to tampering while in rebel custody. Perhaps they will try to copy the data and erase it by mistake. Perhaps the recorders will be subjected to strong magnetic fields in an attempt to erase the data. Do I trust Grumpy (a former delivery man turned separatist fighter) or his associates do the right thing? Absolutely not.
Update: The cockpit voice and digital flight data recorders were eventually turned over to investigators. The flight appears to have been routine until the missile attack. There are no reports of alleged tampering with recorded data.
Intercepted telephone calls provided by Ukranian intelligence, supported by American analysis, indicate that the separatists did indeed shoot down the plane and were in contact with Russian advisors. They admitted it, and when discovering that it was just an airliner passing overhead on an airway, minimized their guilt by claiming that "they must have been spies" and "flew over a war zone." The separatists did it, and the Russians helped them by providing hardware and a trained crew for the Buk.
A word on the intercepts. Intelligence agencies do have the ability to get bit-perfect voice data from modern mobile phones. Analog phones are easy prey for sophisticated monitors. With modern software defined radio technology, it is possible to record whole swaths of spectrum, with extremely accurate timing information. With multiple receivers getting signals, it is possible to use multilateration techniques to determine where a phone is located. Combined with large databases of phone numbers, locations, and voices, the intelligence agencies can quite solidly pin down intercept data. They know what was said, who said it, what communication device they used, when they said it, and where they were at the time.
Radar signals are another favorite target for interception by intelligence agencies. There's a whole mini-industry devoted to collecting data on radars. Expert analysts study radars used for air traffic control, missile defense, maritime surveillance, detecting stealth aircraft, and so forth. Really good analysis can detect differences between individual radars of the same type. Knowing this, one can be assured that the Ukranians, the NSA, and some other stakeholders observed the radar, mobile phone, and military radio communications related to the attack on MH17.
There is quite a lot of infrared surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies. The surveillance is conducted using very sensitive sensors aboard satellites in placed in both low earth orbit and in geostationary positions. Able to detect artillery, fighter jets using afterburners, and missile launches, the SA-11 missile would have been easily detected.
The question is, are intelligence agencies willing to disclose enough evidence though it may reveal the depth of their observations and analysis? Probably not.
A small scale aeronautical radio intercept operation can be comprised of as little as one person with a computer, a pair of RTL-SDR radios, and proper software (dump1090 and SDR#). Or one can monitor the streams at LiveATC.net and FlightRadar24.com to get a crude idea of intercepting and tracking a subject by radio emissions. Consider the potential for a technologically advanced government to observe these radio emissions in great detail and also track aircraft, missiles, and artillery by their heat signatures. They have the ability to know exactly what happened and who did it.
Here is a U.S. State Department statement regarding the downing of MH17, issued July 19, 2014:
United States Assessment of the Downing of Flight MH17 and its Aftermath We assess that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We base this judgment on several factors. Over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine. Last weekend, Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles including tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers to the separatist. We also have information indicating that Russia is providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia, and this effort included training on air defense systems. Pro-Russian separatist fighters have demonstrated proficiency with surface-to-air missile systems and have downed more than a dozen aircraft over the past few months, including two large transport aircraft. At the time that flight MH17 dropped out of contact, we detected a surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch from a separatist-controlled area in southeastern Ukraine. We believe this missile was an SA-11. Intercepts of separatist communications posted on YouTube by the Ukrainian government indicate the separatists were in possession of a SA-11 system as early as Monday July 14th. In the intercepts, the separatists made repeated references to having and repositioning Buk (SA-11) systems. Social media postings on Thursday show an SA-11 system traveling through the separatist-controlled towns of Torez and Snizhne, near the crash site and assessed location of the SAM launch. From this location, the SA-11 has the range and altitude capability to have shot down flight MH17. Ukraine also operates SA-11 systems, but we are confident no Ukrainian air defense systems were within range of the crash. Ukrainian forces have also not fired a single surface-to-air missile during the conflict, despite often complaining about violations of their airspace by Russian military aircraft. Shortly after the crash, separatists - including the self-proclaimed "Defense Minister" of the Donetsk People's Republic Igor Strelkov - claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane on social media. In an intercepted conversation that has been widely posted on the internet, a known-separatist leader tells another person that a separatist faction downed the aircraft. After it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) SAM system. Audio data provided to the press by the Ukrainian security service was evaluated by Intelligence Community analysts who confirmed these were authentic conversations between known separatist leaders, based on comparing the Ukraine-released internet audio to recordings of known separatists. Video posted on social media yesterday show an SA-11 on a transporter traveling through the Krasnodon are back to Russia. The video indicated the system was missing at least one missile, suggesting it had conducted a launch. Events on the ground at the crash site clearly demonstrate that separatists are in full control of the area.
As an airline captain, I find the separatist telephone comments, obstructive behavior, and terrorist culpability for the shootdown extremely offensive. By pure coincidence, I worked a flight, (not Malaysia Airlines) which arrived in Kuala Lumpur a few hours after the shootdown. The mood of people at the airport mirrored my sense of offense at this aggression against innocent civilians - occupants of an aircraft traveling on an international air route. That Malaysia Airlines would lose a second aircraft within four and a half months after MH370 is unimaginable. For a while, I stood by the "Family and Friends Reception Centre" and watched the goings on. The press was eager to talk to any people connected to the occupants of MH17. They seemed to mean no disrespect in their mass questioning, but wanted people to speak of their experiences. Family members went in and out of the cordon, often with a look of sorrow, shock or stunned disbelief. It is for the living to speak for the victims. It is for the living to demand justice for the atrocity of shooting down MH17. As a webmaster, I shall express my sense of offense here and assert that the West is a collection of bitches if justice is not aggressively persued for the people of MH17.
For some excellent reporting on the downing of MH-17, see the articles by Eliot Higgins, an independent journalist who has tracked the trail of photographic evidence, tied it to phone intercepts and other data, and concludes that a Buk missile, launched by the Russian 53rd Brigade shot down MH17. Bellingcat's open sourced investigative work is truly excellent and second to none for uncovering the truth of this criminal act. The investigation has withstood incredible attacks by pro Russian media, including a long and obfuscative press conference by Buk manufacturer Almaz-Antey. If there ever is a testament to the value of a free press, Bellingcat's report is it. Bellingcat has, very solidly, exposed many outright lies asserting Ukranian culpability in the shooting down of MH-17.
Note: please don't spam me with complaints about giving up confidential security or operational details on Boeing jets, missile detecting satellites, or signals intelligence. Everything said on this page is public knowledge. Security by strength works better than anything else; security by obscurity is an illusion and destined to fail.