Civil war in Ukraine
In the article, the Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung reported from Kiev that an anonymous U.S. official said the U.S. government had “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.”
This official told the Post that Russia didn’t just supply one Buk battery, but three. Though this account has never been retracted, there were problems with it from the start, including the fact that a U.S. “government assessment” – released by the Director of National Intelligence on July 22, 2014, (two days later) – listed a variety of weapons allegedly provided by the Russians to the ethnic Russian rebels but not a Buk anti-aircraft missile system.
In other words, two days after the Post cited a U.S. official claiming that the Russians had given the rebels three Buk batteries, the DNI’s “government assessment” made no reference to a delivery of one, let alone three Buk systems. And that absence of evidence came in the context of the DNI larding the “government assessment” with every possible innuendo to implicate the Russians, including “social media” entries. But there was no mention of a Buk delivery.
The significance of this missing link is hard to overstate. At the time eastern Ukraine was the focus of extraordinary U.S. intelligence collection because of the potential for the crisis to spin out of control and start World War III. Plus, a Buk missile battery is large and difficult to conceal. The missiles themselves are 16-feet-long and are usually pulled around by truck.
U.S. spy satellites, which supposedly can let you read a license plate in Moscow, would have picked up these images. And, if for some inexplicable reason a Buk battery was missed before July 17, 2014, it would surely have been spotted during an after-action review of the satellite imagery. But the U.S. government has released nothing of the kind.
In the days after the MH-17 crash, I was told by a source that U.S. intelligence had spotted Buk systems in the area but they appeared to be under Ukrainian government control. The source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts said the likely missile battery that launched the fateful missile was manned by troops dressed in what looked like Ukrainian uniforms.