My latest at LobeLog looks at the fringe theory that Ukraine, not Russia or pro-Russia separatists, shot down MH17. Journalist Robert Parry has been pushing this theory since the incident, and it won’t go away despite a lack of evidence (Parry’s reporting relies entirely on anonymous sources), in no small part because the US government refuses to put any substantive evidence behind its very circumstantial initial case against the separatists. A group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) has been demanding that the government release its evidence, which the government refuses to do because it will compromise their intel gathering, which could mean anything from “we’ve got a spy whose life will be in danger if we talk” to “we don’t actually have any evidence.” Given that MH17 has become a major story in the deterioration of US-Russia relations, you would think (and VIPS would agree) that the government should be prepared to burn some intel sources (not at the risk of a source’s life, obviously, but just short of that) to make its case to the public:
In any case, if VIPS demand for more conclusive evidence seemed premature early on, their demands seem considerably more reasonable now that Russia’s supposed culpability in MH17′s downing has been used to justify additional US and EU sanctions. Yet there has still been no effort by the Obama administration to release more substantive evidence to support allegations of the separatists’ culpability. Gawker spoke to members of VIPS, who argued that given all the assets that must have been sent to eastern Ukraine in the midst of the ongoing fighting, the US government probably has substantial evidence showing what really happened to MH17. They also said that the seriousness of the deteriorating US-Russia relationship warranted releasing that evidence even if doing so would compromise intelligence-gathering operations. “We’re talking about the possibility of an armed confrontation with Russia. I mean, you couldn’t think of higher stakes,” retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern told Gawker.
VIPS is an, um, interesting group. They take a fairly skeptical line on just about everything, which has been a pretty safe place to be over the past 15+ years in US foreign policy. So they were critical of Colin Powell’s “mobile weapons lab” speech on Iraq to the UN Security Council in February, 2003, and they’ve been critical of the Obama administration’s unwillingness to investigate the torture program, but they’re also pushing the theory that the Syrian rebels gassed Ghouta themselves, which is dubious at best (and they really don’t have any evidence for it). McGovern, as Matthew Phelan wrote at Gawker a few days ago, is “[a] true staple guest across the whole spectrum of alternative news media — a pal to the paranoid libertarians at Infowars and the academic Marxists at Democracy Now!”
While there’s a disturbing lack of hard evidence for the “the separatists did it” theory, there’s no real evidence, not even circumstantial evidence, for the “Ukraine did it” alternative, so it’s still difficult to accept the latter over the former. But as I say in the piece, what really should concern people is the degree to which the US media has just accepted the government’s story without (except for a few isolated cases) pushing back on its refusal to offer any supporting evidence. As the war in eastern Ukraine winds down, the press needs to accurately report what happens to the civilians in Donbas and to the surrendered separatists, lest Kiev and its allied neo-Nazi paramilitaries take liberties with the lives and property of these people. They have to be willing to do more than just accept the version of events coming out of Washington, Kiev, and Brussels unquestioningly. In other words, they have to do a better job covering the end of this conflict than they’ve done covering what happened to MH17.