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U.S. can't prove Russian involvement in downed plane

on July 27, 2014 1:34 AM

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — A series of unanswered questions about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shows the limits of U.S. intelligence gathering even when it is intensely focused, as it has been in Ukraine since Russia seized Crimea in March.

Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social media postings, U.S. intelligence officials have been able to present what they call a solid circumstantial case that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

But they have not offered proof of what they say is their strong belief that the separatists obtained the sophisticated missile system from the Russian government.

And they say they have not determined what, if any, involvement Russian operatives may have had in directing or encouraging the attack, which they believe was a mistaken attempt to hit a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Moscow angrily denies any involvement in the attack; on Saturday the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of waging “an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia, ever more relying on open lies.”

U.S. officials said they still don’t know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. Determining that will take time, they said, if it’s possible at all.

As one put it, “this isn’t ‘24,’” referring to the TV series that often exaggerates the speed and capabilities of the American spying machine.

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