It took a while for EU investigators to get the black boxes from Malaysia Air 17 back fron Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists, and for good reason. According to CBS News, the plane experienced “massive explosive decompression” while cruising normally at 33,000 feet — exactly what one would see in a surface-to-air missile attack:
Unreleased data from a black box retrieved from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine show findings consistent with the plane’s fuselage being hit multiple times by shrapnel from a missile explosion, CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports.
“It did what it was designed to do,” a European air safety official told CBS News, “bring down airplanes.”
The official described the finding as “massive explosive decompression.”
Investigators still on the ground at the crash site are waiting for most of their colleagues to arrive, but they’re making use of the time they have. More wreckage in the area show telltale signs of a SAM attack — the shrapnel perforations throughout the fuselage showing shrapnel shooting inward from an external blast prior to the decompression, rather than an interior blast from a internally-detonated bomb or catastrophic malfunction. The ground team still needs to find a third of the victims, a search which the large debris field — also a sign of explosive decompression rather than pilot error or systems malfunction — has made much more complicated. Getting the complete investigative team into the site will continue to be a challenge, thanks to the hostilities that have not cooled since the shootdown.
This update shows why the Ukrainian rebels were so keen to find the black boxes first, and why they originally proposed to send them to Russia rather than the EU. The data, and the wreckage itself, makes it clear that the plane got shot down by military firepower, and if that had come from Kyiv’s forces, the rebels and Russia would have rolled out the red carpet for European investigators. Instead, they tried hijacking the bodies, blocking the site, and playing keep-away with the black boxes. That behavior alone provided a presumption of guilt, and the evidence (or what’s left of it) has thus far confirmed that presumption.
Let’s give Putin a clear choice: Either he can continue subventing and enabling the bloodletting in eastern Ukraine, or we can expose the enormous global network of offshore bank accounts, dummy companies, and real estate holdings that belong to him and his criminal elite. A mafia state should be treated as such. And information should once again be weaponized as it was during the Cold War. Moscow has already gotten a head start, by leaking compromised telephone calls between members of our State Department and between Eurocrats and NATO-allied state officials.
Investigative journalism has already yielded reams of copy on where some of the Putinist wealth is hidden, and how it got there. Much of it is in EU jurisdictions, which are subject to sanctions and/or concerted American diplomatic overtures. The U.S. Treasury Department, the CIA, and the FBI all know more about Putin’s and his cronies’ billions than they say publicly.
Indeed, the first suite of sanctions that the United States passed on Russia disclosed that Putin personally held assets in a Swiss commodities trader called Gunvor, in which, Treasury stated, “Putin has investments” and “may have access to … funds.” This was newsworthy, as it was encouraging of even more thorough reporting on where the rumored wealthiest man in Europe stashes his cash. Barack Obama wouldn’t have to try very hard to convince Putin that, if he so desired, he could feed the entire Western media industry enough scoops and exclusives to shake Russia’s stock market and economy for months, if not years, not to mention set the cat among the pigeons of bickering Kremlin political factions.
No doubt this kind of economic hardball will hurt the US and EU too, but we’re beyond painless solutions now. It’s time to make Putin and the oligarchs propping him up to pay the price for Russian aggression in their own wallets.
Update: Fixed “outward blast,” which was unclear, to something more specific and accurate.