Spiegel Online interviews Fred Westerbeke, the Dutch lead investigator of flight MH17 crash.
Westerbeke states that a surface-to-air missile is the most likely scenario, but he also discusses “secret satellite images and a possible involvement of the Ukrainian military.”
Here are edited interview snips from MH17-Chief Investigator Westerbeke: “Do the Russians Have More Evidence?”
Who shot flight MH17 from over Eastern Ukraine? The Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke directs international investigation. He talks about secret satellite images and a possible involvement of the Ukrainian military.
Spiegel: Mr. Westerbeke, your job as chief prosecutor sounds hardly solvable: MH17 flight was shot down over a civil war zone, even now, three months later, your crime scene investigator for is not available. What gives you hope someday to be able to bring someone to court?
Westerbeke: The Netherlands does not determine in the case so alone. There is a very good cooperation with police and prosecutors, especially in Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine. It is not easy. But we can do it.
Spiegel: In what period of time?
Westerbeke: Look at Lockerbie, the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo in December 1988 with 270 deaths. At that time, it took three years before you could name those responsible. We will certainly need the whole next year for our work, and perhaps even longer.
Spiegel: The Federal Intelligence Service BND assumes that pro-Russian separatists have shot down the machine with a surface to air missile. Recently some German parliamentarians corresponding satellite images were presented. Do you know these recordings?
Westerbeke: The problem is that there are very many different satellite images: Some of them can be found on the Internet, others come from foreign intelligence agencies.
Spiegel: High-resolution images, for example from US spy satellites could play a crucial role in the investigation of the case. Did you get those shots of the Americans?
Westerbeke: We are not sure if we already have everything, or whether there are more – material that may be even more specific. What we present is certainly not enough to draw any conclusions. We remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images.
Spiegel: The shooting down of flight MH17 is the biggest criminal case in the history of your country, it says. How many investigators are currently working?
Westerbeke: In the Netherlands alone there are ten prosecutors. Three of them coordinate the investigation, two work at the international level. Two more are responsible for the care of relatives. In addition, forensic expert number around 80. There are regular meetings with colleagues from Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine to divide the work.
Spiegel: Because of fighting at the crash site, again and again, none of your investigators is on site. On which tracks you rely instead?
Westerbeke: There are metal fragments that were found in the bodies of the dead and in pieces of luggage. This could be shrapnel from a rocket-Buk, possibly also parts of the aircraft itself. We analyze this, so far there are no results. We also have some witnesses who were on the spot immediately after the crash. In the Internet we spot an immense amount of information. We also have various recordings of telephone conversations from the Ukrainian police. Some of it is already available online, but we did get richer material.
Spiegel: So far, is there any indisputable evidence?
Westerbeke: If you look in the newspapers, yes. But if we really want to bring the perpetrators to justice, we need more evidence than a recorded phone call from the internet or photos of the crash site. That’s why we take several scenarios into consideration.
Spiegel: What are the scenarios?
Westerbeke: An accident, a terrorist attack, the shooting down by a surface to air missile or an attack by another aircraft. We have ruled out the first two.
Spiegel: Moscow circulated for some time, a claim that the passenger plane had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Do you think it possible?
Westerbeke: Based on the available information, the launch is by a ground-to-air missile in my eyes is still the most likely scenario. But we do not close our eyes to the possibility that it might have been different.
Spiegel: The OVV report states that there were no military jets in the vicinity.
Westerbeke: Right. But that statement is based on information that was available at the time. The question is: Do the Russians have more evidence?
Spiegel: Your Prime Minister Mark Rutte has recently criticized Vladimir Putin because of his lack of support in the MH17 case. What is the role of Russia in the investigation?
Westerbeke: At the moment, not large, since it is not part of the investigation team. We are preparing a request for assistance, in which we ask Moscow for information that could be important. Among other things, we seek radar data with which the Russians wanted to prove the presence of a Ukrainian military jet near MH17 after the crash.
Spiegel: If you actually draw the participation of the Ukrainian Air Force on firing of flight MH17 into consideration – is it not absurd that Ukraine is involved in the investigation?
Westerbeke: Of course that’s a problem. But we cannot determine without them. I want a way to make it clear: We have no evidence that Kiev has not been completely open with us. You give us all the information we want.
Notes: Translation from German is frequently difficult. I edited the Google translation to make it more readable. Also there is a bit more in the interview regarding rewards, bounties, the coming Winter, etc., but those clips were not very relevant so I truncated the translation a bit.
That seems like a pretty frank discussion of the issues, arguably the best we could have reasonably hoped for. Clearly, many investigative problems remain.
The first problem, which Westerbeke admitted, is that if Ukraine is involved, it will seek to prevent that finding. Nonetheless, Westerbeke was polite in his response stating there is no evidence Kiev has not been open.
The second problem is that no countries really want cooperation from Russia. Fortunately, it seems the investigative team does.
A third problem is US satellite evidence. Where the hell is it?
A fourth problem (unfortunately one that Spiegel never inquired about) regards flight deviations and tower to plane transmissions.
Without a doubt transmissions should be made available and flight pattern deviations over a war zone explained. If that has not been done (and I don’t believe it has), then indeed there is strong evidence that Kiev has not been completely open.
The fifth problem is that even if the team concludes MH17 was downed by a surface-to-air attack, that alone does not prove who fired the missile.
Rush to Judgment
Finally, please note the “rush to judgment” by Ukraine, the US, Europe, and Western media in spite of glaring weaknesses in evidence gathered.
Nonetheless, it appears as if Westerbeke wants to do the job. Appearance or reality? If the latter, I wonder if he pokes around too much, if he will be removed from the mission.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock