The Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 investigation faced a new obstacle Tuesday, as the Dutch team in charge of figuring out who shot down the Boeing 777 on July 17 announced that the United States has stonewalled the crash probe by refusing to turn over satellite intelligence information that the investigators desperately need.
Because the crash site itself, in a war-torn section of eastern Ukraine dominated by pro-Russian rebels, has remained too dangerous for the Dutch Safety Board to conduct a full, hands-on investigation, the Dutch team has been forced to gather as much data as possible about the MH17 crash both from the public record and from other governments.
About a week after the Malaysia Airlines plane went down, killing all 298 people on board, United States intelligence services said that they had gathered satellite imagery and data proving that Flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched by the Russian-backed militia fighting against the Ukrainian government when the commercial flight crossed into rebel-controlled airspace.
At the same time, Russia claims that it possesses radar and satellite data showing something entirely different. The Malaysia Airlines 777, the Russians say, was shot down by an air-to-air missile fired by a Ukrainian military aircraft.
On Monday, Dutch investigators said they were in the process of demanding that Russia turn over that data.
But on Tuesday, according to a Reuters report, the Dutch said that the United States was not being any more cooperative, refusing to send its intelligence data to the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 investigative team. But the Dutch diplomatically blamed technicalities in U.S. law for the lack of American cooperation.
“It is desirable for prosecutors to receive further information from the U.S. in connection with the criminal investigation,” the Dutch government said in an official letter to the Netherlands parliament. “In the American legal system it is juridically complicated to pass intelligence information to the criminal justice system.”
Nonetheless, the investigators expressed confidence that the United States would eventually turn over the data needed by the MH17 investigators.
On Monday, a Dutch prosecutor said that investigators remained open to the scenario claimed by Russia — that a military fighter jet shot down Flight MH17. But on Tuesday, Dutch Safety Board spokesperson Sara Vernooij said that the DSB investigators haven’t reached any conclusions and that their findings won’t be known until the final DSB report in the summer of 2015.
“It is not us who gave an interview, but a Dutch public prosecutor, it is another duty – a criminal investigation,” Vernooij said, disavowing the Monday statements that seemed to give credence to the Russian position. “We investigate the cause of the crash, so it’s two separate investigations.”
An interim report by the DSB in September, however, found that while several commercial aircraft were flying in the vicinity of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that day, there were no military aircraft in the area.