The National Air and Space Intelligence Center will have a vital role in investigating the missile shoot down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, a spokesman confirmed Friday.
The intelligence center headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base that assesses foreign air, space and cyber threats will aid in the determination to find out what happened, according to James Lunsford, a NASIC spokesman.
“Analysts at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center are using all available intelligence sources and analytic techniques to provide senior defense officials with a clearer picture of the Malaysian airliner crash in the Ukraine,” he said in an email Friday. “Due to the sensitivity of the intelligence sources, we are not able to provide more clarifying details at this time regarding our assessments.”
Defense analyst Loren B. Thompson, of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said NASIC’s role will be key in the investigation of the shoot down Thursday that killed 298 people aboard a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777. NASIC has a presence of about 3,300 military and civilian employees at Wright-Patterson.
“I think NASIC is in the position to make an important contribution to the forensic investigation because it can precisely identify what type of missile and what point of origin were involved in the shoot down,” Thompson said. Determining the type of missile fired and the site where it was launched, he said, “are crucial in assigning blame.”
“We have to know for sure how this happened before we can start punishing people and that’s where NASIC can play a vital role,” Thompson said.
News reports indicate a Buk-1M mobile missile system was spotted near where Malaysian Airliners Flight MH17 came down.
Local lawmakers react
Congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, have criticized Russia in the aftermath of the crashed jetliner.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said Friday the shoot down over Eastern Ukraine should “serve as a wake-up call’’ to the United States and its European allies, saying the U.S. should demand that Russia stop aiding insurgents in Ukraine and return the Crimea to Ukraine.
In a telephone interview from Cleveland, Portman, R-Ohio, urged President Barack Obama to adopt a tougher stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that “we are naïve to think that by just putting sanctions in place that we will be able to resolve this matter.”
“The bottom line is if (the U.S. and its NATO allies) don’t show unity and strength rather than showing weakness, it could result in a broader conflict,” Portman said. “The way to avoid a war is show resolve and strength.”
Portman repeated his call for the U.S. to supply Ukraine with defensive systems, such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and “sophisticated communications.” Portman, who met this week Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, is a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
Portman was interviewed just moments after Obama told reporters at the White House that “evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine.
Obama scolded Putin for continuing to “violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists. It has also failed to use its influence to press the separatists to abide by a cease-fire. That’s why, together with our allies, we’ve imposed growing costs on Russia,” a reference to economic sanctions the U.S. has levied against some Russian firms and individuals.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said: “We need a full, thorough, and independent investigation of this violent act that cost the lives of so many innocent men, women, and children. And we need to work with the international community to put an end to the violence in Ukraine.”
In an interview with WHIO-TV, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said sanctions against Russia should be “significantly increased” and the United States should provide military advice, strategy, intelligence and equipment to Ukraine.
Turner said Russia should be “held accountable” for the use of a surface-to-air missile that brought down the Malaysian airliner.
“They are equipping and training and advising those who are on the ground in Ukraine and all actions that occur as a result of this war zone that Putin has created should be the responsibility of Russia,” he said. He also criticized Russia for denying international investigators access to the crash site.
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican who represents Warren County and part of Hamilton County, said in an interview with WHIO Radio/News 95.7 FM and AM 1290, those responsible for firing the missile “may have mistaken this civilian airliner for a Ukrainian cargo or fighter plane, which they shot down both earlier in the week, but at the very least it’s an act of criminal recklessness.”
“I think all indications are pointing that these were pro-Russian separatists and there’s no excuse for this even if it wasn’t intentional the type of plane that was shot down,” said Chabot, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. “It’s such a reckless behavior on their part, particularly when you have sophisticated weaponry like this.”
A key question remained why the air space the airliner flew through was not restricted, given the other aircraft shot down in a war zone, said Rick Scudder, a former Navy pilot and the director of the University of Dayton Research Institute’s Center for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Exploitation.
Another unanswered question was why the operator of the surface-to-air missile system failed to recognize the plane was a commercial jetliner, Scudder said.
“That, I think, is ultimately the heart of the investigation,” he said.
At least one Israeli airliner used countermeasures in the past to avoid a surface-to-air missile strike, said Chris Quillen, director of operations at the Advanced Technology Intelligence Center, an intelligence analyst training school in Beavercreek.
“It can be done,” he said. “It’s just a trade-off of cost versus security.”
Staffers Drew Simon and WHIO Radio contributed to this report.