U.S. Intelligence Tracking What Happened To Flight MH17

Senior U.S. intelligence officials say they have proof that a surface-to-air missile was launched when the airliner went down and have ID'd people in a recorded conversation implicating the culprits.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And here in Washington, U.S. intelligence officials briefed reporters yesterday on the latest they've learned about the downing of Malaysia Airlines' flight. It killed nearly 300 people. NPR Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman was at the briefing and joins us now in the studio. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What more do we know?

BOWMAN: Renee, U.S. intelligence officials say that an American spy satellite was able to detect the launch of a surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by separatists at the time the plane went down. And they also say they were able to verify the authenticity of an intercepted conversation - again, around the same time - by separatist leaders talking about the downing of a plane that they thought was a military aircraft. And then one of them says no, there are only civilians on board. And they verified this, they said, by voice analysis, comparing this conversation with speeches these guys had made. But, you know, intelligence officials say they still want to get pieces of the aircraft so they can do a forensics analysis and be absolutely sure that a missile brought it down.

MONTAGNE: So you're talking about the verification by intelligence agencies of things we've been talking about or have been surmised over the last few days?

BOWMAN: Right.

MONTAGNE: Do they actually know who launched the missile? Was it, in fact, Ukrainian rebel separatists?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, they don't know. And the intelligence officials told reporters, we don't know who pulled the trigger or even the nationality, leaving open the possibility there could be Russian involvement here. But they did say that it was not launched by the Ukrainian government. That's something the Russians have alleged. The officials said the Ukrainian government did not have these types of missile systems in the area and the government has not used missiles in this fight with separatists, only aircraft.

MONTAGNE: And was there anything else in this briefing that told us something new that maybe was surprising or that we didn't - that hasn't been discussed?

BOWMAN: Well, they did say that the Russians, obviously, provide training to the Ukrainian separatists on these kind of air defense systems, that the Russians are moving these systems into the separatist area. That's something we've already known. But what's interesting, that they did say that the Russians, even after the shoot down, continued to move tanks, armored personnel carriers and other kinds of weaponry into the separatist areas. That was new.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Renee.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

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