Unanswered questions about MH17 crash show limits of US intel

BY Ken Dilanian, Associated Press  July 26, 2014 at 12:00 PM EST
GRABOVO, UKRAINE - JULY 17:   Debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is shown smouldering in a field  July 17, 2014 in Grabovo, Ukraine near the Russian border. Flight 17, on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and carrying 295 passengers and crew, is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile, according to U.S. intelligence officials and Ukrainian authorities quoted in published reports. The area is under control of pro-Russian militias.  (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

Debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is shown in a field on July 17 in Grabovo, Ukraine near the Russian border. A series of unanswered questions that remain about the downing of the flight reveals the limits of U.S. intelligence-gathering, the AP reports. Credit: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

ASPEN, Colo. — A series of unanswered questions about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shows the limits of U.S. intelligence-gathering even when it is intensely focused.

U.S. intelligence officials have used satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social media postings to present what they call a solid circumstantial case that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

But they have not offered proof that the separatists obtained the sophisticated missile system from the Russian government. And they say they have not determined what, if any, involvement Russian operatives may have had in directing or encouraging the attack, which they believe was a mistaken attempt to hit a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Finding such proof, they say, will take time. Moscow denies involvement.