By Robert Parry, the investigative reporter who many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. Originally published at Parry’s Consortium News (republished with permission).
One positive thing about a change in party control of the White House is that the new occupants sometimes release information that the old residents kept hidden because the facts were politically embarrassing or did not support some favored policy.
We saw this in the first days of the Obama administration when President Barack Obama declassified some documents relating to President George W. Bush’s internal policy debates about torture and other abuses from the “war on terror.”
However, as yet, we have seen nothing similar from the Trump administration even though some truth-telling might work very well for President Donald Trump, especially given his reputation for getting facts wrong. A commitment to transparency – giving some truth to the American people on important topics – could change Trump’s image for the better.
Plus, by releasing information that was unjustifiably kept hidden during Obama’s second term, Trump could underscore how Obama grew increasingly obsessive about secrecy the longer he remained in the White House, treating the American people as objects to be manipulated rather than citizens to be informed.
For instance, Obama kept the clamps on CIA analyses relating to the Ukrainian crisis, even regarding the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing 298 people and leading to a dangerous escalation in the New Cold War with Russia.
After the crash, the Obama administration quickly steered the Western media toward blaming President Vladimir Putin and got the European Union to join in economic sanctions against Russia.
However, after exploiting the rush to judgment against Putin, the Obama administration went silent, withholding U.S. intelligence evidence even from the official crash investigators. The more the administration learned about the tragic event and who was responsible the less it wanted to say.
At the time, I was told that the reason was that some senior CIA analysts were uncovering evidence that went in an inconvenient direction, suggesting a rogue Ukrainian operation connected to a hardline oligarch with the intent of shooting down a Russian jetliner, possibly even the one carrying Putin back from a state visit in South America, but instead brought down MH-17, which had similar markings.
To spread confusion and create some deniability for the attack, the scheme supposedly called for launching the missile from as deep inside “rebel-controlled” territory as possible.
A Closed File
The source described getting this briefing from U.S. intelligence analysts, but I was unable to get the CIA or the Office of Director of National Intelligence to provide any guidance. Instead, they clammed up, claiming that they didn’t want to “prejudice” the official Dutch-led investigation (although I pointed out that the hasty U.S. finger-pointing at Russia had already done that).
The refusal of the Obama administration to open its MH-17 files allowed the “Dutch-led” Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to be effectively taken over by Ukraine’s unsavory SBU intelligence agency, which oversaw the care and feeding of Dutch and Australian investigators who decamped for long periods in Kiev.
The SBU’s “evidence” became central to the JIT’s investigation although the SBU was deeply involved in the war against the ethnic-Russian Ukrainian rebels and was even denounced by United Nations investigators for blocking access to alleged SBU torture centers. Beyond that, part of the SBU’s mandate was to protect Ukrainian government secrets, so the SBU had obvious conflicts of interest.
Nevertheless, the JIT relied on SBU-provided telephone “intercepts” of cryptic Russian-language conversations to base its conclusion that Russia provided the rebels a Buk missile system on the night of July 16, 2014, which was then taken on a strangely circuitous route far to the west before circling back to the east to a location far from the battlefront where it shot down MH-17 on July 17 and then was driven back to Russia that evening, again taking an unnecessarily long way home.
Though there were numerous holes in the SBU’s evidence and serious questions about why the Buk would have taken its bizarrely long ride – when a much more direct and discreet route was available – the Western media again showed no skepticism, simply accepting Russian guilt as established fact and dismissing any alternative explanation as “fanciful.”
The Value of Truth
However, whatever the truth is – whether the Russians and their rebel allies were responsible for the tragedy or whether a rogue Ukrainian operation brought down MH-17 – there is no reason why President Trump shouldn’t instruct CIA Director Mike Pompeo to release as much of the U.S. intelligence analysis as possible.
First, the families of the dead deserve all the help that the U.S. government can provide to identify the killers and bring them to justice. Second, by releasing the MH-17 file, President Trump can demonstrate that he does care about truth in contrast to President Obama who mysteriously withheld this information for 2½ years and thus gave the culprits, whoever they are, time to escape and cover their tracks.
Further, if the file blames the Russians, releasing it would show that Trump is not in Putin’s pocket, as many people in Official Washington claim. And, if the file implicates an element of the Ukrainian government – even a rogue faction – that might relieve geopolitical tensions with Russia and open possible paths for resolving the Ukrainian crisis.
The Trump administration also could consider other topics for declassification, such as the circumstances surrounding the U.S-backed coup that ousted elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014. U.S. intelligence surely was following those events closely and could clarify the roles of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and Sen. John McCain, who all cheered on and encouraged violent protests that preceded the coup.
Obama also hid the intelligence regarding the mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21, 2013, which Secretary of State John Kerry and others blamed on the Syrian government although later evidence seemed to implicate jihadist rebels who wanted to trick the U.S. military into intervening directly in the war on their side.
Given the importance of those turning-point moments – and the Obama administration’s attempts to exploit them for geopolitical ends – the American people deserve to know what the U.S. intelligence analysts ultimately concluded and whether President Obama’s team was telling the truth or had gotten lost in the Orwellian idea of “perception management.”
President Trump might find that he can begin to turn around his reputation as a person who doesn’t care about the truth by becoming a truth-teller.