U.S. intelligence resources tracked the "specific missile" that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a senior Administration official said Tuesday, saying intelligence adds up to a picture that "implicates Russia" in helping to bring down the plane.
"We did pick up a launch, and so we were able to have the ability to track this specific launch," the official told reporters Tuesday afternoon. The missile shot up nearly vertically from a location in eastern Ukraine determined to be in control of Russian-backed separatists, the official added, before striking the plane at an altitude of 33,000 ft., killing the plane's 298 passengers and crew.
The comments come as the U.S. government is intensifying pressure on the Russian government for arming and training separatist forces. President Barack Obama Monday threatened additional economic and diplomatic "costs" on Russia.
But the American intelligence case against Russia remains largely circumstantial, even as Russia has called on the U.S. government to prove its case. "Everything points at the same scenario," the official said. "It's not like there are countertheories that make any sense to us."
"We don't know who literally was operating the system that day," the official added. "But more generally what we have is a picture of evidence that says the Russians have been providing these arms, these types of systems and Russians have been providing training. That adds up to a picture that implicates Russia."
The official did not say whether U.S. intelligence was capable of tracking the missile’s flight-path in real time, or only once the plane had been brought down.
The admittedly circumstantial American case comes as Russia has remained adamant that it bears no responsibility for the incident. The official said while the U.S. government does not know with precision how and when the SA-11 got to Ukraine, it did not belong to the Ukrainian government, rather appears to have entered the country from Russia. “What we had been tracking is a lot of heavy weaponry moving into Ukraine, including antiaircraft systems,” the official added.