Ron Paul’s BS Conspiracy Theory about MH17

The theory henceforth to be known as “BS17”.

Ron Paul is sure that the US government is engaging in a coverup about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down on July 17 near the Russian border over territory controlled by Ukrainian rebels.

A coverup of what exactly? And why? And how does he know? These mysteries may never be solved. But let’s take a look at how the sausage of conspiracy theory is made. Paul:

“The U.S. government has grown strangely quiet on the accusation that it was Russia or her allies that brought down the Malaysian airliner with a buck [sic] anti-aircraft missile.”

Has it now? I haven’t read a single article about MH17 from a Western media outlet that doesn’t mention that conclusion. It so happens that the media cycle has moved on from last month and the frequency of articles about the shoot down has decreased, in part because of a lack of new information.

This is only “strange” to Paul because he believes everything in the media is being controlled by our government. Apparently this week the government wants us to miss Patch Adams, not hate Russia.

“The little that we have heard from U.S. intelligence is that it has no evidence that Russia was involved.”

This bull straddles the fence between misleading half-truth and outright lie. Then it kicks down that fence, stomps on it, and defecates violently.

There are good reasons to think that the rebels, using Russian military hardware, accidentally shot down the plane. Ukrainian intelligence wiretaps of separatists appear to show that as many as three Russian-made Buk radar-guided missile systems were brought across the border. The geolocation data of a Russian soldier’s Instagram pictures appear show him working on a Buk missile launcher on the Russian border and inside Ukraine.

On the Thursday that MH17 was brought down, the separatist “prime minister” Igor Girkin took credit on his social media account for shooting down what he said was a Ukrainian transport plane. After it became clear that a passenger jet had been shot down (and no transport plane was missing), Girkin deleted the post.

Moreover, the strike on the Malaysian flight didn’t happen in a vacuum: numerous Ukrainian planes were shot down that week. The night before MH17 fell out of the sky, a Ukrainian jet was shot down by an air-to-air missile (no prizes for guessing whose air force Ukraine holds responsible). The same day, rebels shot down two more Ukrainian jets, and that Monday, a Ukrainian military transport plane was shot down by a missile that Ukraine claims was fired from Russia’s side of the border.


So is Russia responsible? Maybe not directly. In June, rebel forces had, according to the Herald Sun, seized a military base that housed Buk launchers, and most Western officials have argued that it was separatists using weapons given to them by Moscow, not Russian forces themselves, who shot down the plane.

But there’s reason to think that untrained rebel militiamen could not have operated a complex radar-guided missile system on their own. It’s not a point-and-shoot video game. That might explain what Russian communications specialists were doing taking selfies inside Ukraine, and might explain photos and dashcam footage that Ukrainian intelligence claims shows a Buk launcher being smuggled into Russia two days after the attack.

“Yet the war propaganda was successful in convincing the American public that it was all Russia’s fault.”

Back up. Dr. Paul, you just claimed that the only thing the US government has said is that there’s no reason to believe Russia was involved. You’re invoking the authority of the government to disprove the idea that Russia was involved, while also blaming it for promoting the idea Russia was involved.

And what “war” propaganda? Who exactly is conspiring to get the US into a war with Russia? It sure isn’t the Obama administration. Except for what amounts to stern finger wagging, they’ve made no moves towards World War III that I can see.

“It’s hard to believe that the U.S., with all of its spy satellites available for monitoring everything in Ukraine that precise proof of who did what and when is not available.”

Ukraine: kind of a big place.
Ukraine: kind of a big place. Big like “the biggest country within Europe” big.

This is cringe-inducingly stupid. “All its spy satellites available for monitoring everything in Ukraine”? First, the Ukraine-Russia border is about 1,500 miles long, and that’s only an infinitely thin line. Ukraine itself is 233,000 square miles.

Apparently Paul imagines the US government can see every square inch of the planet, 24/7, but satellites can only see where you point them. I’m willing to bet that not all of the United States’ spy satellites are looking at Ukraine or Russia, but even if they were, they couldn’t do what Paul claims they must be doing.

“When evidence contradicts our government’s accusations, the evidence is never revealed to the public—for national security reasons, of course.”

What is this evidence? Where is it? This is a classic conspiracy theorist tactic: claim that the lack of evidence for your conspiracy theory is itself somehow evidence of a conspiracy. In Ron Paul’s bizarro world, the less evidence there is, the more it proves your claim!

“Some independent sources claim that the crash site revealed evidence that bullet holes may have come from a fighter jet. If true, it would implicate western Ukraine.”

“Independent sources”? Citation needed. [Update below.] But it seems that Paul may be repeating a garbled version of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s story that a Ukrainian SU-25 close air support plane was flying near MH17’s route and shot it down. The problem with this, as already explained here by Mike Rothschild, is that “the SU-25 isn’t an interceptor and has a ceiling of just 23,000 feet – and MH17 was flying at 33,000 feet when it went silent.”

Then there’s the basic question of motivation: why would Ukraine shoot down a civilian passenger jet flying from a European country to southeast Asia? The separatists have no air force of their own, so there’s no reason for Ukraine to be randomly shooting big unarmed planes out of the sky. The Kremlin-owned Interfax suggested that it was an attempted assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin’s plane, which they claimed was nearby. But Putin wasn’t anywhere near there.

“Questions do remain regarding the serious international incident. Too bad we can’t count on our government to just tell us the truth and show us the evidence. I’m convinced that it knows a lot more than it’s telling us.”

These are just more classic conspiracist tactics: the “just asking questions” defense and the “there’s things we don’t know” cliche. Dr. Paul, of course questions remain, and of course there’s things the CIA doesn’t tell you. But that doesn’t give you a license to just make stuff up.

I too would like to know a lot more about the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17. Too bad the Russian-backed rebels wouldn’t let investigators reach the crash zone for two weeks after the event. Too bad the fighting has gotten so bad the search had to be suspended after just days. Too bad the corpses are so burned, broken, and dismembered that we don’t even know how many bodies have been recovered.

Ron Paul, we supported your presidential campaign precisely because you stood against war and aggression. Those things didn’t suddenly become okay just because they’re being done by a foreign government instead of our own. Too bad we can’t count on you to just stick to non-interventionism, instead of parroting Russian propaganda and defending Putin’s imperialism.

Update: Several people have suggested that Paul was referring to this 55 second clip (the staple of any good conspiracy theory) from a CBC interview last month. In it, OCSE employee Michael Bociurkiw, who had been on the job for less than three months, describes his first impression of the wreckage on the ground. He says that he saw pieces of fuselage that he thought “almost looked like” it had been hit with bullets, and that he didn’t see any obvious missile parts.

The full interview is interesting and quite moving, but the short clip is hardly dispositive. Bociurkiw states explicitly that he isn’t an expert and does not have the training to identify such things, and that more qualified investigators had arrived since then. Moreover, real systematic investigation and recovery efforts didn’t start until two weeks after the crash, during which time the rebels took control of the black box, bodies, and other evidence. Since then, the search has been suspended multiple times due to violent clashes in the region.

Bociurkiw also states that on the second day he was there, he witnessed men “hacking into [the cockpit] with a power saw.” There was no quarantine of the area, no effort to save and catalogue evidence, no effort to preserve the integrity of the crime scene. He describes the conditions as a “conflict zone, with no security to the site.” Eight members of his initial OCSE team were briefly kidnapped and held.

I would like to know more about what happened to that plane, but we will only get that if there is a credible and full investigation. That’s looking more and more difficult as the weeks drag into months. If such an investigation overturns the evidence so far that implicates the rebels, so be it. Governments–all governments, not just ours or Russia’s–do stupid and evil things. Unlike some people, I have no prior commitment to blaming or defending anyone. But “we don’t know for sure yet” doesn’t justify making things up, and it doesn’t justify ignoring the things we do know, so far.