THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
July 17, 2014
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
This is one of those historic days in the news, when newspapers feel like
they need two front pages. This is the home page for "The New York Times"
right now. They basically split their available real estate as a newspaper
to do two lead stories at once.
It`s the same thing at "The Wall Street Journal." Essentially making both
these stories their lead story right now.
Same thing, again, at "The Washington Post."
In the space of 31 minutes this afternoon, the news broke that U.S.
intelligence had confirmed that the passenger jet that crashed in Ukraine
today was shot down by a missile fired from the ground. Within 31 minutes
of that announcement the news also broke the Israeli prime minister
instructed the Israeli military to start a ground invasion of Gaza.
This is a rare day of these two huge news stories breaking, essentially
simultaneously. We`re going to have a lot of information, a lot of
interviews over the course of the next hour about these two major stories
and throughout the night here on MSNBC.
But one of these two huge stories that broke today actually ends up being
part of the relevant historical context for understanding the other one of
these stories. Because in 1973, it was this civilian airliner that was
mistakenly shot down by the military. There had been a sandstorm that day.
Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 14 had veered off due to the sandstorm and they
ended up over the Sinai desert, an area that was then controlled by Israel.
This was in February of 1973. This is between the Six-Day War and Yom
Kippur War, and the Israeli Defense Forces were on hair trigger alert in
And when that passenger plane strayed into that airspace that the Israelis
were watching so closely, the Israeli military, they sent two phantom
fighter jets up to intercept, and those fighter jets shot that plane down.
And 113 people had been onboard. It was a civilian aircraft, 108 of those
113 people died.
That`s usually the way these things happen, when passenger jets full of
innocent civilians end up getting shot down by military-grade weapons.
Usually, but not always, usually it`s an aircraft-to-aircraft missile of
some sort. And usually it is some variety of a case of mistaken identity.
Five years after that shoot-down over the Sinai desert in 1973, it was 1978
and a Korean Airlines jet but not the one you`re thinking of. It was a
Korean Airlines Flight number 902 flying from Paris to South Korea. And
that jet in 1978 mistakenly crossed over into Soviet airspace up near the
Soviet border with Finland.
And the Soviet jets were scrambled to go check it out. They fired a heat-
seeking missile at that Korean Airlines jet. The jet got hit by the
missile, but it was not destroyed. The pilots of that plane emergency
landed the aircraft on a frozen lake. Two of the passengers onboard were
killed by the missile. About a dozen of them were injured. The rest
survived. That was 1978.
And then, five years later, the Soviets did it again and they did it again
to another Korean Airlines jet. Although this time in 1983, it was a
direct hit and the jet was destroyed and everybody onboard was killed.
This was a much more famous incident, the one that happened in 1983. It
was Korean Airlines flight 007. And that flight, again, had strayed into
the Soviet Union, but honestly, that flight was only seconds away from
international airspace when a Soviet fighter jet hit it with two missiles.
That was 1983. One of the passengers onboard that plane that was shot down
was a U.S. congressman named Lawrence McDonald, congressman from Georgia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER MUDD, NBC NEWS: I`m Roger Mudd, NBC News, Washington.
The United States today accused the Soviet Union of shooting down a Korean
Airline jumbo jet carrying 269, including Congressman Larry McDonald of
Georgia and perhaps 30 other Americans. There are not thought to be any
The airliner which originated in New York was on a flight from Anchorage,
Alaska, to Seoul, South Korea. The U.S. claimed that Soviet fighters
tracked the Korean 747 for more than 2 hours as it swerved off course and
wandered in and out of Soviet airspace.
CHRIS WALLACE, REPORTER: The president was first informed the Korean plane
was missing last night, but it was not until this morning that he was told
that the Soviets have shot it down. Presidential counselor Ed Meese said
the president was, quote, "very angry about the attack." Later, spokesman
Larry Speakes had a formal statement.
LARRY SPEAKES, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The president is very concerned and
deeply disturbed about the loss of life aboard the Korean Airlines flight
overnight. There are no circumstances that can justify the unprecedented
attack on an unarmed civilian aircraft. The Soviet Union owes an
explanation to the world of how and why this tragedy has occurred.
WALLACE: Speakes says the president has no plan to cut his vacation short
but he has the same ability to get information and issue orders at his
ranch that he has at the White House.
Chris Wallace, NBC News, with the president, in California.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, ultimately, in 1983, after that incident, President Reagan
did change his initial plans. He did decide to cut his vacation short in
California and he came back to the White House in Washington and, in fact,
delivered an address to the nation about the Soviet Union shooting down
that passenger plane. .
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans, I`m coming before
you tonight about the Korean Airline massacre.
The attack by the Soviet Union against 269 innocent men, women and children
aboard an unarmed Korean passenger plane. This crime against humanity must
never be forgotten, here or throughout the world.
Let me state as plainly as I can -- there was absolutely no justification,
either legal or moral, for what the Soviets did. This is not the first
time the Soviet Union has shot at and hit a civilian airliner when it
overflew its territory. In another tragic incident in 1978, the Soviets
also shot down an unarmed civilian airliner after having positively
identified it as such.
Is this a practice of other countries in the world? The answer is no.
Commercial aircraft from the Soviet Union and Cuba on a number of occasions
have overflown sensitive United States military facilities. They weren`t
We, and other civilized countries, believe in the tradition of offering
help to mariners and pilots who are lost or in distress on the sea or in
the air. We believe in following procedures to prevent a tragedy, not to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Reagan speaking to the nation from the White House in
September 1983 after a Soviet military fighter jet shot down a Korean
Airlines passenger plane that killed 2689 people. President Reagan asking
and answering, "Is this a practice of other countries in the world? The
answer is no." He said that in 1983.
But then five years later, when it happened again, while Ronald Reagan was
still president, the next time it happened in 1988, it was the U.S.
military who did it. 1988 was the tail end of the Iran/Iraq War. You`ll
remember that the United States sided with Iraq. Saddam Hussein in the
And a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser called the USS Vincennes was
skirmishing with Iranian military speedboats in the Persian Gulf on July 3,
1988, and the crew of the Vincennes in the middle of the mess with these
Iranian boats took notice of an aircraft. It was an Airbus A300 civilian
passenger plane that was taking off from a nearby airport in Iran called
For whatever reason, the crew of the U.S. Navy ship looked at that civilian
airliner in the process of taking off and decided instead that it must be
an Iranian military F-14 fighter jet coming down at them. They got the
size wrong, they got the speed wrong. They got the trajectory wrong, they
got the type of aircraft wrong almost by an order of magnitude.
And that Navy ship shot that civilian airliner down and 290 people on board
died in the Persian Gulf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: Good morning. We are following developments in the Persian
Gulf where there has been a major tragedy and perhaps a major mistake.
Involves an Iran Air Airbus. That`s a wide body jumbo jet. It had 290
people on board today as it was flying from a town along the coast of Iran
to Dubai in the Persian Gulf. It crashed into the gulf. All 290 people on
that plane are believed to have been killed.
Now, the Iranian government, the military is saying the plane was shot down
by missiles, that they came from U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. The
Defense Department in Washington has said so far it knows nothing about the
plane being shot down by missiles. It cannot even confirm the plane was
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS: Throughout the morning, military officials
were certain that U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf had shot down an
Iranian F-14 fighter jet. Now they`re saying they`re not so sure, leaving
open the distinct possibility that a U.S. missile may have been responsible
for the crash of that Iranian civilian Airbus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Seeing this footage from the day is fascinating because those two
clips were from the very initial reports, the first NBC special report as
the news was first coming out of the Persian Gulf that day about that
airliner going down.
First, Washington saying it knows nothing about the plane being shot down,
not even confirming the plane was shot down. Pentagon saying we think we
shot down an F-14, oh, maybe we didn`t shoot down an F-14 -- the first
inkling that something about this story was not making sense and might be a
And by later in the day that same day, looking at the reports, the
reporting that day, just from NBC as it evolved over the course of the day,
by later in the day it was clear that airliner had not just crashed, that
it had been shot down and it was the U.S. military that had shot it down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: It has been one of the pentagon`s worst nightmares, a shoot-down
of a civilian airliner. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral
William Crowe, announced the terrible accident.
WILLIAM CROWE, THEN-CHAIRM, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We believe that the
cruiser U.S. Vincennes while actively engaged with threatening Iranian
surface units and protecting itself from what was concluded to be a hostile
aircraft, shot down an Iranian airliner over the Straits of Hormuz.
REPORTER: In a statement released by the White House, President Reagan
expressed regret and said he was deeply saddened over what he called a
terrible human tragedy.
(EN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When the Russians had shot down a civilian aircraft five years
earlier, right, so, that was 1988. When the Russians shot down a civilian
aircraft five years later in 1983, President Reagan addressed the nation
and said no other country does things like this. Then when the United
States did it five years later, the Pentagon did back flips to explain how
understandable this whole thing was.
What was concluded to be a hostile aircraft. It wasn`t a hostile aircraft.
It was a passenger jet.
The commanding officer of the U.S. Vincennes which shot down that civilian
aircraft, the commanding officer of that ship was later award the Legion of
Merit, one of the military`s highest service awards for his service
commanding that ship during the time when it shot down that airliner. They
even gave the Navy commendation medal specifically to the ship`s anti-
aircraft officer who was the officer in charge of recognizing real threats
from hostile aircraft and directing and appropriate response.
So, that officer led the team that looked at what turned out to be an
Airbus passenger jet and that team decided it was an F-14 and they shot it
out of the sky and even though they were terribly, terribly wrong, they
gave him a medal for it.
The history of the armed forces of various countries shooting down
passenger jets mistakenly -- I mean, obviously you hope it`s always
mistakenly, that history is terrible enough without considering the way
those countries and those militaries have tended to respond when they`ve
been confronted with the realization that they`ve done something so
The way they respond is usually somewhere along a pretty horrific continuum
between denial and celebration. In 2001, three weeks after 9/11, armed
forces of the nation of Ukraine was holding their largest ever military
exercise as a nation. Ukraine had only existed as a nation separate from
the Soviet Union for about 10 years. At this point, it was 2001. This was
the biggest military exercises they had ever done. October, 2001.
Those military exercises included the Ukrainian military shooting down a
drone aircraft with a powerful surface-to-air anti-aircraft heat-seeking
missile. Or rather, shooting down a drone with two of those missiles
because one of those missiles does appear to have hit the drone. The other
one appears to have hit this plane, or at least a plane like it.
Ukrainian military in 2001 during military exercises accidentally shot down
Siberian Airlines Flight 1812 which was flying from Tel Aviv to Siberia,
and 78 completely innocent people were killed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: At first, terrorism was suspected, but now U.S. officials
believe it was a missile fired during this military training exercise in
the Crimean region of Ukraine, about 160 miles from the site of the crash.
U.S. officials tell NBC News that a launch of a Ukrainian missile was
detected four minutes before the Russian plane was apparently hit.
Ukrainian officials deny any involvement saying the missiles they were
training with don`t have the range to have reached the civilian plane.
The Ukrainian military had nothing to do with the plane crash, says the
country`s defense minister, but there will be an investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Well, yes, the investigation later concluded that, yes, in fact
the Ukrainian military did have missiles with a large enough range to reach
civilian planes and, in fact, that is what happened to that Siberian
airliner. They accidentally shot it out of the sky and that`s how those 78
And those denials, right, those initial denials which you see in that
initial reporting, those denials that (a), they didn`t do it and, (b), they
couldn`t have done it if they wanted to because they didn`t have that kind
of hardware -- well, that matched exactly with what happened in Ukraine
again today when news first broke of the more than ten-square-kilometer-
debris field over rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.
The rebels there are pro-Russian separatists. Day want that part of
Ukraine to break off and join Russia as Crimea has. When flight 17 fell
from a height of 33,000 feet today over that part of Ukraine, killed all
298 passengers and crew onboard, the leaders of the separatist rebels in
that region, they told reporters immediately not only was it definitely not
them, it couldn`t have been them.
Sound familiar? They said, their surface-to-air missiles, yes, they had a
few, but they consisted on of ones like these, man-portable air defense
systems, better known as MANPADS, although in American English that`s kind
of a weird term, so we`re more comfortable calling them shoulder-fired
missiles. They don`t have the range to take down an airliner flying at
about 30,000 feet. They say, that`s all we have, we couldn`t have done it.
For the kind of strike that took down this flight today you`d need
something more powerful. You need something like these. These are a
variety of mobile, sort of truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles called a
BUK missile system, B-U-K. These are used both by the Russian military and
by the Ukrainian military.
And although the pro-Russian separatists who control the parts of Eastern
Ukraine where this plane was shot down today, the separatists were eager to
tell reporters all they`ve got is shoulder. Fired missiles so. This
couldn`t have been their handy work even if they wanted to.
Well, in late June, those same separatists were bragging to Russian
language media that actually they`d just taken over a Ukrainian military
air defense base which, wouldn`t you know it, was armed with those powerful
BUK system anti-aircraft missiles, the kind that can absolutely hit a plane
that 30,000 feet, 40,000 feet, a 50,000 feet, the kind of missiles that are
in fact used to shoot planes out of the sky. That`s exactly what they`re
There are reports that the official Twitter feed of the Donetsk People`s
Republic, self-proclaimed separatist government of that region, there are
reports today that they even tweeted out a picture of the BUK missile
system that they captured in June. This is reported to be that picture
that they tweeted. That original tweet has been deleted if it ever existed
in the first place, so we`re just left with those reports.
But I should tell you the "Associated Press" reported today that its own
journalists today, early today, saw a launcher similar to the BUK missile
system near an eastern Ukrainian town which is held by the rebels. The
town is marked on the right there, right in the middle of the debris field
for the plane.
Today, just after 4:00 p.m., U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that
they believe the cause of the plane crash in eastern Ukraine was, in fact,
a missile, one that was fired from the ground. This point they say they
can`t tell if the missile was fired from the Ukraine side of the border or
Russia side of the border.
And it did not matter to that jet where the missile came from, right? But
it matters in terms of accountability and what happens next. And whole
huge swaths of geopolitical relations matter, right? It matters whether or
not the missile that took town that jet was fired by some nominally
independent group of militants that sympathize with Russia, but represent
no country. It matters whether it was them or whether it was actually the
Russian military that shot down that passenger aircraft.
Ukraine already blamed Russia this week for shooting down one of its
fighter jets. The Russian government denied that. Their foreign minister
told diplomats at the U.N., quote, "We didn`t do it." That was his exact
Ukraine this week blamed Russia not for shooting down one of its fighter
jets but shooting down one of its military cargo aircraft. There`s not
been a clear denial from Russia on that one. But U.S. officials tell NBC
News they believe that Ukrainian military transport plane was shot down
from the Russian side of the border by Russian forces unequivocally.
There is a long and terrible and, frankly, duplicitous history of
militaries including even our own shooting down unarmed and unequivocally
innocent passenger jets carrying dozens of even hundreds of civilian
passengers. There`s a lot of them. Accountability for those incidents
almost always starts with the guilty party denying responsibility --
denying that it even could have been them.
Even the long-term resolution of these matters can be terrible and even
strange. The Soviet pilot who shot down that Korean Airlines jet, the one
in 1983, the one that killed all those people, more than 200 people, the
Russian military gave him a bonus for his good work that night shooting
down that passenger jet full of civilians.
On the USS Vincennes, the commanding officer and aircraft chief got
themselves medals for their performance, but then the United States
government ended up paying $62 million in restitution to the government of
Iran as an apology after Iran sued the United States and the international
court of justice over that shoot-down.
Well, now, the denials today have already started. The denials have
started on all sides. Anybody who could plausibly have shot this down has
denied it was them. And the resolution will take a long time and whatever
the resolution, it will not bring back the 298 people who died in the air
over Eastern Ukraine today through no fault of their own.
The process starts with figuring out what happened and figuring out who did
it and figuring out how they are going to pay. And the start of that story
MADDOW: We`re back with our continuing coverage of Malaysia Airlines
Flight 17. The Boeing 777 carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew members was
traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia when it crashed
earlier today over eastern Ukraine. U.S. officials have told NBC News that
intelligence indicates the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile,
exactly what surface that missile was shot from remains unclear, however.
The wreckage has landed in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, an
area that`s been embroiled in fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-
Russian separatists. And their relationship with the Russian military has
been murky for a very long while now and that is part of figuring out what
happens next here.
The crash site is in an area that`s under rebel control. The rebels are
denying any responsibility for the crash, as are the Russians. How much of
an investigation can be done in what is realistically a war zone? Who will
do that investigation? And what do we still expect to be able to find out
about how this happened, where it originated from, and who did it?
Joining us now is longtime NBC News aviation correspondent, Robert Hager.
Mr. Hager has been an on the ground reporter in passenger jet disasters
including Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, and TWA Flight 800, which
crashed off Long Island 18 years ago today.
Mr. Hager, thank you for being with us tonight.
ROBERT HAGER, NBC NEWS AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Rachel.
And, by the way, I covered both the Soviet shoot-down of the Korean
passenger plane, as well as the Iranian Airbus that got shot down.
MADDOW: Well, when you look back at the history of these and put them on
one of these terrible timelines, it is remarkable that there have been so
many given that every time it happens, it sort of feels like the end of the
world. Is, I mean, is there any --
HAGER: Yes, it`s really unbelievable.
MADDOW: -- is there anything normal that we can say normally happens for
things like this?
HAGER: No. I mean, it`s just completely abnormal. When you list
different kinds of things that cause air accidents, you`re thinking
weather, pilot error, navigation errors. Shoot-down over a military
conflict, zone of a military conflict, highly, highly unusual -- but sadly,
in that list you enumerated so, so well, you know, it has happened too
MADDOW: Well, what -- regardless of what causes a crash, what normally
happens in the first 24 hours after a crash? What are the first steps we
look to see leading into an investigation of a crash site and the wreckage,
HAGER: Yes, good you asked that. People think of the normal thing,
investigators get there, they chart the wreckage very carefully. They look
for the black box recordings and so forth. And all that`s important when
it was a normal cause of an accident.
In this case, missile shoot-down, it`s a completely different ball game. I
mean, all you really need to do is rule out that it`s some other cause and
that seems to be almost certain at this point that it was not that.
And if you believe our intelligence sources so far, if we or somebody else
has actual infrared satellite images of the missile being fired from the
ground and later infrared image of the score, the hit on the airplane --
well, there`s your proof. You know, you don`t need black boxes, you don`t
need the charting of the wreckage you would need in a normal crash.
You do -- wreckage can tell you something about whether the missile hit the
engine or so forth. In this case, it becomes much less important than when
you`re looking for some mechanical thing or the kind of thing you`re
looking for in a regular aircraft investigation.
MADDOW: Would you expect that there could be some sort of forensic
examination of that wreck -- again, as you`re saying, not to learn the
cause of the plane coming down. If it was a missile, then it`s obvious
that was it. But could there be forensic investigation to find out the
type of missile and, therefore, what type of platform it might have been
launched from, and therefore who might have launched it?
HAGER: Yes. You could look for fragments of the missile, for the way in
which it destroyed the plane. You could do some things like that.
And this requires not the ordinary kind of air accident investigators that
we`re used to in the United States, but specialized military people who
know about that sort of thing. And then apart from trying to determine a
source of the missile, you`ve got the various questions of public policy
about, you know, why is an airliner still flying over a conflicted area
like this? I think most of the airlines had decided to fly around there,
that normally use that airspace. So why Malaysian Airline is flying
through that airspace, even at a high altitude, is to me something of a
And there ought to be something better done about the radio communications
by which these civilian airliners identify themselves or by which military
planes interrogate the civilian airliner who are you, what are you, or so
forth, to avoid mistaken identities which virtually all of these involve
some accident of mistaken identification. Clumsily mistaking the identity
but nonetheless mistaking identity.
So, there ought to be some foolproof way to get at that issue.
MADDOW: NBC aviation correspondent Robert Hager, thank you for helping us
sort out what is a complicated story in this. I appreciate your time.
Thank you, sir.
There`s going to be an emergency international meeting tomorrow at 3:00
p.m. Eastern to try to figure out the next international steps forward
after this international incident. There have already been some rather
dramatic emergency communications involving our own government and our own
government`s response to this. We`ve got the very latest on that coming up
next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is an AK-47. It`s a gun that was first developed in 1947,
which I think explains the 47 part of the name. It was developed in the
former Soviet Union.
In the late 1940s, it was the weapon of choice for Soviet forces and while
it is a design more than six decades old, the AK-47 in its many, many, many
models are still being used by armed forces in more than 80 countries
around the world. It`s the world`s most popular assault rifle by a mile.
Part of that has to do with how durable it is, how easy it is to use and
how inexpensive it is both to make it and to buy it. The AK-47 is the most
ubiquitous gun in the world.
Now, the "K" in AK-47 stands for this guy, Mr. Kalashnikov. Mikhail
Kalashnikov, he invented the AK. He passed away this past December.
And now as of yesterday, the company that produces the AK-47, Kalashnikov
Concern, the largest firearms producer in Russia, they are among the
companies that the United States has sanctioned, with an aim toward making
their practice of business a very difficult thing to accomplish.
This is part of the newest round of unilateral sanctions that President
Obama announced yesterday against Russia, toughest sanctions to date. The
target: two major Russian companies, a pair of leading Russian banks, eight
different Russian arms companies, including that largest one. All the
sanctions are aimed at getting Russia to stop its aggression toward
Ukraine. And this news round of sanctions announced by the U.S., alone,
yesterday, this round of sanctions has Russian leaders very, very angry.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today said, quote, "We may go back
to the 1980s in our relations. The sanctions prompted an angry response
from Russian President Vladimir Putin, angry enough Mr. Putin requested a
call with President Obama early this morning so the two men can discuss the
latest U.S. sanctions one-on-one.
And then while Putin and Obama were on the phone, while the two leaders
were on the phone talking to each other, news broke of that downed plane in
eastern Ukraine. It happened during that call while they were already
talking to each other.
Obviously, this is not an unprecedented situation where Russia is at least
accused of having shot down a commercial airliner full of innocent civilian
passengers but remarkable news to break while they`re talking, anyway.
Later today, President Putin announced he believes Ukraine is responsible
for downing of the passenger plane.
What does this mean for us and Russia at this particularly difficult time
in our relationship? Us understanding more about that is the next big
thing that`s about to happen here.
Let`s bring in Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs
correspondent, the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" here on MSNBC.
Andrea, thank you for being with us.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Of course,
good to see you.
MADDOW: So, what has happened already in terms of the U.S. government
response, and what do we know about what`s happening behind the scenes and
what we should expect next?
MITCHELL: Well, behind the scenes, first of all, there`s going to be a
U.N. Security Council meeting, but Russia, of course, has veto power and
Russia, Vladimir Putin, blamed Kiev, the Ukraine government tonight.
Now, from that intercept that Tom Costello aired earlier tonight, and that
we`ve seen, this intercept that we`ve not been able to independently
confirm, but it does indicate that there was audio of a Ukrainian
separatist talking to a Russian major and saying, well, you know, what
happened? Apparently thinking that they had shot down another Ukrainian
And the major says, it was a passenger plane. And how many people were
killed? And they exchange, you know, conversation, let`s say, expletive
deleted about the fact that they screwed up.
So, this has all been translated. It hasn`t been verified, as I say. It
does seem to be somewhat of a smoking gun. If it turns out to be true that
this was an intercepted conversation, our experts have said it sounds
accurate. And it doesn`t sound as though it could have been edited
And they`re acknowledging, look, they apparently, reportedly, allegedly
shot down two military planes, one on Monday, one last night, a fighter
jet. So they have this ability, they have those, and it does seem to be,
according to American intelligence, a surface-to-air missile.
The only question is, where did it come from? Did it come from this side
of the border or other side of the border? In any case, it`s Russian
MADDOW: And to that point, if in any case, it`s Russian equipment as sort
of the bottom line and it doesn`t matter whether those -- it doesn`t matter
in diplomatic terms whether that missile was fired by Russian forces, or
essentially by irregular Russian forces or Russian aligned separatists
groups across the border -- I mean, is that the way the U.S. is thinking
about this? That this has Russian fingerprints on it, even if it wasn`t
under Putin`s command directly?
MITCHELL: Absolutely. There are several steps. We were briefed last
night -- only last night, it seems like a long time ago -- by Treasury
State Department and White House officials on the next steps they could
take on those sanctions. How they had sanctioned the Russian banks and
energy companies for access to U.S. capital markets 90 days out for medium
and long-term investments but they could do it immediately. They could
shut access to U.S. capital markets and that has an effect because most
trade is done in dollar denominations. So, there is an impact.
Now, it is true that these are not the broad sectoral sanctions we`ve all
been talking about. They`re trying to, they said, not have too much of a
spillover effect on American commerce and also on European allied commerce.
The Europeans had very weak sanctions last night and again today before
this tragedy happened.
I think you`re going to see a different response from Europe. Brussels and
Angela Merkel have to react now. This is a Malaysian plane taking off from
Amsterdam with a lot of Europeans on board.
There have been reports, not confirmed, but there were earlier reports in
social media that some of the people involved may have been some of the
world`s greatest HIV/AIDS investigators from the World Health Organization
en route to the annual conference in Melbourne, Australia. We don`t know
that, but that is one terrible possibility.
But any human life obviously is a horrible loss. And I don`t see how the
world can let this pass. You`ve pointed out brilliantly tonight that this
kind of accident has happened before, but if this is an accident where they
thought they were shooting down a Ukrainian military plane or cargo plane
with a loss of life, 49 dead Monday night, and instead got a passenger
airplane, quote, "by mistake," that`s not excusable really in terms of the
rules of warfare.
MADDOW: And we`ll see if they try to excuse it or if they try to -- if it
is proven they try to just defer responsibility by calling it something
else. This is going to be a very tense situation to watch.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent -- thank you,
Andrea. We appreciate it.
Lots ahead still, including NBC`s Richard Engel joining us live from the
middle of the war zone in Gaza. It`s a big day in a bad way. Stay with
MADDOW: On the morning of 9/11, the morning of 9/11, a photojournalist
named Todd Maisel was taking pictures near the base of the Twin Towers
after the planes just hit. He only barely escaped with his own life that
But while he was still there desperately taking pictures of the scene, he
looked over at one point and saw a human hand on the pavement. No arm, no
person, just a hand. Don`t worry, I`m not going to show you that picture.
But years later, Todd Maisel wrote about it. He said, "There were body
parts and luggage scattered on the ground. A human hand pointed at me on
the pavement." And, again, no, we will not show you that picture, but they
did run that picture in a local paper in New York City and they ran it once
on 9/12 on the morning after the attacks. As far as we can tell, that
photo was never published again.
In news, editors and producers choose which images to show and how many
times to show them, if ever. Some photos are just too violent or invasive
or bloody or awful to show. And those do not get shown or there may be
seen once first pass then somebody thinks better of it and they are never
Editors and producers mediate the distribution of images like that. They
balance news value and human value. Like it or not, it is the job.
When that Malaysian Airlines plane came to rest in a field today in Eastern
Ukraine, the plane was sitting there out in the open. Everything that had
spilled out of that plane just spilled out of that plane. The scene was as
unfiltered as our media is now. These pictures were filed. These ones
here were filed with news services like "Reuters" and the "Associated
If you were getting your information online today, like most of us do, just
as easily as those wire photos, you could have probably also come across
floating around on social media a lot of unfiltered eyewitness photos of
the wreckage, eerily intimate pictures of luggage and among the wreckage,
these photos of first responders arriving on the scene. And pictures of
the victims, people who died, photos you might wish you could somehow un-
see after you have seen them.
The professional media is still how we get a lot of our information, but we
also now all of us have distributional access to direct primary source
unmediated raw eyewitness information, visual information. Even if the
corpses in those fields today never appear on television or in a newspaper,
we can see them. We do come across them because of social media. It`s the
equivalent of that live footage of people jumping out of the buildings on
9/11, right? We saw it that day.
We do not necessarily need to see it anymore, we don`t need to see the hand
photo a second time. But it is an important part of how people understand
that story and what happened and how people reacted to it then and what we
needed to know and what we know about it now looking back.
If the disaster today turns out to be terrorism or an act of war and not
just a mistake, then we will see whether, and how these scary emotion lurid
photos we`ve seen today on social media, whether and how they are used in
holding whoever did it accountable. We will also see how the investigation
proceeds. How the search for an answer here is affected by ordinary people
having walked through the debris and walked among it and handled it and
maybe all those photos they took will help investigators. Maybe they will
provide useful information. Maybe they won`t and they`re just a terrible
record that becomes part of what we know and what we feel about this.
The United States tonight has offered its assistance in studying what
The United Nations has called for a transparent international
investigation. As Andrea just said, the United Nations Security Council
will be meeting tomorrow afternoon. We do not know exactly how things play
out from here. But the world will be watching intently and waiting for an
explanation of what we have already seen and in many cases felt in
We`ve got more ahead.
MADDOW: At around 3:45 Eastern Time this afternoon, the news cycle around
the world shifted rather dramatically. What had been the top story the
entire day, the crash, the shot down of a Malaysian airlines flight over
the Ukraine, that story suddenly started to share international billing
that the news of the simmering battle between Israel and Hamas had broken
wide open around 4:00 p.m. Eastern, which is around 11:00 p.m. local time
The Israel government announced that Prime Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered a
ground invasion of Gaza. This is a qualitatively massive escalation of the
ongoing battle fight between Israel and Hamas which entered its tenth day
today. Israel sent in its ground forces tonight just hours after a brief
humanitarian cease-fire. That cease-fire was aimed around giving
international aid workers around five hours to bring supplies to hundreds
of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom are without access to
It wasn`t much of a cease-fire, anyway. Two hours into it, rockets from
Gaza were launched into Israeli airspace. By at the end of the day,
supposedly cease-fire day, hundreds of mortars had been launched back and
forth between Israel and Hamas.
More than 230 Palestinians have died in the bombardment of Gaza thus far,
along with one Israeli. That`s over the last 10 days. But up until today,
these 10 days of fighting have mostly been waged by air.
Well, tonight that changed. Tonight it became a ground war.
And NBC`s chief correspondent Richard Engel is on the ground in Gaza City
Richard, thank you for being here.
I have to ask you, what is the stated goal of the ground offensive? What
is Israel hoping to accomplish here?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Israel has made it
very clear what it hopes to do, which is to eliminate tunnels that Hamas
has dug and Hamas has used to go under the border from Gaza into Israel to
carry out attacks against Israeli soldiers and Israeli towns. Israel says
that is the goal. That is why it`s sending in tanks, artillery, combat
engineers to destroy these tunnels.
It`s a somewhat limited ground operation on the surface of it. Israel says
it`s not going to come here to the center of Gaza city, which is a densely
populated area. It will just do these incursions around the edges of Gaza.
The question is once you have troops on the ground, you don`t really
control anymore exactly how things play out. It is an escalation, and this
is a very densely populated area whether you`re just around the edges of
Gaza or in the city, and there could be many more casualties if this
continues, casualties on the Palestinian side, that is.
MADDOW: Richard, as you said, once there`s troops on the ground, you can`t
ever in any conflict predict what`s going to happen. But do you have any
sense of how long they expect this to go on, and from your experience, do
you think that their military objectives here are doable and doable with
the kind of forces and the kind of equipment that they have sent in?
ENGEL: Yes -- yes, I do think it is doable. Israel has an overwhelming
preponderance of force, compared to what the Palestinians have. All day on
Palestinian television, Hamas television, they`ve been showing Hamas
fighters, marching, firing rockets.
But the reality is they`re no match for the Israeli army, a fully
mechanized army, with drones, I can hear drones in the sky right now. The
kind of air power they have.
This is an operation the Israeli army can do. It probably could take a
couple of weeks. Some Israeli officials earlier were suggesting two weeks.
And it seems like this is a much more limited objective than the Israeli
military had in, say, 2009 where we were in quite a similar situation.
Hamas was in power, there was a war between Hamas and Israel, and that time
the Israeli army came deeply into the Gaza Strip, and there were over a
thousand Palestinians killed.
And that was a major operation. It lasted several weeks. And Israel was
heavily criticized for that operation afterwards.
This seems like it`s a kind of mission that Israel can walk away from. It
can claim some success that it achieved a significant military goal to the
Israeli people without getting too involved in the crisis here in Gaza, the
crisis, really across the Arab world. Israel doesn`t want to control the
Gaza Strip anymore, control the 2 million people who are living here.
Whether it will be able to achieve this somewhat limited military objective
and just stay around the borders in a couple weeks, however. We will see.
MADDOW: NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, right in the
middle of it there. Richard, please be as safe as you can. Thanks for
being with us, my friend.
All right. We`ve got much more ahead tonight. Please do stay with us.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell earlier tonight this hour mentioned a reported
intercept, a reported phone intercept which the Ukrainian security service
is alleging to be a conversation between Russian separatists operating in
eastern Ukraine and a Russian intelligence officer. In this reported
intercept, which I have to tell you NBC News has not verified in terms of
its authenticity, the separatists appear to be telling the Russians that
they have shot down a plane, a civilian plane.
This is from NBC News reporter Tom Costello earlier tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS: Today, Ukrainian authorities released audio
recordings of what they claim are radio transmissions between a Russian
major and a Russian-backed rebel named Greek.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GREEK: Yes, Sasha, what do you have there?
MAJOR: In short, sure as hell, it`s a civilian plane.
GREEK: Many people?
MAJOR: A F-up. Debris fell into people`s backyards.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, NBC News has not yet verified the authenticity of that
audio. Again, it was released by Ukrainian officials. They say it is the
smoking gun that says it is pro-Russian separatists using Russian military
equipment who have shot down that Malaysian airlines passenger jet in
Eastern Ukraine today. Apparently, an error, presumably they thought they
were shooting down a Ukrainian military jet and not a passenger jet of
obviously completely innocent and totally unrelated civilians.
But meanwhile, diplomatically speaking, Vladimir Putin is saying that he
believes the government of Ukraine is to blame for that passenger plane
coming down. At this hour, we`re still awaiting a complete list of
passengers and their nationalities. We can tell you that all 295
passengers -- excuse me, 298 passengers on that flight were killed. The
United Nations Security Council has called an emergency meeting for 3:00 in
the afternoon Eastern Time tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Thanks for
being with us tonight.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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