March 14, 2014

Plot Thickens on Missing Malaysian Plane: Hijacking, Terrorism Gone Bad? (UPDATED)

The facts are so muddied about what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that I've deliberately steered away from the subject for the past week. But with crazy conspiracy theories still filling the air waves, we are getting some facts that have been around for a couple of days and have yet to be debunked so I'll go ahead and pull the trigger here.

Here's what we think we know: Sometime after takeoff, someone on the airplane deliberately turned off two pieces of the communication system:

US officials believe that two communications systems aboard Malaysian Airlines flight 370 were shut down separately, 14 minutes apart - which indicates the plane did not come down because of a sudden catastrophic failure.

The data reporting system was shut down at 1.07 am and the transponder was turned off at 1.21 am just after the the pilot signed off to Malaysian air traffic controllers with 'All right, good night,'

Right after the transponder is turned off, the plane diverts West towards the Middle East:
Analysis of the Malaysia data suggests the plane, with 239 people on board, diverted from its intended northeast route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew west instead, using airline flight corridors normally employed for routes to the Middle East and Europe
Some are speculating that the plane landed in the Andman Islands, but people familiar with this particular kind of plane say that there isn't a landing strip big enough for the jet to land. Which means that the plane is probably somewhere at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and not the South China Sea where the search and rescue operation has been looking unsuccessfully for a week:
And a senior U.S. official on Thursday offered a conflicting account, telling CNN that "there is probably a significant likelihood" the plane is on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
The US and India have both deployed assets to look in the area around the Andoman islands.

Ok, so what we think now is that:
a) Someone deliberately turned off the airplane's communication systems.
b) The plane then banked West, away from its intended course
c) A piece of hardware was last heard "pinging" its corporate headquarters somewhere over the Indian Ocean on a course over the Andoman islands.

The new theory is that is that this was either an act of terrorism or a hijacking gone awry. The implication is that someone on board with commercial flight training -- say, one of the pilots or a passenger who was a pilot -- is responsible.

And remember, just this week at the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith in NYC a witness, Saajid Badat, claims that he met with Malaysian terrorists and gave them one of the shoe bombs that al Qaeda had intended for him to use (he was the second "shoe bomber" who chickened out, Richard Reid was the other). NYT:

Mr. Badat testified in 2012 that some months after Sept. 11, 2001, he met with members of a Malaysian terrorist group who were ready to perform a similar hijacking to 9/11.
Now, there is some technical evidence that Richard Reid's shoe bomb would most likely not have brought a plane down unless a variety of other factors went right for him. So, I'm not suggesting a shoe bomb brought down the plane.

But the real insight here is that there are al Qaeda types operating in Malaysia (you know, that bastion of "moderation"). I can't find this at the NYTimes story I linked above, but I heard the author of the piece on NPR the other day and he mentioned that Badat claimed that one of the Malaysians he met with had had some flight training.

So, some kind of hijacking or terrorism? Maybe an attempt to use the plane 9/11 style on an Indian city?

Here's what's missing from this theory: if this was some kind of terrorism, where's the video statement from the 'shahids'? Where's the statement from al Qaeda or its Malaysian sympathizers?

If this was a hijacking: where are the demands for money? Or where are the demands for the release of 'political prisoners'? Or the return of Kashmir to Pakistan?

So far none of the pieces fit together so neatly that we have a clear picture of what happened. Any other theories?

UPDATE: Been busy today. And by "busy" I mean went home after teaching classes and took a nap. But here's some added thoughts I put in the comments and then decided to update the post with.

Interesting thoughts all. Just to lay some facts down:

You can't take over a plane via the intertubez and then fly it "remotely". Just isn't possible. Too much TV people.

Dry run? There's no such thing. Terrorists don't "dry run" anything, they just do it. Often, they fail. The chances for detection double when you practice the act of terror before you do the act of terror. It's why they don't do it. Again, too much TV.

Pakistan? That means the plane flew over India. Indians would have noticed. Also, the Pakistanis have plenty of airplanes. No need to hijack one.

You can't land something like this on a dirt strip. Well, you might land it, but you'd never get it to take off again. The tires, struts, and shocks on these things just aren't built for that.

I've heard a few theories about they took the plane to use it in a terror attack against the US (either in the homeland or Diego Garcia). But ... um ... why the US? Militant Islamists have plenty of targets more proximate than the US. In the region, India is considered the little Satan with Kashmir being the regions Palestinian question. But Thailand is also little Satan. And all the secular and apostate governments in Muslims countries. Etc, etc.

I like John's hypothesis. Someone took the plane with the intention of using it somehow (kidnapping, 9/11 style attack) and then something went wrong and it crashed.

I can see a number of scenarios where this works. The pilots take the plane. It's all good for an hour or so. One of the passengers turns on his GPS and notices they're headed towards India, not China. Word spreads. The passengers revolt, not willing to become fodder in a 9/11 style attack.

Plausible?

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 06:02 PM | Comments |