Though this is not my general subject matter, there are two issues surrounding this tragic flight that mystify me. They do relate to some of the national security issues I write about, so here goes.
The very notion that in this age of advanced technology, when we can launch satellites that can photograph objects the size of a penny from tens or hundreds of miles into space, that we should lose a passenger jet and have no idea where it or its 239 passengers are–is bizarre. The plane could be on the bottom of the ocean, or sitting on an island runway, or it could be in a terrorist lair. The passengers could be dead or hostages of terrorists. It’s clearly destined to be a TV movie along the lines of Lost. But how can this happen?
As I said, there are two especially troubling issues. The first is why the pilots or hijackers were able to turn off all equipment that communicated directly to air traffic controllers. After all, there have been numerous attempts to hijack airliners by commandeering them. There have even been incidents in which airline pilots have crashed planes on purpose in an act of suicide or terrorism. If there are legitimate reasons why a pilot might want to turn off his transponders, why isn’t there a fail safe mechanism that allows controllers to track whether a pilot has done this and to activate a fail safe communications/transponder if necessary. If a system like this was in place, then we might have avoided the current predicament in which the world, searching for this plane, essentially has no idea where it is. As of now, the only data we have on the later portion of this flight is what’s been gleaned from communications between the jet engines and Rolls Royce servers.
Since I don’t understand the technical aspects of piloting a plane, I offer the following in a provisional way: as I said there are both pilots and terrorists have commandeered planes in the past. Why isn’t there another sort of fail safe mechanism that allowed either air traffic controllers or recognized personnel to commandeer any plane that appears intent on crashing or endangering itself. I realize this is a dangerous proposition in itself, because if you allow someone to commandeer a plane who isn’t the pilot, you might enable terrorists to access such technology. Of course, there would have to be numerous mechanisms in place to ensure the legitimate use of the technology. But wouldn’t it make sense to add a layer of security to ensure terrorists can’t commandeer and crash an airplane?
There also should be video cameras in the cockpit and passenger compartment which cannot be disabled or commandeered by anyone on the plane that would enable air traffic controllers and security officials to see remotely and in real time what’s happening inside the plane.
Finally, the response of Malaysian officials has been abysmal. There must be consequences for countries which fail their airlines and the international flying public. Though I realize it’s almost impossible to embargo such a country, there must be a mechanism to punish countries which flout security regulations and fail so abjectly in carrying out their duties. Only such penalties will force countries to honor their international commitments. For example, what happened to the air traffic controllers who were supposed to pick up the Malaysian flight when it stopped communicating? What did they do when the aircraft failed to appear in their airspace as it was supposed to? Why wasn’t the Malaysian military communicating with civilian controllers to determine why the plane diverged from its flight path? Why wasn’t there a technological mechanism in place that would highlight erratic behavior of such a rogue aircraft? Why weren’t Malaysian aircraft scrambled to intercept the plane when it went off course?
The fact that the bizarre circumstances of this flight haven’t happened before is a mere accident. They could easily happen anywhere (though hopefully a more vigilant military surveillance system would’ve picked this up quicker than Malaysia did). So learning lessons from this disaster is imperative to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The Times of Israel added further confusion by asking Israeli aviation security experts to weigh in on the fate of the plane. A former El Al security expert believes the two Iranians with fake passports on board were involved with hijacking it. Though he doesn’t bother to explain how they managed to fly the plane for hours and turn off all the communications equipment (unless they forced the pilot to do so). Nor does this explain why the jet’s engines stopped communicating data with Rolls Royce servers. The Israeli believes it was an Iranian operation and the plane landed in Iran and is intact.
The main reason this makes no sense is that Iran simply doesn’t hijack airliners. Even if it did, what would it gain from hijacking a Malaysian airlines with Chinese citizens on board. Another Israeli aviation consultant believes the plane landed in Bangladesh. Presumably he believes Al Qaeda would’ve been involved though he doesn’t state this. What’s obvious is that these Israelis betray typical Islamophobic/Iranophobic impulses and see the world through dark glasses.