Streetwise Professor

March 16, 2014

Was Alfred E. Newman the Duty Officer When MH370 Waltzed Across Malaysia?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:23 am

Reuters has a story that sort of addresses the issues in my post from yesterday.  But it raises more questions than answers, really:

While Malaysian military radar does appear to have detected the aircraft, there appear to have been no attempts to challenge it – or, indeed, any realization anything was amiss.

That apparent oversight, current and former officials and analysts say, is surprising. But the incident, they say, points to the relatively large gaps in global air surveillance and the limits of some military radar systems.

“It’s hard to tell exactly why they did not notice it,” says Elizabeth Quintana, senior research fellow for air power at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “It may have been that the aircraft was flying at low level or that the military operators were looking for other threats such as fast jets and felt that airliners were someone else’s problem.”

Current and former officials say that – hopefully, at least – such an incident would be detected much faster in North American or European airspace. There, military and civilian controllers monitor radar continuously on alert for possible hijacks or intruders.

The sudden failure of a transponder, they say, would itself prove a likely and dramatic cause for concern.

“I can’t think of many situations in which one would actually need to switch them off,” said one former Western official on condition of anonymity.

The last bit is particularly important.  An unidentified aircraft with no transponder should have raised serious concerns.  But instead, the Malaysian duty officer was apparently Alfred E. Newman.  No worries: No challenge issued.


But maybe this was precisely why the Malaysians dissembled for so long.  They realized that they had committed an unbelievable blunder, and were loath to admit it.  I conjecture they were forced into an admission by pressure from other nations (most likely China or the US) that had information from other sources about the flight across Malaysia.

What is air defense radar good for if you are going to ignore the information it provides?

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  1. I’m not sure where the average Malaysian sits with regards terrorism. Given their former PM said it was the duty of Muslims to develop nuclear weapons, implying they are needed to defend themselves from the nefarious west, I’d not be surprised if there were more than a few blind eyes turned in recent years.

    Regarding the tracking of the plane, wouldn’t surprise me if the US are getting most of their info from the Singaporeans, who I imagine can track a gnat across the Malay peninsula.

    My other thought is that if some terrorist is happy to kill a couple of hundred folk just to obtain a plane, his final plans might just be worth stopping.

    Comment by Tim Newman — March 16, 2014 @ 9:44 am

  2. Did you mean Alfred E. Neuman instead of Edward Newman?

    Comment by thoreau devotee — March 16, 2014 @ 10:38 am

  3. Yes. Brain cramp. Just fixed before reading your comment.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 16, 2014 @ 10:41 am

  4. I have often thought that it would have been most unfortunate for the hijackers of United 93 had someone like Mike Tyson – or even, frankly, one of the doormen from your least-friendly neighborhood biker bar – been aboard.

    If you took or overheard the mobile phone calls, and found out what the other hijacked aircraft had been used for, it would quickly have become apparent to you that the US military might itself shoot down your aircraft before the hijackers crashed it, as to do so would at least limit the casualties. Unfortunately you’d be a casualty either way.

    So presumably something like this is what was concluded onboard, except that the passengers were unable to organise a group to retake the cockpit before the hijackers flew the aeroplane into the ground.

    If you had one individual inclined and competent to attempt this by himself, perhaps because his day job involved subduing violent drunks, he might have ended your hijack before it started. If like the 9/11 hijackers you need treachery, weapons and murderous force to overpower a flight crew of mostly women, you’d be in mortal danger from the intervention of even one fit and aggressive adult male passenger.

    Were I a potential hijacker now, the lesson I’d take away from UA93 is that another such hijack would probably be fiercely resisted by the passengers, and one or two might be enough to rout your weedy gang. If so, your best bet to prevent the plane being retaken – or crashed immediately, as you fight him off – would be if they don’t even know it’s been hijacked to begin with. To do which you need the official crew to hijack it.

    I was inclining to the screw-up position until recently, essentially because of this chilling reading re the Air France crash of five years ago:

    but it seems more and more likely that someone has re-engineered hijacking. Or perhaps revived the original form – James Hilton describes just such a hijacking in “Lost Horizon” except I don’t think this aeroplane flew to Shangri La.

    Comment by Green as Grass — March 17, 2014 @ 7:10 am

  5. Incidentally, doesn’t Obama look remarkably like a black Alfred E Neuman?

    I’m not the first to notice:

    Comment by Green as Grass — March 17, 2014 @ 7:43 am

  6. China default wave keeps coming.
    Another real estate developer, this one is larger sized….

    Comment by Surya — March 17, 2014 @ 8:13 am

  7. I am in Singapore now and spoke with a rep from a trade agency tonight. He said that Chinese collapse is expected here and will be a good opportunity to pick up Chinese assets.

    Comment by pahoben — March 17, 2014 @ 10:08 am

  8. @Green. Yes. There is a definite resemblance. Especially the ears. But the shape of the face too.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 17, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

  9. @pahoben @surya. I don’t know how they’ve kept the balloon inflated for as long as they have. But the longer they try to do so, the bigger the pop will be.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 17, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

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