Streetwise Professor

March 15, 2014

Why Didn’t the Malaysian Military Intercept MAH370?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:01 am

The disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370 is one of the most disturbing episodes of recent years.

Initially, I concluded that the plane had exploded at high altitude, a la TWA 800 (though at a much higher altitude): the sudden disappearance from radar and the deactivation of the transponders supported this conclusion.  I thought terrorism would have been the most likely cause, but did not rule out some other catastrophic but accidental failure (e.g., ignition of fumes in a fuel tank).

I was skeptical about the initial reports that Malaysia had tracked the plane across its airspace on military radar because the utter inability of the Malaysian authorities to tell a coherent story made me doubt anything they said.  And recall the story was denied soon after it ran, and there appeared to be a conflict between civilian and military authorities, which cast doubt on everything.

But it is now confirmed that the plane was indeed tracked by Malaysian military radar traversing the country before turning into the Straits of Malacca. Now the official story, as yet uncontradicted, is that the plane flew on for 7 hours in an unknown direction (northwest? southwest?).  Meaning that it could be anywhere in about 10 percent of the earth’s surface, most of that trackless ocean.

This is so disturbing precisely because it is totally unprecedented as a hijacking or act of terrorism.  It is almost certainly deliberate, but the purpose is unfathomable.

Many aboard were Chinese, suggesting that if it was terrorism, it would be directed at the PRC.  But China’s only serious terrorist threat, the Uighers, have never mounted anything nearly so sophisticated and bold: mass knife attacks in railway stations is more their MO.  And what would be the purpose of creating a mystery with no known perpetrator, rather than making a dramatic statement?  (Unless, of course, the hijackers/terrorists communicated with the Chinese government, which has declined to say anything.)

Thus, this is a puzzle that will unlikely to be solved anytime soon.  If ever.

I just want to raise questions that to my knowledge have not been asked, let alone answered.  Why did the Malaysian military permit an unidentified aircraft traverse its airspace without challenging it?  Did the military challenge the UIA by radio?  Did it get a response? If not, or if the aircraft did not respond to the challenge or follow instructions, did Malaysia attempt to intercept?

The 777 apparently flew quite close to one of Malaysia’s largest cities, Penang.  Is the Malaysian military in the habit of allowing unidentified aircraft fly unhindered over its major cities? Is 9-11 that long ago?

I am a firm believer in the adage “never attribute to malice which can be explained by incompetence.”  And Lord knows, the Malaysians have displayed plenty of incompetence.  But more sinister possibilities cannot be excluded.

In any event, Malaysia must be confronted on its response-or more accurately, its lack of response-to a mystery plane waltzing across its airspace in the direction of a city of 1.5 million people.  If the Malaysian Air Force had acted properly, and intercepted the errant plane, perhaps lives would have been saved.  And even if they had not, and even had a hijacker bent on killing all the plane’s passengers for some unknown purpose crashed the plane or flown on in defiance of orders to land, at least we would not be where we are now: which is not having any idea of where the plane is, let alone how and why it got there.

The embarrassing nature of this question may explain Malaysia’s repeated obfuscation.  The confused signals given by various parts of the Malaysian government suggested that something was being covered up.  If the Malaysian military did not respond in any serious way to the invasion of its air space, the urge to cover up would be intense, especially in a shame-based culture.

We may never have definitive answers about what happened to MAH370 and why.  But Malaysia definitely owes the world some answers for its shockingly inept response to the intrusion of a jumbo jet into its airspace.

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  1. > Why Didn’t the Malaysian Military Intercept MAH370?

    That’s like asking: “Why Didn’t the Malaysian Ice Hockey Team win the Olympics”?

    Comment by vladislav — March 15, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

  2. Why Vladislav?

    Or are you admitting that the Russian supplied Su-30s and MiG-29s are not up to the task?

    Or perhaps it is Russian racism towards Asians?

    Comment by Andrew — March 15, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

  3. Perhaps the flight was hijacked by the Russian SVR to distract attention from the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

    Hey it’s about as likely as Vladislav’s theories about the massacre of protesters at Maidan….

    Comment by Andrew — March 15, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

  4. This is the most baffling event of my lifetime. There appears to be no precedent and no purpose. No rational explanation seems to make any sense, leaving only bizarre theories. I think the truth will out, though. Even if the plane came down in the ocean, bits of it will eventually come up in a fishing net or be washed up somewhere. I think it’s likely the plane landed, but where, or the fate of the passengers, is anyone’s guess.

    Comment by Tim Newman — March 15, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

  5. Well, if someone wanted to repeat a 9-11 type attack, this makes sense. Comandeer a jet, hide it for a while, till everyone loses hope of finding anything, then set it up as a regular commercial flight without alerting anyone with a hijacking at the last moment. Something like that.

    Comment by LL — March 15, 2014 @ 8:52 pm

  6. Craig…What happened to the two passengers who were on stolen passports? Is that just a coincidence? They could have been the brains/technicians disabling of the airplane communications. Maybe there was other muscle on the aircraft, or maybe the pilots were co-conspirators. With the little information available, it certainly appears that the strange maneuvers were part of an elaborate plan. But do you need to steal a plane this way? The more valuable item they now have is about 278 hostages.

    Comment by Louis Hansell — March 15, 2014 @ 10:40 pm

  7. I have no doubt one or more intelligence services has much more information concerning the fate of the plane but is not releasing it to protect the scope of intelligence gathering capabilities.

    Comment by Charles — March 16, 2014 @ 8:05 am

  8. I’m with Tim. This is one of the strangest things I’ve seen and have become riveted to the story. Somehow, I expect to hear that it’s floating in pieces all over the Indian Ocean. I just don’t know the logistics of whether it is possible to spot the debris by now if it is in some random untraveled part of the ocean. Meanwhile, Malaysia has a lot of explaining to do. Apparently, they don’t screen for stolen passports and they don’t protect their airspace. Wonderful. China, like them or not, is going to bust their balls on a number of fronts.

    Comment by Howard Roark — March 16, 2014 @ 8:26 am

  9. @Charles. I agree, except that we could go look for the plane where the intel information leads us, without revealing where that info came from. Indeed, finding the aircraft without revealing how could have a dramatic psychological effect. If you are referring to issues of who was involved, what their motives were, etc., yes there are reasons to be far more circumspect.

    Can’t wait to hear Snowden’s take on all this.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 16, 2014 @ 8:51 am

  10. @Howard. Right on re Malaysian incompetence. All governments are incompetent, but governments in Islamic countries stand out. And yes, China will treat Malaysia far more harshly than we will. Malaysia has long discriminated against ethnic Chinese in favor of Malays. This is a matter of longstanding animosity. This episode just might push the Chinese over the edge, especially given how truculent they’ve been generally of late.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 16, 2014 @ 9:11 am

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