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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview with New York Congressman Peter King; Search for Missing Airliner Continues; Father of Newtown Shooter Speaks Out; Mystery Deepens Over Vanished Flight; A Closer Look at Missing Plane's Crew
Aired March 10, 2014 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The search for flight 370, days later, no leads, and we are no closer to finding any trace of the plane.
I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.
The world lead, how does an entire passenger jet vanish? And 239 people disappear, two of them infants, gone without a trace. We will follow the clues as the mystery deepens and the search grid widens. What on earth happened to this plane?
Also, new details about the men who boarded the flight with stolen passports. Did they play a role in the crash? What about the mysterious Mr. Ali, the Iranian man whom police say bought both men their tickets?
And the national lead. His son grew into a monster. Now the father of the Newtown shooter opens up for the first time, saying he wishes his son had never been born, his struggle to comprehend how the little boy he loved grew into the killer we all now revile.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.
We will begin with the world lead and new leads this afternoon on the men who boarded the ill-fated Malaysia Flight 370 under false pretenses. We have known that at least two passengers were traveling with stolen passports, raising fears that terrorism may be involved. U.S. intelligence officials say that Malaysian officials have shared images and biometrics, such as fingerprints, of these men with the U.S. government.
Now we know their tickets were purchased through a travel agency in Thailand by a man whom police describe as an Iranian named Kazem Ali. It's unclear whether investigators have found this man yet to question him. Investigators say they have reviewed airport security footage and the two mysterious passengers are -- quote -- "not Asian-looking men."
Interpol says it's examining "suspect passports." And none of this has gotten us any closer to knowing where the plane is. We do know, however, that whatever happened, happened quickly. Not even enough time for the pilots to send out a distress call. Flight 370 left the capital of Malaysia just before 1:00 a.m. local time Saturday and never arrived in Beijing as scheduled. The plane dropped off the radar over the South China Sea, and it's not been seen since. It's assumed to have crashed with 239 people on board, 227 passengers and 12 crew members. Three of those aboard are Americans.
Today, the search grid got even bigger, expanding to an even larger portion of the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam. If the plane is the needle, this right now that you're looking at, that's the haystack, a massive expanse of water.
Nearly three dozen planes, 40 ships from 10 different countries are scouring the regions, including two U.S. Naval destroyers. So far, most of the seemingly promising leads, well, they have not panned out. The two oil slicks spotted in the South China Sea, tests today show that they are not connected to Flight 370, according to Malaysian aviation officials. How about reports that a plane door and tail were spotted? Also untrue.
Let's go live to David McKenzie standing by live for us in Beijing.
David, what do we know more about thing man police are identifying as an Iranian named Kazem Ali, who apparently bought tickets for the two individuals on Flight 370 stolen passports?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is a disturbing development, the case of two individuals impersonating an Italian and an Austrian.
We have been working this lead through the weekend and into today. Now it appears an Iranian national, Mr. Ali, as you described, was the person who bought the tickets for them through a travel agent in Thailand in the Thai baht currency. He described through our sources them as being friends, these two individuals.
They are described by Malaysian authorities as not Asian-looking. The people who were supposed to be on board that ill-fated flight of course were not on board. Interpol raising serious questions of how these two passports which were on their list of passports that had been stolen didn't raise red flags at a Malaysian airport.
Malaysian authorities say they are investigating this matter as well as bringing in counterterrorism officials throughout the world involved in this. It does pose serious questions about the security of people getting on that flight.
But, as you said, it doesn't necessarily say the intent of these two individuals who wanted to buy, according to our sources, the cheapest tickets from Thailand through Beijing into Europe, but it does raise questions, and there are many questions that are unanswered at this time.
TAPPER: All right, David McKenzie in Beijing, thank you so much.
There are many theories about what could have happened to Flight 370, some of them involving terrorist motivations. Is that plausible? Joining me now is Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, who serves on the Homeland Security and Intelligence committees. He's been in contact with the intelligence community all day on this story.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
By what you know right now, what would you say are the chances that this disappearance is related to terror?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Well, Jake, it has to be seriously considered.
We don't know -- and I don't want to be getting ahead of myself, but the fact is, you have all of these red flags. The fact is that the plane went down without any communication whatsoever, the fact that you had the two passengers flying with stolen passports, now this report, which I don't believe is confirmed yet by the United States, but assume that it's true, about an Iranian purchasing the tickets.
And then an add added factor that Malaysia has had al Qaeda activity in the past, both prior to 9/11 and prior to the USS Cole, the fact that you have Uighurs, which is a Chinese Islamic group, in that area, you add all that together, and the mystery of it, certainly, every possible terrorist lead or every possible terrorist scenario has to be drilled down and has to be looked at exhaustively.
TAPPER: From your conversations with people in the intelligence community, is there any one of these red flags that they take more seriously or are more suspicious about than the others?
And so far they indicate that they make a point that there has been no terrorist connection. From what I know from going over the manifests and the passengers and comparing it to our databases, so far, there's no indication that these people were terrorists. There's no indication of terrorist chatter in the days leading up to it.
So, no, they're just -- nothing is being ruled in, nothing is being ruled out, and everything is being looked at exhaustively.
TAPPER: Just in the last hour, we have learned that the Malaysian officials have shared the U.S. government the images and biometrics, such as fingerprints of the men, the two men believed to have used fake passports.
What can we expect the U.S. intelligence agencies to do with that information?
KING: Well, they will compare that to what we have in our terrorist databases, ties lists.
These are lists of people on no fly-lists, people with possible terrorist connections, people we have reasons to be suspicious of. We have these listings, and those names and those biometrics will be compared to those. TAPPER: These five passengers who checked in but apparently did not board the plane, has anyone tracked them down and cleared them, and do you believe Malaysia Airlines when it says that they removed all those -- all the baggage of those five individuals before taking off?
KING: First of all, I have not heard conclusively about those five.
As far as the baggage being taken off, I don't think we can accept anything right now, because there have been a number of stories that have come out from Malaysia which have turned out not to be true. For instance, on Sunday, there was a report that there was possibly four people with passports. The fact is that there's only two with the stolen passports.
There was talk of how the FBI had already been sent over. Well, they had not been. Again, in the fog of battle, often reports come out that turn out not to be valid. I don't know if that luggage was taken off. Also, considering how they seem to have really have dropped the ball at the security level at Kuala Lumpur, with the fact that these two passengers got on board with stolen passports and no check was done against the Interpol listing shows that I right now have reason to be skeptical about anything we hear it coming from Malaysia about security.
TAPPER: There are also reports of a group called the China Martyrs Brigade taking responsibility. But an intelligence official told our Jim Sciutto that there is no group known by that name. And it wasn't clear who made the claim.
One would think, though, that if this was a terrorist act, someone, some group would have taken responsibility by now.
KING: Usually, but not necessarily.
For instance, I think, back in 1999, that was a plot to blow up 12 planes going over the Pacific, and after the first explosion, no one claimed responsibility because they wanted to synchronize the attack to be carried out.
So, in the worst-case scenario, if this was a terrorist attack, and it's part of a synchronized series of attacks, you wouldn't expect the person to -- the group to take responsibility now. I'm not saying that's what happened. But that could be a reason why someone, some group would not be taking responsibility, and also we had Lockerbie. For years, there was no claiming of responsibility for that.
TAPPER: Most plane crashes, of course, are pilot error or mechanical error, something to do with the plane, not something to do with terrorism.
There have also been two instances, in 1983 and 1988, where a country's military shot down a plane, later saying it was unintentional. Is that a possibility?
KING: Jake, everything has to be considered a possibility right now. As I said, this is such an unusual situation that nothing can be ruled out. And that's why everything has to be fully examined, fully investigated, and, again, nothing can be ruled out at all, including, I would say, pilot suicide. Even something like that has to be considered, because this is so unusual, what occurred here.
TAPPER: All right, Congressman Peter King, thank you so much. We appreciate it.
KING: Jake, thank you.
TAPPER: Coming up, piecing together the final moments of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 before it vanished. As the investigation continues, new theories of how the plane could have disappeared without a trace.
Plus, a father finally speaks about his son's descent into darkness. Peter Lanza shared his story with only one reporter. That reporter joins us ahead to tell us about their many conversations and how Peter Lanza admitted to him that he wishes his son, Adam, had never been born.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Continuing our world lead, with transponders, radar, even the GPS on the cell phones on board, how is it in this day and age that a plane could just vanish for days like this?
I want to welcome back to the show, former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom. He joins us on the phone.
James, you conducted the criminal investigation into TWA Flight 800, which exploded shortly after takeoff from JFK in 1996. Walk us through. What are investigators doing right now?
KALLSTROM (via telephone): Well, there's all kinds of things going on, at least it would be in it was in the United States territory. You know, you can't wait, Jake, to find out what happened. The FBI has to presume that it's terrorism and do the types of things to conduct a preliminary investigation. You can't go back later and talk to witnesses that might have saw something or look at radars or look at overhead satellites and all of these things.
So, it's very, very active. It's complex now. You're talking about two or three different countries.
They don't know where the plane is. The radar coverage is sketchy, at best. And they are looking in the water but they should also probably look on land in Vietnam. There's areas of Vietnam where planes go in and people wouldn't even know it.
So it's a like as much as it is in a tragedy and it's potentially over water, but that's where the similarity ends I think.
TAPPER: Do you see any similarities between this crash, per se, and the TWA Flight 800 crash?
KALLSTROM: Well, if we had found -- if they had found, saw debris field, I'd say yes. Let me just remind of a few things that took place. Now, we knew almost instantaneous because of this huge fireball that took place, was seen by other planes transiting the area. So, we knew within five minutes that there was an explosion and that it had dropped off the radar. So, unlike this situation, we knew that right away. Within 24 hours, we had a 10 to 15-mile debris field floating in all directions and we eventually found debris as far south as Cape May and up in the Nantucket area and other places.
So, they're going to be very concerned about other places, the shorelines where debris could float in from any direction depending on the prevailing winds. Of course, if they find the plane, they're going to want the black boxes, which are orange, but they call them black boxes.
In TWA, we were looking at 120 to 130 feet of water. If this did go into the ocean and if there was a catastrophic break-up at altitude or if the pilots flew it into the ocean themselves, depending on the depth of the water, you're going to have a very, very difficult time.
A hundred thirty feet was a big problem for us. We had all of the resources of the U.S. Navy helping us. I don't know what they'll do over there if it's 1,000 feet deep.
TAPPER: It's mindboggling they have no idea where it is, at least as up now. Others are comparing this incident to the last plane to just vanish, Air France Flight 447, which was headed from Paris back to Rio de Janeiro back in 2009. Black boxes weren't found in that disaster about two years later.
Is it possible that we're going to have that kind of -- that kind of time go by or even longer?
KALLSTROM: I think it's possible. You know, the black boxes are going to be transmitting signals but they don't last forever. I think they last for about 30 days.
It's mysterious to me -- I mean, I'm not an aircraft engineer, but it's mysterious to me that all of the communication systems on this plane, which is relatively new and it's in the digital world, you know, with the plane talking to Boeing and talking to the airline company, and, of course, they talk to the air traffic controllers, if there was some sort of a mayday that they couldn't take a second and push a button -- you know, I don't know. I'd hate to speculate but I guess if I had to speculate, it's some sort of a disaster in midair and in which case you should see a large, large debris field which apparently we haven't seen.
The pilots fly it directly into the water, much less debris. That's happened in the past, Jake. Or it's over water somewhere (AUDIO GAP), or over the ground area somewhere where people just didn't witness it.
TAPPER: So you think, just based on the absence of a debris field and obviously we don't know what happened, this is all just based on very little evidence, but this is more consistent with a pilot flying into the water as opposed to a disaster happening in midair?
KALLSTROM: Yes. I hate to say that and I'm not saying that's what happened, but it would be a much, much smaller debris field if that was the case. I'm not saying it is the case. But it's very, very strange, all these things, and you know, you can get way out there.
You know, did someone take over the cockpit? These two guys are the phony things (AUDIO GAP). There wasn't time for whatever reason for the pilots to push a few buttons and they descended, get under (AUDIO GAP) and take the plane somewhere. You know, it's a crazy idea but strange things do happen.
TAPPER: Unfortunately, they do.
James Kallstrom, thank you so much. We appreciate your time, as always.
When we come back -- two pilots, one with decades of experience, flying one of the most popular and safest jets in the air. Could pilot error be to blame? And what about the safety record of Malaysia Airlines? We'll take a look when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Welcome back to our world lead as well in the bizarre disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
As with many airline investigations, this one may begin and end with who was in the cockpit at the time that things went wrong. It turns out the co-pilot of this flight had just transitioned to the 777 Boeing fleet after several months of training. He was actually interviewed onboard a similar aircraft by our own Richard Quest just weeks before this incident.
Richard Quest, the host of "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" on CNN International joins us now from New York with more.
Richard, what can you tell us about this co-pilot and specifically his level of experience?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Well, Fariq Hamid was 27 years old. He had about 2,700 hours of flying experience on the narrow-bodied fleet and he was in the presence of transitioning to the wide-bodied 777. He had spent several weeks and months in the simulator and was now starting to actually fly the aircraft.
The flight that we took with him, I think it was either his fourth or fifth landing of the real aircraft. Now, that means nothing. This man had flown many, many planes over the years since he had joined Malaysia Airlines since 2007.
But what it did mean is that the person in the left-hand seat, the captain, was going to be a very senior captain, as it was on the flight that we took, and indeed it was on the flight that was doomed. The Captain Shah, he had 18,000 hours of flying experience on his credit. He was a senior captain on the 777 fleet and there's some video of him -- some YouTube video of the captain. He loved flying. He actually had, Jake, a simulator -- a 777 simulator in his home -- a motion simulator, because he loved to practice and he loved to instruct in the simulator.
TAPPER: What can you tell us about Malaysia Airways specifically? Does it have a good safety record?
QUEST: Malaysia has a very good safety records. It's had a couple of one might describe as full-scale accidents with multiple fatalities and it's had numerous, if you'd like, incidents. For instance, the very plane we're talking about now has an incident in 2012 when it -- where there was a runway incursion in Pudong Airport in Shanghai and the wing tip of the plane was severed off and it was repaired.
It is a legacy carrier. It was formed in the 1970s, although it's origins go back much, much further. So it's one of those carriers that everybody respects, from a training point of view, from an aviation point of view, from an aircraft flying point of view, from a service point of view. It's won many awards.
So I was actually in Malaysia doing a story with Malaysia Airlines on how the CEOs are turning around and making it profitable. But in terms of its air safety record, absolutely until now there have been a few incidents but nothing, nothing to give cause for concern.
TAPPER: Richard Quest, thank you so much. We appreciate it.
Coming up, he doesn't go more than an hour on any day without thinking about what his son did. Adam Lanza's father breaking his silence. What he says he could have done to change him.
Plus, almost 40 million passports currently known to be missing or stolen. How two men on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 managed to get on the plane using someone else's identities without getting caught?