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No Engine Data Indicating Plane Flew For Hours; Malaysia Jet Mystery Deepens; Was Terrorism Involved; Malaysia Faces Criticism; Rep. Peter King Interviewed
Aired March 13, 2014 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Confusion and contradictions, that's what investigators are coming up with six days into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Here's what we know right now. An aviation source tells CNN there is no technical data to suggest that the plane continued flying for hours after it lost contact. The source disagrees with "The Wall Street Journal" report. The newspaper says engine data showed the plane may have flown for an additional four hours.
Malaysian officials say search crews found nothing in an area where Chinese satellite images showed objects floating in the sea. They say the pictures were released by mistake. They didn't show any debris related to the plane. That from China.
Let's dig deeper now into the conflicting reports about the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Richard Quest has been working his sources. Richard, what are you hearing specifically about whether technical data was transmitted from the plane's engines even after that transponder was shut down?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm hearing that it's not true. A senior source said to me that though -- I specifically asked -- let's be clear, I specifically asked, did the plane continue to transmit data after 1:27? And that person said, no. So, I followed up with the question, is the journal's story accurate? And they said, no.
Now, the journal sticks by its story. This other person says it's wrong. You paid your money, you take your choice on this one, Wolf. This is -- this is the sort of discrepancy that frequently happens in aircraft investigations but never quite like this, when it's something as fundamental with such information that goes to the heart of an investigation that already seems to be well and truly off track.
BLITZER: Malaysian authorities in Kuala Lumpur, as you know, they're also suggesting "The Wall Street Journal" --
BLITZER: -- report is not accurate. They say they have seen no evidence that the plane kept flying for hours. But what more are we hearing from aviation investigators in Malaysia? QUEST: What we're hearing from them is that -- first of all, we have this idea that the Chinese pictures -- let's go to the Chinese pictures. Firstly, apparently, they were delayed in their publication because the Chinese authorities were re-orbiting the satellite or moving the satellite to get better telemetry, get a better reading on it. Secondly, they were released by mistake. They had not been notified to the foreign ministry or aviation officials. So, they are not considered now to be relevant in this regard.
In anyway, the Vietnamese Air Force which flew over could find no trace of them. So, that gets -- and, you know, yesterday you said to me on "THE SITUATION ROOM," Wolf, you specifically said I was -- I was appearing optimistic about this because it was the best lead we had. And it was yesterday afternoon. But now that lead has gone so that's gone.
Now, you've got this "The Wall Street Journal" article and there's direct contradictions on that one. So, that lead becomes suspect. You're left with where was the plane? And the only position that you can go from is its last known position between Malaysia and Vietnam at 1:27 when it stopped (INAUDIBLE) and transponding and this report of radar blips off the west coast of Malaysia.
BLITZER: Except for one thing. And I was -- the interview I did yesterday -- and I'm going to read specifically to you what commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy seventh fleet told me yesterday. This is yesterday, late in the afternoon, early evening Washington time. He said, we're developing plans to move both our destroyers west. The USS Kidd (ph), the USS Pickny (ph) to head south and west to the Strait of Malacca in that direction.
So, why would the U.S. Navy, the seventh fleet, be moving these ships west of Malaysia if there's no indication, no solid evidence that the plane for whatever reason left that spot where the transponder stopped sending messages, stopped sending signals and moving it -- moving all these ships now --
BLITZER: -- west of Malaysia?
QUEST: Because they're going on the strength of these radar blips that were talking about over the last few days. And obviously now, the NTSB and the FAA and those who are enormously experienced looking at this telemetry and this raw data, they obviously now feel that there is something in this. There's also reports of ships going as far into the Indian Ocean, which, frankly if it is that far, then it's a completely different search operation.
I think that you've -- you're back to basically where we were yesterday morning. Two distinct search grounds. The first is off the coast of Malaysia and in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. The second off the west coast of Malaysia in the Strait of Malacca up towards the Underman (ph). And those remain the focus of attention for their individual reasons, Wolf. The first because it was where the last transponder was switched off or was last noted. And the second because of the radar blips on the west coast. There are reasons why they are there, but so far nobody is able to say which has primacy or if they do believe that, they're not telling us.
BLITZER: Richard Quest reporting for us. Richard, thanks very much. So, clearly, there are a lot of baffling questions about what happened to Flight 370.
Let's bring in two experts, Steven Wallace, he is the former director of the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation. And CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes, a former assistant FBI director. Steven, any of these scenarios make more sense to you?
STEVEN WALLACE, SENIOR AVIATION CONSULTANT, O'NEILL AND ASSOCIATES, FORMER DIRECTOR, FAA OFFICE OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Wolf, I heard an expert say, you know, it's time to call an investigation of the investigation. And I agree with that.
BLITZER: The Malaysian government's investigation?
WALLACE: Yes, the entire investigation. You know, until you know where the accident occurred, you're not sure which country's in charge. But absent that, international waters, the country of registry Malaysia is in charge. As near as I can tell, this accident investigation hasn't even started. You convene the parties together, you designate groups who will focus on different areas. This is the normal IKO process.
Now, we seem to have a new theory every day. Two days ago we were focused on the radar data. People have --
BLITZER: From the Malaysian Air Force.
WALLACE: Right. People have questioned that. Experts I have talked to say there's a lot of reasons that that doesn't look too reliable. But it was worth looking at. Next -- yesterday, we had this floating piece of wreckage that looked to a lot of us to be --
BLITZER: The Chinese satellite images.
WALLACE: -- looked to us to be way too big to be any part of the structure because the heavy part, the big parts of the structure don't float. And now, to -- then we had this report of this engine monitoring data and that technology is certainly out there.
BLITZER: "The Wall Street Journal" report.
WALLACE: And certainly Rolls-Royce and the Malaysian airlines, they certainly know if that data exists or not. The consistent threat across those three things, Wolf, is that we don't have the latest and the best information in front of the world's best experts who are -- who are there ready to help. And in each case, with the radar data, with the image, there has been a long delay in getting it. And it's not being immediately put in front of the best experts.
BLITZER: What's your analysis? TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think the biggest problem, Wolf, at this point, from our perspective, is that they've done a poor job of managing the information --
BLITER: Who's they?
FUENTES: -- about the investigation. The Malaysian authorities who are in charge of this. So, you know, the actual investigation at a law enforcement level can only go so far, you know, to determine what's happening. And so that's one thing with the police.
But the actual authorities that know radars and know the communications systems of the aircraft with the controllers on the ground at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, you know, what actually the information was and how accurate was it that they had. Even if they had good information, they're not relaying this in a clear, concise, coherent manner to the public. So, this is as much a public relations nightmare as it is an investigative nightmare.
BLITZER: So, you understand -- do you understand why the U.S. Navy, the seventh fleet in the Pacific is now sending these destroyers, these ships west of Malaysia, far, hundreds of miles away from where the transponder stopped working, to continue the search there? And there are other reports, as we just heard from Richard Quest, that they may be going all the way to the Indian Ocean? Because if those reports have some merit, then that plane was flying for hours after the transponder stopped working.
FUENTES: Well, I think the confusion that's been created indicates that maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but now not rule it out. Especially since the search has been so intensive at the place where the transponder stopped transmitting. That area's been covered, I think, they believe. Then they look at the Straits of Malacca which separate the Malaysia Peninsula from Indonesia.
And then, they consider that, well, if that flight was westbound, as the one air force informant, if you will, told media, then that plane can fly for another couple thousand miles. If there's a -- if there's a takeover, one way or the other, by the pilots themselves or by an intruder to the cockpit and that the transponders were turned off on purpose and there's nothing wrong with that aircraft at that time, the circle is enormous. It's thousands of miles.
BLITZER: Because you know Malaysian Boeing triple seven, when it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, it had enough fuel to fly for six hours.
WALLACE: Well, it had fuel to go to Beijing and then the normal margin of extra fuel which would typically be to go to an alternate airport and to fly for 45 minutes after that. So, it had fuel to go actually quite a lot further than Beijing.
BLITZER: Right. So, I mean, -- so, what's your analysis? Why would the navy be sending ships west of Malaysia? Is it simply based on what this official, what the sing -- what the Malaysian Air Force is saying that they had some radar indications that the plane was -- had crossed Malaysia and was heading out in a westerly direction?
WALLACE: Well, my conclusion would be that the navy is -- thinks that's the most credible information they have. And, perhaps, they have access to information that not out in the public.
BLITZER: So, the Chinese satellite photos, now that has been widely discounted as really any debris from this aircraft, right?
WALLACE: Yes. And I would add, as Tom noted, I think that area's been pretty thoroughly searched and the pingers listened for and that sort of thing.
BLITZER: And you agree with that?
FUENTES: I agree completely.
BLITZER: All right. So, basically, the only solid evidence is maybe the radar that the Singapore airport -- not Singapore, the Malaysian airport -- Air Force had in its -- is reporting?
FUENTES: Right. We don't know, behind the scenes, what's actually the facts, you know, that the command post has. We know what they're saying publicly. And, again, they might have had private information. They may have already admonished that air force official who gave that information without authority to the media that has caused this whole search to veer to the west by hundreds of miles.
WALLACE: A serious lack of transparency here, that's the common thread that I see in this investigation.
BLITZER: And it's day six now into this investigation and I'm not sure we're a lot further away we -- than we were from day one that we -- maybe people know more but they're certainly not telling us.
FUENTES: Yes, the problem with this especially, Wolf, is that if the plane was intact and could still fly thousands of miles, it could have been flown to an area where, since no one's ever suspecting, you know, they could fly that over the Marianna's Trench and be 35,000 feet of water and no one's ever going to find it. So, there's a possibility this aircraft might never be found if it was flown over such deep water and so far away that no one's looking for it now and nor would they be able to trip across it (INAUDIBLE.)
BLITZER: That's a -- that's a very sober thought. Not a good thought. All right, thanks very much. Tom Fuentes with that. Steven Wallace, thanks to you as well.
Up next, a closer look at the possibility that terrorism potentially played could've played a role in the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jet. We'll check in with Congressman Peter King. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
BLITZER: Six days after the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, the desperate search for answers goes on. One of the key questions, could the jetliner have been a target of a terror plot? "The Wall Street Journal" article today says this, and I'm quoting, "U.S. counterterrorism officials are pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board the plane may have diverted it toward an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection according to one person tracking the probe." Congressman Peter King is joining us now. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee, also a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, I know you're getting briefed. What do you make of this quote that I just read from "The Wall Street Journal"?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Wolf, first of all, thank you for having me on.
All I can say is that U.S. intelligence counterterrorism forces, we're tracking every possibility. Ever since this started on Saturday, it's been intense, it's been 24/7, and I would say even more so now with these different leads, these contradictory leads, the total confusion almost that's coming from Malaysia and to some extent from China.
But certainly what you mentioned is -- has to be a possibility, as would be pilot suicide, as would be another form of terrorist attack. I mean all of these are now possible because of the fact that it's so unusual and there's been such contradictory evidence coming out.
BLITZER: Do we -- as far as you know, do they have any leads as far as terrorism or human involvement in diverting this plane for whatever reason?
KING: Wolf, my latest understanding is that there has been no nexus made to terrorism at all. It's not ruling it out, but they've not been able to find any direct connection or any connection at all to terrorism. Certainly nothing direct. And - but, again, that's not to rule it out. And it's being investigated and tracked down and drilled down on as intensely as possible.
BLITZER: So when the CIA director, John Brennan, says they're not ruling out terrorism, in his words, quote, "not at all," I assume the CIA, and your committee has oversight over the CIA, other U.S. intelligence agencies, they're chasing all sorts of potential leads right now, right?
KING: You're talking about the Central Intelligence Agency -
KING: The National Counterterrorism Center, all of them, the entire network of intelligence gathering agencies we have are totally involved. We're also working closely with our allies. You know, we have allies around the world, including in that part of the world, obviously, in Asia. And we are working very closely with them trying to run down every possible lead.
Right now I heard some of your guests on before talking about the contradictory information we're getting through Malaysians or the reluctant information. And it's almost as if this investigation, from their perspective, hasn't even fully begun yet.
BLITZER: Well, I know you've been very critical of the Malaysian investigation. What's your biggest gripe with them?
KING: I would say, first of all, that they are so late in giving out information. For instance, if the air force, if the Malaysian air force thought back on Saturday that the plane possibly had detoured or turned around, why did they wait until just the other day to tell us that? Also with China, why did they wait so long to make those images available, whether or not they're turning out to be valid? The fact is, all that information should be provided immediately and certainly with Malaysia and then going right back to the beginning where they allowed people on the plane with stolen passports, never did any type of check at all with Interpol. It's just been confusion, confusion. And the last thing you can afford at a time like this is confusion. Of course the situation itself is confusing enough without adding to it.
BLITZER: But what about the sense of cooperation between Malaysian authorities and U.S. authorities? Are they at least sharing everything with the NTSB, the FAA, the U.S. Intelligence Committee, the FBI, all of the U.S. agencies involved?
KING: Well, you know, I've been - I was told all along that the cooperation was good. But then you find out that they waited several days before they told us of the report of the Malaysian air force, that the plane possibly had detoured. So they were giving us information, but it turns out they were apparently not giving us all of it.
But I - again, these could just be errors they're making because there is a spirit of cooperation. That I know. I've heard that from people in the government, that the spirit of cooperation is there. But it just, so far, has not added up.
BLITZER: One final question, congressman. As far as we know, no credible organization has claimed credit, terror organization, or any other organization for that matter, for the disappearance of this flight. What, if anything, should we read into that?
KING: Well, you know, usually organizations do take responsibility. But, again, you know, when it came to Lockerbie, no one ever took responsibility. And there have been other instances where they wait a week or two before responsibility is claimed. The danger in that would be that sometimes responsibility isn't claimed if a follow-up attack is planned. Now, I'm not trying to say that's the case, but, I mean, that has, you know, occurred in the past. So, right now with this situation, I don't think anything can be ruled in, anything can be ruled out. You have to just go 24/7 on every possible avenue.
BLITZER: Do you remember off the top of your head how many days after 9/11 al Qaeda, bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, they actually announced that they were responsible for those planes?
KING: No, it was actually quite a while. I'm not certain when they took credit to be honest with you. I think it was when we found those tapes in the caves that we saw them talking about it. I don't recall - I could be wrong, but I don't recall al Qaeda actually putting out a statement. I could be wrong on that, but it certainly was not in the first several days, I know that.
BLITZER: Yes, no, eventually bin Laden did put out a video statement, but I got to check back and see how long it took -
BLITZER: Before we got that.
BLITZER: We'll check it out and we'll report it back to our viewers. Hey, congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
KING: Wolf, thank you. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Peter King of the (INAUDIBLE) security committee.
A passenger plane missing. Now Malaysian officials feeling the heat. They're spearheading the massive search for the plane carrying 239 people that vanished nearly a week ago. We're taking a closer look at why Malaysia is under fire right now and we're checking to see what's being done about it.
BLITZER: Malaysia officials are coming under harsh international criticism for the way they're handling the investigation into the missing Boeing 777 and the 239 people who are on board that plane. Our Brian Todd is here. He's taking a closer look at the issue.
It seems like these Malaysian authorities, they're well-intentioned -
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BLITZER: But they seem to be overwhelmed.
TODD: They seem to be overwhelmed, Wolf. This is a very unusual situation. Any aviation expert will tell you that this is unusual and they've seen nothing like it. And neither has anyone else. So you have to say that at the outset.
But, there has been a pattern of confusing information, conflicting information. And the Malaysians, as you say, are taking a lot of heat for it, accused of not being straight with the media. A couple of examples. Earlier this week we're told by Malaysian source that the plane not only turned around but veered hundreds of miles off course. Later that day, an official from the Malaysian prime minister's office pulls back on that and says that's not the case. Now we're told that there was some kind of a blip detected, a radar blip, heading west over the Strait of Malacca. They're trying to figure out what that was. Conflicting, confusing information there.
Also, Malaysian sources had told CNN, I believe it was yesterday, that police had searched the home of the pilot. Now they're saying that those reports are not correct. They have held information sometimes for a couple of days before releasing it.
Now, Malaysian officials are saying we're doing the best we can. This is a very complex situation. They say there are times they have not been able to reveal information because it required analysis and confirmation first. And that they said they have nothing to hide.
This is an incredibly complex, confusing situation. They're maybe not handling the flow of information quite as well as some others might. But again, this is what they're up against and they are - they are kind of, I guess, flailing around here to try to figure out the best way to deal with the information and how to disseminate it --
BLITZER: And it's a whole new world for them and -
TODD: That's right, it is a whole new world.
BLITZER: The first time that most of those officials have been involved in anything along these lines.
BLITZER: This kind of enormous investigation.
Do you get a sense there's good cooperation, though, internationally between various -- whether the U.S., the British, the Chinese, everybody working off the same page?
TODD: The Malaysians today said there was very good cooperation and that they've been kind of forthright with every other cooperating country all along. But even yesterday, here again conflicting information, even yesterday the Vietnamese authorities said, hey, we're going to pull back our search until we get better information from the Malaysians on where to look. They're not really being forthcoming. We've only had one meeting with the Malaysian military. The meeting was insufficient, they said, yesterday. Now the Malaysians are saying, not the case. We're cooperating fully with everybody. We're sharing every bit of information we have.
This is probably an evolving process for them, you know, how to share information with so many countries that are converging on your air space, on your international waters to try to, you know, help you in the search. Not easy to do this. It's not easy to harness all this stuff and be coherent.
BLITZER: Let me get back to those two pilots.
BLITZER: The pilots in the Malaysia flight. Yesterday, Kuala Lumpur police told CNN flatly -
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: That they have gone to the homes to start taking a look to see what -- which would be a normal procedure. Then today the Malaysian government authorities deny that. What's up with that? TODD: You know, what we're getting is maybe an indication that there is some nuance to that. They may have asked questions of the crew's family members, relatives, you know, friends. Maybe not necessarily gone to homes and searched. There could have been some kind of, you know, interrogation or pressing of the investigation with the family members, but not a full-fledged search of the home.
BLITZER: They should be doing a full - I mean that would make sense given the fact that there is a history, unfortunately, of pilots -- pilot suicide, if you will -
TODD: There is.
BLITZER: Pilots wanting to commandeer a plane.
BLITZER: We just saw it the other day with an Ethiopia plane. The pilot hijacked that plane himself, flew it to Geneva. So there's a history.
TODD: There is.
BLITZER: So they should be checking these families (INAUDIBLE).
TODD: Absolutely. And it would probably be procedural in a lot of other investigations. I think part of the problem is, they'll put something out there and then maybe have to pull it back a little bit. That has led to a lot of confusion and anger on the part of the families who are waiting for word.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting.
The questions continue, so do the contradictions in flight 370. The mystery unfolding. Up next, we're going to sort through the latest information with a former NTSB investigator. Plus, the challenges facing search crews. They're monumental even in this high-tech age. We're going to explain why.