ASEAN-US Security Relations Moving to a New Level


 
east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletin
Number 256 | April 15, 2014
ANALYSIS

ASEAN-US Security Relations: Moving to a New Level

by Mary Fides Quintos and Joycee Teodoro

Chuck Hagel -The United States has just completed hosting a three-day forum with the ten ASEAN Defense Ministers in Hawai’i, fulfilling US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s invitation to his ASEAN counterparts during last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The agenda of the US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum included a roundtable discussion on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR), site visits to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the USS Anchorage–an amphibious transport dock ship designed to respond to crises worldwide–and discussions on various pertinent security issues in the region.

The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum marked the beginning of Secretary Hagel’s ten-day trip to Asia which included visits to Japan, China, and Mongolia and is his fourth official visit to the region in less than a year, all part of the ongoing US rebalance policy to Asia. This event was the first meeting that the US hosted, as previous gatherings were conducted on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Retreat and ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Summit.

The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum was conducted under the ambit of the ADMM-Plus which was established in 2007 to serve as a venue for ASEAN to engage with eight dialogue partners–Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States–in promoting peace and security in the region. To date, ADMM-Plus has established five working groups for practical cooperation covering maritime security, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster management, peacekeeping operations, and military medicine.

This most recent meeting was held amid another wave of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea. For ASEAN, a recent water cannon incident near Scarborough Shoal involving Filipino fishing vessels and Chinese Coastguard ships, the standoff at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal again between the Philippines and China, and China’s naval exercises at James Shoal which is claimed by Malaysia are all issues of concern.

Indonesia’s strengthening of its military presence in the Natuna Islands which China included in its nine-dash line is another indication of the increasing insecurity and instability in the region. The meeting provided a good opportunity for informal dialogue on the overall security environment in Asia and the possible implications of developments in Ukraine for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity within the international order. It also served as an opportunity for the United States to reemphasize that it can be relied upon by ASEAN members in supporting the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law and in upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

With regard to humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines Hishamuddin Husseinlast year and the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has demonstrated the lack of capacity of individual ASEAN countries or ASEAN as a bloc to immediately respond to a crisis. Not disregarding the efforts made by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia, these incidents highlighted the need for the participation of other states particularly in terms of sharing of expertise, technology, and information. The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum explored areas where cooperation in these areas can be further strengthened. It was a reiteration of the need for multilateral cooperation in non-traditional security challenges that do not respect territorial boundaries.

The increased frequency of high-level visits by US officials to Asia, the provision of resources to its allies in the region, the reallocation of military hardware, along with ongoing military activities demonstrate that the US intent is to have a closer engagement with the region over the long term. These actions are also manifestations of the US commitment to Asia despite fiscal restraints and the looming crises in other regions where the US is also expected to be involved.

Moreover, they send a strong signal that the United States remains the region’s security guarantor regardless of doubts on its capacity to perform that role. However, the US-led hub-and-spokes alliance security model can be perceived as an act of containment against a particular country, hence the importance that bilateral alliances are supplemented by a multilateral institution that is open and inclusive such as ASEAN in shaping the regional security architecture.

The conclusion of the first US-initiated US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum highlights the growing importance of ASEAN to the United States, especially if the event becomes more institutionalized. The message is that the United States views ASEAN as a central and strategic player, not only in the US rebalance to Asia but more importantly in the building of a strong and credible regional security architecture for the Asia-Pacific.

The move by the United States to actively engage ASEAN in its rebalance also shows the maturation of ties between them. By acknowledging ASEAN as an important regional actor, the relationship between the two has clearly been elevated. This also raises a key point with regard to respecting ASEAN’s centrality in the region. Economic power and military size notwithstanding, major powers need to recognize that any credible regional security architecture must include ASEAN.

These deliberate and sustained efforts involving ASEAN in devising the region’s security architecture are clear manifestations that the United States is actively engaging more actors in the region for maintaining peace and stability. More importantly, by involving ASEAN, there is the added assurance that the region’s security environment will work under a framework that is not dominated by a single power.

ASEAN, for its part, should see changes in the regional security environment as both opportunities and challenges. While ASEAN has been successful in engaging the major powers in the region, its centrality must continuously be earned. First, it needs to maintain unity amid differences; it should not be influenced by any external actor that seeks to advance its national interests at the expense of regional interests. ASEAN members must learn how to pursue their respective interests not only through national strategies but also through regional unity.

As a community, ASEAN is expected to act as a bloc championing the group’s interests and not only those of the individual member-states. Second, there should be greater commitment to cooperation not only in HA/DR but also in other non-traditional areas of security. Non-traditional security challenges are often transnational in scope and include multiple stakeholders. ASEAN must continuously enhance regional cooperation and coordination in times of crisis, although individual countries must also develop domestic capacity to respond to security challenges.

ASEAN should start addressing this deficit now otherwise institutional mechanisms will remain only on paper. These challenges will force ASEAN to build and improve on its usual practices and move beyond its comfort zone, in the long run benefitting the bloc as it matures institutionally.

About the Authors: Ms. Mary Fides Quintos and Ms. Joycee Teodoro are both Foreign Affairs Research Specialists with the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Philippines Foreign Service Institute.

The views expressed here belong to the authors alone and do not reflect the institutional stand of the Philippines Foreign Service Institute. Ms. Quintos can be contacted at fides.quintos@gmail.com and Ms. Teodoro at joyteodoro@gmail.com.

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MH370: Is the story credible? Watch this lengthy video–30-Day Update


April 16, 2014

MH370: Is the story credible? Watch this lengthy video–30-Day Update

Presented by Lauren Moret (Part 1)

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world. If so, why are you, Mr. Prime Minister, keeping things from us, your citizens? The truth will be known eventually and you will answer for this.

http://exopolitics.blogs.com/peaceinspace/2014/04/part-1-leuren-moret-confirmed-mh370-shot-down-by-us-over-singapore-airspace-as-uk-inmarsat-leads-30-day-false-flag-psy.html

Obama and Malaysia


April 16, 2014

Obama and Malaysia

US President must walk a delicate line in a country facing increasing international criticism.

Obama-for-BERSIH2Obama for Clean and Fair Elections in Malaysia?

US President Barack Obama is expected to visit Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia this month as part of his push to increase US diplomatic, economic and security engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. But despite the relative size and strategic importance of the other countries, it is his April 27 trip to Malaysia that arguably gives the President his biggest problems.

Given the events of the past few months, Obama will visit a country that has earned some of the worst press in Asia, not only for its fumbling response to the loss of its jetliner, MH370, with 239 people aboard, but to revelations of growing racial and religious intolerance, blatant attempts to silence the Opposition through spurious legal action and bizarre charges by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s own newspaper that the Central Intelligence Agency kidnapped the plane to foment trouble with China, 152 of whose citizens were aboard the missing craft.

The same newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, repeated as a real possibility speculation by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that the CIA brought down the World Trade Towers in 2001 as a plot to blame Muslims for the destruction.

anwar-ibrahim2In recent weeks, an appeals court has reversed a lower court decision against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, declaring him guilty of what were clearly trumped up charges of sodomy. The decision, apparently rushed forward, was designed to deny Anwar an almost certain win in a Kuala Lumpur suburban by-election that would have paved his way to becoming Chief Minister of the country’s most populous and prosperous state and would have given him a potent rhetorical platform to challenge the government.

In an equally dubious decision, Karpal Singh, chairman of the Democratic Party, the biggest in the troika of opposition parties, was declared guilty of sedition for saying a decision by the Sultan of Perak could be questioned in court.  The conviction, which is being appealed, bars him from politics. 

The international press that showed up in Kuala Lumpur after the disappearance of the airliner began asking questions that exposed a regime unaccustomed to facing independent scrutiny – questions that a kept mainstream media, all of which are owned by the political parties in power, have ignored for decades. While a vibrant opposition press exists on the Internet, the government simply ignores it or tries to neutralize its reports. Those questions include crony capitalism, gerrymandering and political repression. CNN, the major US and British newspapers and other media assailed the government as authoritarian, corrupt and befuddled.

The feeling in Washington, however, is that the cost of cancellation to the strategic relationship between the two countries would be too high. Obama reportedly is being urged to visit a Christian church while in the country to show US commitment to human and religious rights. Advocates say the President should make at least some gesture of recognition of the fact that a 50.87 percent majority of Malaysians voted against the ruling coalition in 2013 general elections at 47.38 percent but still hold only 89 of the 222 seats in parliament because of gerrymandering. It’s unsure if he will do so. There is speculation that he may just opt for a “meet and greet” and get out of town as quickly as possible to avoid international criticism for propping up a regime that is starting to assume Zimbabwean characteristics of repression and kleptocracy.

“I don’t have any problem with Obama visiting Malaysia, provided he reaches outmalott1 to Malaysians on both sides of the aisle and all sectors of society, including the Christian community, whose rights are being trampled on by their government,” said John Malott, a former career foreign service officer who served as Ambassador to Malaysia from 1996 to 1998 and who has emerged as Malaysian government’s severest western critic. “But this has to be a visit that is based on the reality of what kind of country Malaysia really is today – and not to believe the talking points that Malaysia is still a tolerant multi-racial, multi-religious, harmonious, moderate Islamic nation, an economic success story, and a role model for others. It no longer is.”

Najib visited the White House in 2011 and was given a wholehearted endorsement by the President, who said Najib has “showed great leadership, I think, not only in continuing to show great leadership not only in Malaysia’s economy but on showing leadership on a wide range of multilateral issues.”

Najib PMThe President is said to like Najib personally despite the fact that a wide range of issues have never been cleared up, going back to allegations of Najib’s personal involvement in the US$1 billion purchase of French submarines that according to French prosecutors was said to have netted US$114 million in bribes and kickbacks to the United Malays National Organization. The case is still making its way through French courts.

There is also the matter of the still controversial 2006 murder by two of Najib’s bodyguards of Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, who according to a now-dead private detective had been Najib’s girlfriend before she was allegedly passed on to his best friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, a key figure in the purchase of the submarines. The bodyguards were acquitted on appeal despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt, raising questions about Malaysia’s legal system as well.

There have been some rude shocks. Six months ago, in the run-up to his previous delayed visit to the region, the US President hailed Malaysia as an “an example of a dynamic economy” and praised its multi-ethnic, moderate Muslim-dominated society only to see just three days later a court decision ordering Christians not to use the word “Allah” when referring to God, making it the only Islamic country in the world to do so.

After that, the government ordered the confiscation of Malay-language Bibles containing the word – but only in Peninsular Malaysia. Christians using Malay-language Bibles in East Malaysia were allowed to keep them. That is because most of the Christians are tribes indigenous to Borneo that are aligned with the ruling party. In Peninsular Malaysia, they form the bulk of the Opposition.

“So the issue is — how can you talk about establishing a ‘strategic partnership’ with such a government?” Malott asked. “Maybe that is what will have to be downplayed or even canned for this visit. To me, the idea of a declaring a strategic partnership with a government whose faults have now been revealed to the world, day after day, seems politically unwise.”

Malott also questioned what strategic benefits the US can obtain from Malaysia.“What strategic value does Malaysia have that it warrants America to hold its nose and ignore the trampling of democracy and political freedom, not to mention the corruption and cronyism that hurt American business interests there?” he asked. “And with Mahathir, the great anti-American, increasingly calling the political shots and Najib’s popularity the lowest of any Prime Minister in polling history, will a ‘strategic partnership’ with the US survive Najib’s departure?”

Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?


by Joshua Kurlantzick via Council on Foreign Relations
April 8, 2014

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance.

No matter, say some Southeast Asia experts. Some of Obama’s advisors, and many Southeast Asia experts, are urging the president to use the trip to cement a strategic partnership with Malaysia and establishing a roadmap for the kind of higher-level strategic cooperation that the United States already enjoys with Singapore and Thailand, among other countries in the region.

This approach to the Malaysia visit would mean downplaying – or simply not even discussing – serious regression in Malaysia’s domestic politics, including the recent sentencing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail for sodomy, the highly flawed 2013 national elections that barely kept Prime Minister Najib tun Razak in office, and the increasingly shrill, anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rhetoric and legislation of the Najib government, hardly the kind of sentiments a supposed leader of political moderation should be espousing. According to this logic, if President Obama were to bring up such unpleasant issues as the Malaysian government’s crackdown on opponents over the past year or its unwillingness to reform pro-Malay policies that have entrenched a culture of graft and self-dealing at many Malaysian companies, that would sink the visit.

Under Najib, Malaysia and the United States have, on a strategic level, moved beyond some of the acrimony of the Mahathir and Abdullah years, and have made progress on a wide range of military-military and diplomatic cooperation. Najib definitely deserves some credit for this rapprochement, though growing Malaysian fear about China’s South China Sea policies are probably the main driver behind closer strategic ties with Washington.

But simply ignoring the disastrous Najib policies on human rights, political freedoms, and economic liberalization would not be a wise move by Obama. For one, it would play into the narrative that Obama cares little about rights and democracy promotion, a narrative that has gained significant force not only in Washington but also among many Southeast Asian activists and young people in general. And ignoring Malaysia’s opposition politicians, who won the popular vote in the 2013 national elections and enjoy their strongest support among young Malaysians, would be alienating the biggest growing pool of Malaysian voters. As in other countries in the region, like Cambodia and Indonesia, these young voters are increasingly favoring opposition parties or new figures like Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, breaking from long-ruling, autocratic parties. The United States should be cultivating these young voters who will prove critical to the region’s democratization. This new generation will eventually power the Malaysian opposition, in some form, to the prime minister’s office. It would be a shame if the United States president had ignored them, and their party leaders, before then.

Utusan’s claims of US role in MH370 disappearance aren’t the paper’s first wild charges


April 9, 2014

Utusan’s claims of US role in MH370 disappearance aren’t the paper’s first wild charges

Written by Our Correspondent, TUE,08 APRIL 2014

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/govt-backed-malaysian-newspaper-crosses-line-cia-charges/

utusan-online

Utusan Malaysia, the Kuala Lumpur-based Malay-language broadsheet newspaper that Sunday accused the CIA of having a hand in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, has a long history of heated invective as the attack dog for its owner, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the country’s biggest political party.

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100It is a publication that could be simply dismissed because of its often-irresponsible diatribes. But presumably it is the mouthpiece for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the Party President. And from his standpoint, the story had to be an utter disaster.  US President Barack Obama is due to visit Malaysia sometime over the next few weeks, a visit that Najib, whose popularity is fading, needs to prop him up.

There has been no public reaction in the United States. However, certainly Washington would be less than amused by the story, which accused the US of engineering the plane’s disappearance in order to disturb the growing relationship between Malaysia and China.  One source close to the government last week told Asia Sentinel the US has been instrumental in helping Malaysia behind the scenes, providing technological and forensic help from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other organizations in the search for the missing Boeing 777-200, which disappeared on March 8 into the Indian Ocean.

The paper targets a domestic audience and has traditionally felt it could indulge in any necessary rhetoric to help preserve loyalty to the party.  However, over the past three to four years, it has veered into strident invective. In 2011, the company drove senior journalist Hata Wahari, then the president of the National Union of Journalists, out of the paper after he complained about its agenda and urged it to go back to its traditional role of presenting unbiased news to the public. 

Now, it is reaping more unfavorable publicity and runs the danger of once again affecting international relations because of the perception that is has official standing.  But Najib, according to one senior source close to the party, has lost control of the Board of Directors and the editors and has been unable to rein them in despite the fact that his own press secretary sits on the board.

Earlier, the newspaper accused Indonesia of conspiring with the United States to hide the missing airliner after radar communication was lost over the gulf of Thailand.  The Indonesian online news portal Merdeka.com quoted the senior officer for foreign affairs at Indonesia’s Defense Ministry, Sumardi Brotodiningrat, as saying the allegation was “funny” and that his country was already doing its best to assist Kuala Lumpur in the search.

Najib already faces strained relations with the United States over the conviction on Anwar-Kajangappeal of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, a favorite of many US politicians and financier George Soros, among others, on what were obviously trumped up charges of sodomy. According to several sources including the purported victim’s father, the charges were cooked up in the prime minister’s office.  The country is also facing criticism over confiscation of Christian bibles that use the word “Allah” to denote God and other issues.

US officials have had a habit of publicly observing diplomatic niceties in dealing with Kuala Lumpur and it is uncertain what kind of conversation Obama is going to have with the Malaysian premier.  

Najib has repeatedly gone to the US – and the White House – and to the United Nations to characterize Malaysia as a moderate Muslim nation only to take no action against growing religious extremism on the part of Malay nationalists ‑ much to the distress of the country’s other races.

Utusan Malaysia has been at the forefront of racial attacks on ethnic Chinese and Indians. In 2012, a columnist called former Indonesian President B J Habibie a traitor and a “dog of imperialism” for meeting with Anwar. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the comments were unethical and overstepped the bounds of decorum, adding that they had jeopardized relations between the two countries.

However, Utusan’s vitriol is usually reserved for members of the opposition and for Christians. In 2011, for instance, the newspaper printed allegations that Christian pastors were seeking to install a Christian prime minister who would change the country’s official religion from Islam.

The story was ridiculous on its face. Muslims make up at least 60 percent of the population. Some Chinese are Christians, others are Buddhists.  Islam is the country’s official religion, enshrined in the constitution although other religions are guaranteed freedom to exist. Any attempt to change the status of Islam would result in a racial conflagration.

In the current flap, according to a translation by the website Malaysian Insider, assistant editor Ku Seman Ku Hussein said it was time “to think outside the box” about the tragedy to Malaysia and world aviation, repeating baseless allegations that the US had also engineered the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda.

“If the CIA could arrange for the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, it is not improbable to link MH370 with the intelligence agency,” he wrote, referring to speculation on the involvement of American intelligence in the 9/11 attacks.

“What if the MH370 tragedy had been arranged by certain parties to put Malaysia’s relationship with China in jeopardy?” Ku Seman asked in an opinion piece in the paper’s weekend edition, Mingguan Malaysia.

“The September 11 conspiracy which had been previously treated as nonsense was now a fact, and Putrajaya must look at it from a different point of view.” Ku Seman wrote.

Utusan reaches new heights of absurdity


April 7, 2014

 Utusan reaches new heights of absurdity

By John Malott*

malott1It is shocking to see that an Assistant Editor of Utusan Malaysia has written that the 9-11 attacks were planned by the CIA, and that the agency could also be behind the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

It is yet another example that Utusan has become the laughing stock of Malaysian journalism, given to fabrication, conspiracy theories, paranoia, extremism, and racism. Just think of all the libel suits that it has lost in the past two years. Think of its declining circulation, as readers grow weary of propaganda that tries to pass as news.

But Utusan is not just any newspaper. It is owned by UMNO, Malaysia’s rulingnajib-razak1 party, whose President is Najib Abdul Razak. UMNO and its President traditionally have provided editorial guidance and supervision to Utusan.

So what say you, Najib? You will soon be welcoming President Barack Obama to Malaysia. Are you going to let this absurb statement in “your” newspaper stand? Or will you speak out – and denounce this nonsense – before Obama comes?

When Utusan had its screaming headline after the 13th GE, ‘Apa Lagi Cina Mahu’, Najib defended the paper. Then just a few months later, he told government-linked companies that they should buy more advertisements in Utusan in order to aid the newspaper financially.

Will Najib react differently this time? Washington certainly will take note of the editorial comment in this UMNO newspaper, and will be waiting to see if there is a reaction from Najib and his government.

* John Malott was former US Ambassador to Malaysia and friend of Malaysia

 

 

What Really Concerns China About Flight 370?


April 1, 2014

The biggest aviation mystery since Amelia Earhart disappeared isn’t over for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and it may never be. Not with the families of the 154 Chinese passengers (out of 239 people) on board the missing Malaysian Air jet accusing his government of a cover-up. Not with puzzled observers around the world wondering how a government of a reasonably developed nation could be so inept. And not with Malaysians looking at a ruling elite that’s turned crisis management into a management crisis.

The biggest reason the fallout from Flight MH 370 may not be over for a long time might be because of China. Maybe the government of Asia’s most important economy really is livid at Malaysia’s handling of this tragedy. It’s hard not to think there also are ulterior motives at work.

Najib-Xi-Jinping-Malaysia-China-

Yes, Malaysia deserves plenty of blame, dragging out this painful human tragedy for too long. It took 16 days for its leaders to admit what most of the rest of the world figured out long ago: there would be no survivors of a plane crash somewhere far out in the Indian Ocean. In the interim, tales of stolen passports, confused and contradictory statements, fantastic theories about which political party the pilot supported, obfuscation about the Boeing 777′s cargo and daily press briefings by Hishammuddin Hussein — a man who should never again be allowed near a microphone — has tarnished Malaysia’s global brand for years to come. Malaysian Air telling some families that Flight 370 had “ended” was an added insult.

Yet China is doing its best to foster a sense of aggrievement, as if it has been intentionally wronged by this tragic accident. This is part of a broader pattern of exploiting international incidents for domestic gain. Think back to 1999, when NATO forces accidentally bombed China‘s embassy in Belgrade, or 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet and U.S. spy plane collided: China displayed a remarkable tolerance for public protests. Again in 2012, police stood by as protesters surrounded the car of then-U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. Or take the giant anti-Japanese demonstrations of recent years. Small wonder Japan’s tourists now head to Taiwan and Hong Kong rather than Shanghai or Beijing.

China, of course, is a nation with little tolerance for civil disobedience or protests, particularly in central Beijing. Anyone who has strolled through Tiananmen Square could be excused for wondering if they had been transported to North Korea’s desolate capital, Pyongyang. But for the Communist Party, pointing fingers at foreigners supposedly doing China harm is an ideal way to deflect attention from corruption scandals, income inequality and toxic pollution. It doesn’t take much to suspect that this is what is driving much of the outcry over the loss of MH Flight 370.

It’s certainly not as if the control freaks who run China would have been more transparent than Malaysia’s leaders. More competent and efficient, perhaps. But more forthcoming or doing anything that might risk giving any clues about its military-reconnaissance capabilities? Not a a chance.

But what is China’s end game here? Are Chinese leaders really supporting the interests of the mourning families? Perhaps, but something else might be at play. Tolerating protests where demonstrators bellow wildly and irresponsible chants like “the Malaysian government are murderers” suggest that China senses an opportunity to claim the high ground from a rival for territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China has proven quite adept at getting and keeping such moral trump cards in its back pocket. Don’t be surprised if the country’s Communist Party leaders make a big deal of their MH Flight 370 grievance the next time they find themselves in a dispute with Malaysia.

To contact the writer of this article: William Pesek at wpesek@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net.

Is Hishammuddin Hussein headed for the top?


March 31, 2014

Is Hishammuddin Hussein, voice of Malaysia on flight MH370, headed for the top?

After a brush with death and addressing world’s media on flight MH370, Hishammuddin Hussein’s personal journey may yet take a dramatic turn

by Satish Cheney in Kuala Lumpur

 PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 6:08am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 7:21am

 

MH370: Questions for the US and its Intelligence Services


March 30, 2014

Disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370: The Trillion Dollar Question to the U.S. and Its Intelligence Services

Malaysian media should pose critical questions to the US and its Intelligence Services and not to the Malaysian Government

Let me state from the outset that I totally agree with the press statements by Malaysia’s Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein that “we have conducted ourselves fairly, responsibly and history will judge us for that.”

And to a mischievous and presumptuous question from a correspondent of the Financial Times, Datuk Seri with confidence and integrity rightly said without any fear of contradiction that, “I don’t think we could have done anything different from what we have already done.”  Well done!

What technological innovation would prompt the Pentagon's military intelligence agencies to electronically interdict a civilian airliner in mid-flight, while disposing of the collateral passengers as shark bait?

What technological innovation would prompt the Pentagon’s military intelligence agencies to electronically interdict a civilian airliner in mid-flight, while disposing of the collateral passengers as shark bait?

The Financial Times, CNN and other foreign media ought to pose similar questions to the US and its intelligence services and stop insinuating that Malaysia has not been transparent and/or engaged in a cover-up. Foreign media should stop engaging in dirty politics!

 It is my hope that following the publication of this article, Malaysian mass media will focus on questioning the integrity of the US’s assistance to Malaysia in the first three weeks of the SAR mission, notwithstanding its recent offer of more assistance.

I take comfort that my reservations about the US and its intelligence services as well as other intelligence services closely linked to the US, especially British secret service, have been more than vindicated by Reuters in its news report on 28th March, 2014 entitled Geopolitical games handicap hunt for flight MH370

The search for flight MH370, the Malaysian Airlines jetliner that vanished over the South China Sea on March 8, has involved more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has been bedevilled by regional rivalries.

… With the United States playing a relatively muted role in the sort of exercise that until recently it would have dominated, experts and officials say there was no real central coordination until the search for the plane was confined to the southern Indian Ocean, when Australia largely took charge.

Part of the problem is that Asia has no NATO-style regional defence structure, though several countries have formal alliances with the United States. Commonwealth members Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia also have an arrangement with Britain to discuss defence matters in times of crisis.

As mystery deepened over the fate of the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew, most of them Chinese, it became clear that highly classified military technology might hold the key.

But the investigation became deadlocked over the reluctance of others to share sensitive data, a reticence that appeared to harden as the search area widened.

“This is turning into a spy novel,” said an envoy from a Southeast Asian country, noting it was turning attention to areas and techniques few countries liked to publicly discuss.

Ultimately, the only country with the technical resources to recover the plane – or at least its black box recorder, which could lie in water several miles deep – may be the United States. Its deep-sea vehicles ultimately hauled up the wreckage of Air France 447 after its 2009 crash into a remote region of the South Atlantic.

While Putrajaya has been forced to reveal some of the limits and ranges of its air defences, the reluctance of Malaysia’s neighbours to release sensitive radar data may have obstructed the investigation for days.

At an ambassadorial meeting in the ad hoc crisis centre at an airport hotel on March 16, Malaysia formally appealed to countries on the jet’s possible path for help, but in part met with polite stonewalling, two people close to the talks said.

Some countries asked Malaysia to put its request in writing, triggering a flurry of diplomatic notes and high-level contacts.

‘It became a game of poker in which Malaysia handed out the cards at the table but couldn’t force others to show their hand, a person from another country involved in the talks said.

As in the northern Indian Ocean, where Chinese forces operate alongside other nations to combat Somali piracy, current and former officials say all sides are almost certainly quietly spying on and monitoring each other at the same time. (emphasis added)

WantChinaTimes, Taiwan reported,

The United States has taken advantage of the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight to test the capabilities of China’s satellites and judge the threat of Chinese missiles against its aircraft carriers, reports our sister paper Want Daily.

Erich Shih, chief reporter at Chinese-language military news monthly Defense International, said the US has more and better satellites but has not taken part in the search for flight MH370, which disappeared about an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early hours of March 8 with 239 people on board. Shih claimed that the US held back because it wanted to see what information China’s satellites would provide.

The above is the reality which we have to confront. Therefore, desist any attempt to label the above mainstream media articles as a “conspiracy theory”. Reuters has let the Genie out of the bottle!

Malaysia’s Minister of Transport Datuk Seri Hishammuddin gave hints of Malaysia’s difficulties (as his hands were tied by intelligence protocols and or refusal by the relevant foreign intelligence services and diplomatic reluctance) but our local media failed to appreciate the nuances of his statements by not directing their questions at those parties that have failed Malaysia as their neighbour and in their duties under various defence treaties and arrangements.

Malaysian media, please read at the minimum three times, the sentences in bold AND WAKE UP TO THE REALITY that our country has been badly treated even though our country put all its national security cards on the table so that countries whose nationals are passengers on flight MH 370 could come forward with sincerity to assist in resolving this unfortunate tragedy which is not Malaysia’s making.

Malaysia is but a victim of this tragedy whose plane, MH 370 was used for a hidden agenda for which only time will reveal. 

On the 27th March, 2014, I exposed how Israel is exploiting the tragedy to create public opinion for a war against Iran, a Muslim country that has close ties with Malaysia.

At the outset of the SAR Mission, all concerned stated categorically that every scenario, no matter how unlikely would be examined critically with no stones left unturned – terrorist hijacking, suicide mission, technical failures, inadequate security, criminal actions of the pilot and or co-pilot etc.

Given the above premise, families of the passengers and the crew of MH 370 have every right to ask the following questions of the US and other countries that have sophisticated technologies to track and monitor airplanes and ships in all circumstances.

Such questions should not be shot down by those who have a hidden agenda that such queries amount to “conspiracy theories”. Far from being conspiracy theories, we assert that the questions tabled below and the rationale for asking them are well founded and must be addressed by the relevant parties, failing which an inference ought to be drawn that they are complicit in the disappearance of MH 370.

Let’s us begin.

1)        Was the plane ordered to turn back, if so who gave the order?

2)        Was the plane turned back manually or by remote control?

3)        If the latter, which country or countries have the technologies to execute such an operation?

4)        Was MH 370 weaponised before its flight to Beijing?

5)        If so, what are the likely methods for such a mission – Biological weapons, dirty bombs?

6)        Was Beijing / China the target and if so why?

7)        Qui Bono?

8)        The time sequence of countries identifying the alleged MH 370 debris in the Indian ocean was first made by Australia followed by France, Thailand, Japan, and Britain via Immarsat. Why did US not offer any satellite intelligence till today?

9)        Prior to the switch of focus to the Indian ocean, was the SAR mission in the South China seas, used as a cover for the deployment of undersea equipment to track and monitor naval capabilities of all the nations’ navies competing for ownership of disputed territorial waters? Reuters as quoted above seems to have suggested such an outcome.

10)     Why was there been no focus, especially by foreign mass media, on the intelligence and surveillance capabilities of Diego Garcia, the strategic naval and air base of the US?

11)     Why no questions were asked whether the flight path of MH 370 (if as alleged it crashed in the Indian Ocean), was within the geographical parameters of the Intelligence capabilities of Diego Garcia? Why were no planes deployed from Diego Garcia to intercept the “Unidentified” plane which obviously would pose a threat to the Diego Gracia military base?

12)     The outdated capabilities of the Hexagon satellite system deployed by the US in the 1970s has a ground resolution of 0.6 meters;  what’s more, the present and latest technologies boast the ability to identify objects much smaller in size. Why have such satellites not provided any images of the alleged debris in the Indian Ocean? Were they deliberately withheld?

13)     On April 6th, 2012, the US launched a mission dubbed “NROL-25” (consisting of a spy satellite) from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The NROL-25 satellite was likely rigged with “synthetic aperture radar” a system capable of observing targets around the globe in daylight and darkness, able to penetrate clouds and identify underground structures such as military bunkers.

Though the true capabilities of the satellites are not publicly known due to their top-secret classification, some analysts have claimed that the technology allows the authorities to zoom in on items as small as a human fist from hundreds of miles away. How is it that no imagery of MH370 debris was forwarded to Malaysia, as this capability is not classified though other technologies might well remain classified? (Source: Slate.com)

14)     Could it be that the above capabilities were not as touted?

15)     However, in December, 2013, the USAtlas V rocket was launched carrying the spy satellite NROL-39 for the National Reconnaissance Office, an intelligence agency which is often overshadowed by the notorious National Security Agency (NSA), only it scoops data via spy satellites in outer space. The “NROL-39 emblem” is represented by the Octopus a versatile, adaptive, and highly intelligent creature. Emblematically, enemies of the United States can be reached no matter where they choose to hide. The emblem boldly states “Nothing is beyond our reach”. This virtually means that the tentacles of America’s World Octopus are spreading across the globe to coil around everything within their grasp, which is, well, everything (Source: Voice of Moscow). Yet, the US with such capabilities remained silent. Why?

It cannot be said that it is not within the realm of probabilities that the US may not want the plane MH 370 to be recovered if rogue intelligence operators were responsible for the disappearance of MH 370.

If the above questions have been posed to the US and other intelligence agencies and answers are not forthcoming, I take the view that the Malaysian government ought to declare publicly that our national sovereignty and security have been jeopardized by the disappearance of MH 370 and that the relevant intelligence agencies have been tacitly complicit in the disappearance of MH370.

 By coming out openly to explain the predicament faced by our country, Malaysia may prevent a hostile act against a third country.

 I therefore call upon Malaysian mass media to be courageous and initiate such queries as only the US and other intelligence agencies can give definitive answers to the above 15 questions.

It is futile to demand answers from Malaysia as we are not in any position to supply the information as we do not have the capabilities of the global and regional military powers.

 Malaysians must unite behind the government so that our leaders need not feel that they are alone shouldering this enormous burden.      

Matthias Chang is a prominent Malaysian lawyer and author, who served as political secretary and adviser to former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/disappearance-of-malaysian-airlines-flight-mh-370-the-trillion-question-to-the-u-s-and-its-intelligence-services/5375780

 

 

Urgent questions for Malaysian Prime Minister


March 25,2014

Urgent questions for Malaysian Prime Minister

by RK Anand@ http://www.malaysiakini.com

NajiboSince the onset of this crisis, I have disagreed with the speculation that Malaysian authorities have been deliberately withholding or concealing information regarding the status of MH370.

The conflicting and often contradictory details stemmed from incompetence, as opposed to a diabolical plot. Our authorities just lack the experience and expertise in dealing with a misadventure of this magnitude. And to believe that Malaysia has the ability to hoodwink the world is giving our leaders too much credit.

But I strongly feel that satellite “pings” and some form of “analysis never before used” are required to locate the brains of our officials. And the absence of a functioning cerebrum was evident in the events that unravelled last night.

In a hastily organised news conference, a grim-faced Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that the Boeing 777 had gone down in the Indian Ocean, and that all 239 on board were lost.

The revelation even caught China by surprise. Were the other nations involved in the search and rescue mission notified or were they kept in the dark as well?

The next question is: why the rush?

Najib made a brief statement on the fate of the plane and those on it without divulging specific information or fielding questions from journalists. Instead the media was told that a briefing would be held this morning. Perhaps the Prime Minister was worried that if he did not break the news, the foreign media might beat him to it and steal the limelight.

The relatives of the passengers and crew were shell-shocked and understandably so. In Beijing, tears flowed, tempers flared, chairs flew and walls were punched. Imagine. After 17 days of trepidation as investigators landed at one dead end after another in search of a plane that simply vanished, the Malaysian Prime Minister tells the relatives that all hope is lost.

And this devastating blow comes after days of keeping their hopes alive with the oft repeated “looking into all possibilities” remark. Indeed, since the Beijing-bound flight went missing on March 8, a slew of speculations – some bordering on the bizarre and supernatural – had emerged.

But what actually transpired would only be known once the black box is discovered, which could take days, weeks, months or even years. However, one thing is for certain. The credibility of the Malaysian government has suffered a major dent as a result of this disaster.

Where was the RMAF when MH370 disappeared?


March 21, 2014

Where was the RMAF when MH370 disappeared?

by Mariam Mokhtar

@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

What is the SOP for a breach of our air space? The Air Force Chief’s explanation of the radar incident exposes the poor communication between the military and civil aviation authorities

COMMENT

Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali DaudWhere was the RMAF when MH370 disappeared? In any investigation, the first few hours are the most crucial, when searching for clues. In the early hours of Saturday, March 8, 2014, around the time that air traffic control lost contact with MH370, we are told that military radar detected the presence of an unidentified aircraft traversing Malaysian airspace.

What role, if any, could the RMAF have played in these crucial first few hours? Was precious time wasted in the search for MH370? Five days after MH370 went missing, the Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali Daud, finally acknowledged that the Malaysian Air Torce had radar information which may have had some bearing on the aeroplane.

All the while, we have seen a confused response from the authorities, ranging from retraction of statements and denials, to people giving the impression that they were withholding information. When MH370 veered off course and was possibly picked up on military radar, what did Rodzali do? He justified the delay in announcing the military’s information, because of the need to check the data, with the experts.

That is understandable, but in times of warfare, would it take several days? Military radar showed that an unidentified aircraft was around 200 nautical miles north west of Penang, and at 29,500 feet above sea level. When MH370 went missing, the transponders and all communications equipment were not working.

It is curious that the radar operators knew it was a civilian plane but did not think to check with the civil aviation authorities. So, what is the standard operating procedure (SOP) for a breach of our air space? When asked why fighters had not been scrambled to intercept the unidentified aircraft, Rodzali said that radar operators had recognised it as a civilian aircraft.

How did the radar operators know it was a civilian aircraft and was not hostile? What is the definition of hostile used by the radar operators? Will an unidentified plane be considered hostile only if the plane is armed? Can the radar man confirm hostility by looking at his screen? The Boeing 777 is an enormous plane and fast. The C-130 and other military transporter planes are also big and bulky, but they are slower than the sleek Boeing.

Government lackey

Rodzali said: “It is not classified as hostile. We only do an intercept or respond when they are classified as hostile.” The two jets which smashed into the twin towers in New York may not have carried missiles, but the aircraft were used as weapons. So, how could Rodzali confidently say the plane was not hostile. His response is far from satisfactory and is like an invitation for any plane, hostile or friendly, to pass unchallenged through our air space.

All planes must file a flight plan with the civilian aviation authorities, avoiding no-go areas. Aircraft straying into that air-space will be contacted by radio, and then escorted away. If the pilot refuses to comply, he risks an aerial engagement. Did the RMAF contact the civilian aviation authorities and confirm the flight plan of the aeroplane?

Rodzali’s explanation of the radar incident exposes the poor communication between the military and civil aviation authorities. A quick phone call by the air force to Subang would have sufficed. An air force officer of sufficient rank could have decided to scramble a jet to investigate. It does not matter if someone had to be awoken. In addition, the chief of the armed forces, Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, made further confusing remarks.

After claiming that the unidentified aircraft was first noticed in the spot where MH370 was known to have disappeared, he said, “We sent some ships immediately from Lumut that particular night to where we suspected that aircraft would be. That morning at first light, we sent a C-130 (aircraft) immediately to scout the area. It is a possibility (that MH370 is there) and at the slightest possibility, I must respond for the sake of the passengers on MH370.”

Zulkifeli’s remarks seem to suggest that he thought an aircraft had come down somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, and yet, Najib Tun Razak had directed the search and rescue (SAR) mission to be conducted in the Gulf of Thailand. Does Zulkifeli know something we don’t?

It is baffling that Zulkifeli was prepared to send the ships from Lumut, which is south of Penang, but he did not see the need to send a jet, as soon as the unidentified aircraft entered our air space. It is clear that the air force has messed-up and wasted an opportunity to solve the mystery of the unidentified aircraft. It is imperative that military and civil aviation authorities improve communications with one another.

The RMAF should spend more time on defence of the nation, instead of being a government lackey which protects the interests of UMNO-Baru. The persecution of Major Zaidi Ahmad for making a police report on the indelibile ink used in GE-13 is a prime example of the displaced loyalty of the RMAF. If only the armed forces would get their priorities right.

No let up in MH370 Search


March 20, 2014

No let up in MH370 Search

by S Retnathan

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Despite obtaining a credible lead on the missing MH370 today, Malaysia has vowed to continue and intensify the search for the runaway aircraft until it is found.

mh370-hishammuddin

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said that the search for the Boeing 777-200 aircraft was continuing and has been intensified despite the Australian government’s announcement this morning that it had satellite images of objects that looked like debris of the plane some 2,500km southwest of Perth on the Indian Ocean.

The Australians are now checking the site but have yet to come up with concrete evidence of the missing plane due to bad weather. The satellite images are learnt to be four days old.

Speaking at his daily press conference on the missing jetliner, Hishammuddin, who is also Defence Minister, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak received a call from his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott this morning, informing him that “two possible objects related to the search” for MH370 had been identified in the Southern Indian Ocean.

AnifahAmanThe Australian authorities in Kuala Lumpur have also briefed Hishmmuddin on the situation, and the Australian Foreign Minister has spoken to his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman.

When asked when the images of debris were taken, Hishammuddin only replied that the call from the Australian Prime Minister to Najib came this morning.

“The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) continues co-ordinating the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft within Australia’s search and rescue area, with assistance from the Australian Defence Force, the New Zealand Air Force, and the US Navy.

“AMSA’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) Australia has received satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for MH370.RCC Australia received an expert assessment of commercial satellite imagery today. The images were captured by satellite. They may not be related to the aircraft. The assessment of these images was provided by the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation as a possible indication of debris southwest of Perth,” he added.

As result of this information, four aircraft have been re-orientated to an area 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth. A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft had arrived in the area at about 10.50am while another three aircraft have been tasked by RCC Australia to the area, including a second RAAF Orion, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, and a US Navy P-8 Poseidon.

Hishammuddin said the Poseidon was expected to arrive early this afternoon and the second RAAF Orion was expected to depart RAAF Base Pearce, Perth, mid-afternoon. The New Zealand Orion was due to depart this afternoon.

A RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft has been tasked by RCC Australia to drop datum marker buoys to assist in drift modelling.

They will provide an on-going reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes protracted.

A merchant ship that responded to a shipping broadcast issued by RCC Australia on Monday was also expected to arrive in the area this afternoon.

The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success is en route to the area but is some days away. The ship is well equipped to recover any objects located and proven to be from MH370.

Credible but unconfirmed

“Every effort is being made to locate the objects seen in the satellite imagery. It must be stressed that these sightings, while credible, are still to be confirmed,” Hishammuddin said.

Earlier today, Abbott told the Australian parliament that search and rescue teams had found two objects which could be from the missing Malaysian airline in the Indian Ocean some 2,500km southwest of Perth.

The objects were found in the southern part of Australia in the vicinity of the search and rescue area for MH370 which went missing on March 8. The Boeing 777-200ER jetliner went missing an hour into its flight form the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing, China.

It was carrying 239 passengers and crew. The runaway plane was last spotted by civilian radar heading towards Vietnam over the South China Sea. Its transponders which sends signal to air traffic control on the plane’s location was switched from inside the jetliner off soon after last contact was made.

The plane was spotted by the military radar an hour after that heading towards the Andaman Sea, on the western side of Peninsula Malaysia. Some 27 nations have joined in the search for the missing plane. Malaysian authorities have said the plane flew in either one of the two routes. One was towards the Indian Ocean while the other was across continental Asia, from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan.

The Australian are leading search and rescue operations in the Indian Ocean.Hishammuddin said currently, there are 18 ships, 29 aircraft and six ship-borne helicopters are deployed along the northern and southern corridors of the search.

In the northern corridor, there are four aircraft – two from Malaysia, one each from Japan and the US.

In the southern corridor, there are 25 aircraft – two from Malaysia, Australia (5), China (3), Indonesia (4), India (2), Japan (4), New Zealand (1), South Korea (2) and one each from UAE and USA.

There are a total of 18 ships in the southern corridor including six from Malaysia, Australia (1), China (5) and Indonesia (6).

This deployment, he said, included six helicopters, three each from Malaysia and China.

“Until we are certain that we have located MH370, search and rescue operations will continue in both corridors.

“I can confirm that Malaysia is sending two aircraft to Kazakhstan, and the UK is planning to send a ship to the southern corridor. In addition to the assets I just listed above, a number of countries in the northern corridor are carrying out search and rescue operations within their own territory,” he said.

International force deployment

The Minister also said China was using every means possible, including 21 satellites, to search the area within its borders, and is ready to send more ships and aircraft wherever they are needed.

“In Cambodia, four helicopters are conducting search operations within Cambodian territory, the Laos Air Force is carrying out search operations within Laos, Singapore is using its International Information Fusion Centre, where a Malaysian representative is stationed, to notify mariners and help with the search.

The Thai military is conducting search operations in the northern part of Thailand with all available aircraft and Vietnam is conducting search operations within its territory using an unspecified number of aircraft.

“Together this represents a significant international force deployment. I am thankful for the co-operation of our partners as we continue to focus on finding MH370.

“Our primary focus has always been to find the aircraft. And with every passing day, our efforts have intensified.

“Yesterday I said that we wanted to reduce the area of the search. We now have a credible lead. There remains much work to be done to deploy the assets. This work will continue overnight,” he concluded.

Hishammuddin also said that if parts of the missing plane were found at the location, the next step would be finding the black box.

“Different assets will be used for that,” he said, quickly adding that the two Malaysian submarines were incapable for that kind of search.

Malaysia is not looking looking very good right now


March 19, 2014

Malaysia is not looking looking very good right now

by Anthony SB Thanasayan

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

When the nation has been thrown into utter shock, confusion and sadness over the missing MH370, conflicting statements by officials is not helping our image internationally

COMMENT

afif_the_malaysian_insider_dca_hishammuddin_hussein_radars_540_360_100

It has been 12 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished into the night sky – and we have not found the aircraft or its 239 passengers on board. The mystery surrounding the exact location of the ill-fated Boeing 777-200ER has all but deepened the intrigue as to its whereabouts since it went off the radars on March 8.

Like scores of Malaysians, I woke up to the news on a Saturday morning. A SMS from a friend at 11.04am read: “Beijing-bound MAS plane shockingly missing-in-action!” My first reaction was to immediately check my phone to confirm the breaking news story. Both of the SMS news alerts which I subscribe to were already screaming out the headlines.

My next reaction was to tune in to international radio broadcasters on the Internet via my mobile phone and on shortwave. The Voice of America, BBC and CNN on Astro were already thick with reports and speculations on what might have happened to the plane and what was being done to look for its passengers.

From then on and until now I have been by my radio, television and the computer sets, following up on the latest developments on MH370. Here are some of the jottings in my notebook:

Politicians, please watch your tongues! Less than 24 hours after the missing plane was revealed, one of you went on and on about how one of the crew personnel was a member of your political party. Excuse me, but was that relevant, especially as the whole of Malaysia, and the world, are worried sick about 239 passengers and not just one person?

Did that fact make the person you were highlighting more important than the others? What was your point in bringing that up, really, at a time when the nation has been thrown into utter shock, confusion and sadness over the catastrophe?

A little later, another politician blasted the media over Facebook for ‘speculating’ about what transpired with MH370. He sarcastically told them to “wait until the aircraft was found” before asking questions. Really? Sir? Now imagine if the press had taken you seriously and followed your stupid advice and stopped talking about the plane?

How much would we know of what we know today, even though it is still very much at the tip of the iceberg stage? Don’t you know that in a moment of confusion and sadness, what is important is to be kept informed? Whatever little we can get goes a long way to calm frazzled nerves and help us stay in control of a situation, no matter how helpless we may feel at the time.

And what better way to deal with rumours and unconfirmed reports by pursuing them and directing them to the right sources for clarification. It is unfortunate that you, as a leader, are simply unaware of the indispensable role of the media. Whatever personal misgivings you might have about the media, please take them elsewhere!

Anyone who has ever taken a plane or has had experiences of losing a loved one in a tragic situation was deeply shaken by the news. The media were our heroes to give us up-to-date information about the search and rescue mission, even though it was extremely difficult and frustrating for them with the government saying so little.

The world is watching 

RTM’s national English broadcaster TRAXXfm featured continuous updates from the moment of the tragedy. These included ‘live’ interviews with local pilots who knew the crew, would-be passengers who missed the ill-fated flight and opened the station’s telephone lines to get the views of its listeners.

Interviews were also conducted with local social media experts on how to tell the difference between professional speculation and false reports. A Malaysian airline official was on standby at the control tower in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to give daily updates of what was transpiring there.

Radio proved to be more convenient for listeners in their cars, especially to hear the live daily press conferences by the government during the times when they were on the move. Astro Awani 501 provided 24-hour news coverage. However, when information was scarce, viewers often ended up watching frequent repeats that made followers tune elsewhere.

CNN, without a doubt, was the overall best broadcaster for the news coverage of MH370. The story has been headline news on its telecast until today. Two of its reporters based in KLIA have been giving worldwide audiences hour by hour details that have been riveting to listen to, even though the aircraft and more concrete details have yet to be found.

Initially they began by interviewing local sources for information that landed them into trouble. Their Malaysian guests didn’t quite grasp the English language that was put towards them by the international broadcaster.

A local NGO, for instance, talked more about what his organisation was doing worldwide instead of how they were helping the victims’ families when interviewed by CNN. The latter had to cut them off as a result.

Things started to really take off when international experts, especially unnamed intelligence sources, came on with their take on the situation. One of the issues that raised the ire of the international broadcaster were the conflicting reports given by Malaysian officials in regards to the investigation and search operations.

This became a news item by itself. CNN pointed out that “part of the problem could be cultural. There has been one coalition governing Malaysia for decades, its leaders not used to being challenged.” CNN went on to quote James Keith, former Ambassador to Malaysia as saying, “(Malaysia hasn’t) had to account themselves in the way that they now have to in the flare up of international publicity.”

Please mind your official press conferences: Don’t forget that you are being watched all over the world during your ‘live’ sessions. (BBC also carries them live on its online page). No matter how grim the situation, VIPs, please freshen up your appearances. Comb your hair, powder up, straighten your ties, tuck in your shirt etc,. It all helps to give a positive atmosphere when dealing with a difficult situation.

And for heaven’s sake, start your PCs on time. Keep them regular and announce when they are coming on often. Welcome questions, no matter how difficult. If you must reject them, do it in a dignified manner. Remember, the whole world is watching and Malaysia isn’t looking very good right now. Don’t crack jokes or laugh at anything because nothing is funny right now.

A special note to Astro Awani: Please stop focusing on the VIPs rubbing their nose, scratching their faces, etc. It’s so embarrassing. Beam in on to them only when it is a second or two before they speak. Waiting for minutes before they start will only unfairly expose them to more possible glitches. All these positively adds calm and control over a situation that we still have a lot more answering to do.

Anthony SB Thanasayan is a wheelchair and animal activist. He is also a former city councillor.

New uncertainty about missing Malaysian plane


March 18, 2014

New uncertainty about missing Malaysian 777 plane (MH370)

By Ian Mader
Associated Press

Pray for MH370The Missing MH380

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Officials revealed a new timeline Monday suggesting the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the missing Malaysian plane may have occurred before any of its communications systems were disabled, adding more uncertainty about who aboard might have been to blame.

The search for Flight 370, which vanished early March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, has now been expanded deep into the northern and southern hemispheres. Australian vessels scoured the southern Indian Ocean and China offered 21 of its satellites to help Malaysia in the unprecedented hunt.

With no wreckage found in one of the most puzzling aviation mysteries of all time, passengers’ relatives have been left in an agonizing limbo.

Investigators say the Boeing 777 was deliberately diverted during its overnight flight and flew off-course for hours. They haven’t ruled out hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide, and are checking the backgrounds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members — as well as the ground crew — for personal problems, psychological issues or links to terrorists.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said finding the plane was still the main focus, and he did not rule out that it might be discovered intact.

“The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope,” Hishammuddin said at a news conference.

Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said an initial investigation indicated that the last words ground controllers heard from the plane — “All right, good night” — were spoken by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid. A voice other than that of Fariq or the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it would have been clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit before the flight went off-course.

Malaysian officials said earlier that those words came after one of the jetliner’s data communications systems — the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System — had been switched off, suggesting the voice from the cockpit may have been trying to deceive ground controllers.

However, Ahmad said that while the last data transmission from ACARS — which gives plane performance and maintenance information — came before that, it was still unclear at what point the system was switched off, making any implications of the timing murkier.

The new information opened the possibility that both ACARS and the plane’s transponders, which make the plane visible to civilian air traffic controllers, were turned off at about the same time. It also suggests that the message delivered from the cockpit could have preceded any of the severed communications.

Turning off a transponder is easy and, in rare instances, there may be good reason to do so in flight — for example, if it were reporting incorrect data.

The Malaysian plane does not appear to fit that scenario, said John Gadzinski, a 737 captain.

“There is a raised eyebrow, like Spock on Star Trek — you just sit there and go, ‘Why would anybody do that?’” Gadzinski said of what he is hearing among pilots.

Other pilots in the United States cautioned against reading too much into what little is known so far about the actions of the Malaysia Airlines crew.

“You can’t take anything off the table until everything is on the table, and we don’t even have an aircraft,” said Boeing 737 pilot Mike Karn, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

Authorities have pointed to the shutdown of the transponders and the ACARS as evidence that someone with a detailed knowledge of the plane was involved. But Bob Coffman, an airline captain and former 777 pilot, said that kind of information is not hard to find in the digital age.

Authorities confiscated a flight simulator from the pilot’s home Saturday and also visited the home of the co-pilot in what Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar initially said were the first police visits to those homes.

But the government, which has come under criticism abroad for missteps and foot-dragging in releasing information, issued a statement Monday contradicting that account, saying police first visited the pilots’ homes as early as March 9, the day after the flight disappeared.

Coffman said the flight simulator could signify nothing more than the pilot’s zeal for his job.

“There are people for whom flying is all consuming,” he said, noting some pilots like to spend their off-duty hours on simulators at home, commenting on pilot blogs or playing fighter-pilot video games.

Although Malaysian authorities requested that all nations with citizens aboard the flight conduct background checks on them, it wasn’t clear how thoroughly the checks were done in Malaysia. The father of a Malaysian aviation engineer aboard the plane said police had not approached anyone in the family about his 29-year-old son, Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat, though he added that there was no reason to suspect him.

“It is impossible for him to be involved in something like this,” said Selamat Omar, 60. “We are keeping our hopes high. I am praying hard that the plane didn’t crash and that he will be back soon.”

French investigators arriving in Kuala Lumpur to lend expertise from the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 said they were able to rely on distress signals. But that vital tool is missing in the Malaysia Airlines mystery because the flight’s communications were deliberately silenced ahead of its disappearance, investigators say.

“It’s very different from the Air France case. The Malaysian situation is much more difficult,” said Jean Paul Troadec, a Special Adviser to France’s aviation accident investigation bureau.

Malaysia’s government sent diplomatic cables to all countries in the search area, seeking more planes and ships and asking for any radar data that might help.

The search involves 26 countries and initially focused on seas on either side of Peninsular Malaysia, in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

The vast scope of the search was underlined when a U.S. destroyer that already has helped cover 15,000 square miles (38,850 square kilometers) of water dropped out.

The Navy concluded that long-range aircraft were more efficient in looking for the plane or its debris than the USS Kidd and its helicopters, so effective Tuesday the ship was leaving the Indian Ocean search area, said Navy Cmdr. William Marks, spokesman for the 7th Fleet. Navy P-3 and P-8 surveillance aircraft remain available, and can cover 15,000 square miles (38,850 square kilometers) in a nine-hour flight.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Najib Razak said investigators determined that a satellite picked up a faint signal from the aircraft about 7½ hours after takeoff. The signal indicated the plane would have been somewhere on a vast arc stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

The southern Indian Ocean is the world’s third-deepest and one of the most remote stretches of water, with little radar coverage.

Hishammuddin said Monday that searches in both the northern and southern stretches of the arc had begun, and that countries from Australia in the south, China in the north and Kazakhstan in the west had joined the hunt.

Had the plane gone northwest to Central Asia, it would have crossed over countries with busy airspace. Some experts believe it more likely would have gone south, although Malaysian authorities are not ruling out the northern corridor and are eager for radar data that might confirm or rule out that route.

The northern corridor crosses through countries including China, India and Pakistan — all of which have said they have no sign of the plane. China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, is providing several planes and 21 satellites for the search, Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement.

“Factors involved in the incident continue to multiply, the area of search-and-rescue continues to broaden, and the level of difficulty increases, but as long as there is one thread of hope, we will continue an all-out effort,” Li said.

Indonesia focused on Indian Ocean waters west of Sumatra, air force spokesman Rear Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto said.

Australia agreed to Malaysia’s request to take the lead in searching the southern Indian Ocean with four Orion maritime planes that would be joined by New Zealand and U.S. aircraft, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

___

Associated Press writers Joan Lowy and Robert Burns in Washington, Chris Brummitt, Jim Gomez and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Australia, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny


Asia Pacific

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/world/asia/missing-jet-exposes-a-dysfunctional-malaysian-elite.html?_r=0

Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny

afif_the_malaysian_insider_dca_hishammuddin_hussein_radars_540_360_100

SEPANG, Malaysia — Malaysia’s governing elite has clung to power without interruption since independence from Britain almost six decades ago through a combination of tight control of information, intimidation of the opposition and, until recently, robust economic growth.

But worldwide bafflement at the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has challenged the country’s paternalistic political culture and exposed its coddled leaders to the withering judgments of critics from around the world.

Civilian and military leaders on Wednesday revealed that they had known for the past four days, but did not publicly disclose, that military radar had picked up signals of what may have been the missing aircraft. It appeared to be flying on a westerly course sharply off its intended flight path to Beijing.

If the radar readings were from the missing plane, it could mean a radical reinterpretation of where it ended up. And it was only under a barrage of intense questioning on Wednesday from a room packed with reporters who had arrived from many countries that officials acknowledged that the last recorded radar plot point showed the jet flying in the direction of the Indian Ocean — and at a cruising altitude, suggesting it could have flown much farther.

Continue reading the main story

Detecting a Plane

Two kinds of radar are used to keep track of air traffic from the ground.

Primary radar

Sends out radio signals and listens for echoes that bounce back from objects in the sky.

Transponder

Secondary radar

Sends signals that request information from the plane’s transponder. The plane sends back information including its identification and altitude. The radar repeatedly sweeps the sky and interrogates the transponder. Other planes in flight can also receive the transponder signals.

That raised the question of why the information had not been released earlier.

“The world is finally feeling the frustration that we’ve been experiencing for years,” said Lee Ee May, a management consultant and a former aide to a Malaysian opposition politician.

Ms. Lee said she was embarrassed when the country’s Defense Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, the scion of a powerful political family, rejected a reporter’s assertion on Wednesday that the search for the airplane had been disordered.

“It’s only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion,” Mr. Hishammuddin said at a news conference that unfolded before an international audience.

Relatively free from natural disasters and other calamities, Malaysia has had little experience with handling a crisis on this scale. It is also an ethnically polarized society where talent often does not rise to the top of government because of patronage politics within the ruling party and a system of ethnic preferences that discourages or blocks the country’s minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, from government service.

Ethnic Malays, who make up about half of the population, hold nearly all top government positions and receive a host of government preferences because of their status as “sons of the soil.”

Authoritarian laws have helped keep the governing party, the United Malays National Organization, in power — and an ascendant opposition in check.

The day before Flight 370 disappeared, the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to five years under a sodomy law that is almost never enforced. Critics called the case an effort to block the opposition’s rise at a time when the governing party’s popularity is waning.

Then on Tuesday, a court convicted Karpal Singh, another opposition politician, of sedition, a law enacted in colonial times.

“We call it persecution, not prosecution,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and the former head of the Malaysian Bar Council.

The government is accustomed to getting its way, and the crisis surrounding the missing plane is holding officials accountable in ways unfamiliar to them, Ms. Ambiga said.

“Malaysians have come to accept that their leaders don’t answer questions,” she said. “When you are not seriously challenged in any meaningful way, of course you get complacent and comfortable.”

For a relatively prosperous country of 30 million people that is less well known internationally than neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore, the government’s confused efforts at finding the missing jetliner are an awkward and undesired appearance on the world stage.

The crisis has led to introspection about why the government has appeared uncoordinated and unable to pin down seemingly basic facts about the missing flight.

Officials insisted for three days that baggage was removed from the flight before takeoff when five passengers did not board. But the country’s chief of police on Tuesday said that was false: Everyone who checked in boarded the plane, he said. No explanation was given for the conflicting accounts.

Ibrahim Suffian, the Director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling company, said the response to the crisis had underlined a lack of precision both in government and in the society over all.

“There’s a tolerance for a lack of attentiveness to detail,” he said. “You have a tendency of not asking so much and not expecting so much.”

The crisis also highlighted a lack of competence in government that Mr. Ibrahim said was related to a deference to authority and reluctance to take initiative. “There’s always been a kind of wait-for-instructions-from-the-top attitude,” he said.

Yet amid the criticism of the rescue efforts there was also an acknowledgment that the plane’s disappearance was so unusual that perhaps no government would be fully prepared for it.

“This is almost a unique situation,” said Ramon Navaratnam, a Harvard-trained economist and a former Malaysian senior civil servant. “Anyone would be caught off guard.”

For now, the Malaysian authorities are stuck in the unenviable position of hearing many questions but having few answers.

“They have never faced pressure to perform like this,” said Ms. Lee, the management consultant. “But now international eyes are on them, and they have nowhere to hide.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 13, 2014, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Leaders in Malaysia Face Unusual Scrutiny.

Mishaps Mar Malaysia’s Handling of Flight Tragedy


Mishaps Mar Malaysia’s Handling of Flight Tragedy

Critics furious over crossed signals from government officials as search grows more confused

MH370 rescueMiscues and media gaffes are turning Malaysia into an object of anger and criticism in the aftermath of the disappearance early Saturday morning of a Malaysian Airlines jetliner carrying 239 passengers and crew. 

No trace of the craft has been found despite a search encompassing thousands of square kilometers.  On Wednesday, the day was dominated by confusion over reports that the aircraft might have attempted to head back toward Malaysia before it disappeared.

Malaysia’s air force chief told reporters very early Wednesday that the plane had veered off course. Later in the morning, the same officer denied the report sharply. By Wednesday afternoon, the government seemed to reverse itself again, requesting assistance from India in searching the Andaman Sea, north of the Malacca Strait, where the plane may have gone down far from the current search area off the coast of Vietnam.

Officials finally said the plane “may” have been heading toward the Strait of Malacca when it disappeared and that the search was now also concentrated in that area.

Hishamuddin HusseinOther countries have grown frustrated.  The Chinese, with 152 passengers on board, have complained about a lack of transparency over details. They have also complained that Malaysian Airlines staff handling relatives of the victims in Beijing have been short of information and in many cases don’t speak Mandarin.

From the start, according to critics, the Malaysians have treated the disappearance and ensuing inconsistencies as a local problem instead of one that has focused the attention of the entire world’s media on the tragedy. In a semi-democratic country with a largely supine domestic media, the government insists it has the situation in hand but that hardly seems the case.

Often, those giving press briefings about the affair communicate badly in English to an international press whose lingua franca is English.  Because of widely differing reports of where the aircraft actually disappeared, the picture being delivered is one of incompetence. Networks like the BBC and CNN are openly declaring that the post-accident situation is a mess.

Some of it isn’t Malaysia’s fault.  An initial report that two possible hijackers using fake passports somehow got through the country’s passport control because of lax surveillance turned out to be false.  While the two were traveling on false passports, apparently the stolen documents had never been reported to Interpol, which tracks such incidents.  The pair turned out to be Iranians seeking asylum in Europe.  

But that wasn’t helped by the fact that Malaysian authorities originally said erroneously that as many as four to five people could have been traveling with suspect passports, raising the possibility of a fully-fledged hijack gang aboard.

But five days into the loss of the aircraft and with no idea of where it could have disappeared, there is growing concern over who is in charge, coupled with the fact that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has largely removed himself from the picture, allowing his cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, the defense minister and acting transport minister, to deal with the affair. 

International treaties that allow for Malaysia to greatly expand the probe by calling in experts from foreign governments to help were not invoked until Wednesday, it seems, when it was reported that US and other foreign experts had finally been invited to take part in the formal investigation. It seemed again that valuable time had been lost.

Much of the problem is due to the fact that the Malaysian government has habitually handled information as a problem rather than as a means of communication. The mainstream news media are all owned by the ruling political parties and are used to being fed information the government wants them to hear.  Government-owned MAS at one point issued a press release only to recall it twice because of misspellings and misinformation.

In a deeply divided political culture, especially in the last year as the opposition has grown more effective, the government is finding it difficult to manage the flow of information on a disaster. In addition, in the midst of this flight crisis the government is seeming preoccupied by court actions to drive two opposition leaders, Anwar Ibrahim of  Parti Keadilan Rakyat, and Karpal Singh of the Democratic Action Party, out of Parliament.

At the start, the plane was characterized as having simply gone off the radar – until Wednesday, when a report carried in Berita Harian, a government-controlled Malay-language newspaper, quoted Air Force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud as saying Malaysian radar had tracked the missing Boeing 777-200 turning left from its last known location on radar. It then supposedly crossed Malaysia itself and disappeared over the Strait of Malacca.

The report set off a frenzy. CNN and the BBC carried maps of the new possible crash site as it was reported that the massive search for the wreckage had shifted to the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia instead of the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam.

Then the report was emphatically denied by Daud, who told a press conference that “I wish to state that I did not make any such statements as above.”

CNN, however,  quoted an unnamed “senior air force source” as saying the plane indeed had shown up on radar for more than an hour after contact was lost at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. The craft was last detected, according to the official, near Pulau Perak, a small island in the Strait of Malacca.  

Has four days been wasted by a huge flotilla of airplanes and ships that have been scouring the South China Sea for wreckage while the plane might actually be somewhere 900 km. to the west?  The Vietnamese announced they were suspending their participation in the search. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday complained about the lack of progress in finding the plane, saying “We once again request and urge the Malaysia side to enhance and strengthen rescue and searching efforts.”  The Chinese government itself is starting to feel the heat, offering to deploy 10 satellites in the effort to find the plane.

The crisis wasn’t helped any by a sensational revelation from Australia by a young South African woman that she and a friend had once ridden in the cockpit of an MAS flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the missing co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, and had pictures of themselves flirting with the pilots, who were even smoking in the cockpit, to prove it.

Since 9/11 in the United States, airline regulations forbid anyone not part of the crew from gaining access to the cockpit. If nothing else, the story and the pictures are an indication of lax flight deck discipline and raise questions if someone could have got into the pilots’ cabin aboard MH370. 

 

Hishamuddin, RMH370:Resign and Spare US International Embarassment


March 14, 2014

Hishamuddin, Resign and Spare US International Embarassment

by Reuters@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

One of the world’s most perplexing aviation mysteries is casting a harsh spotlight on Malaysia’s government, as a leadership unused to heavy scrutiny comes under intense international criticism for a litany of confusing messages and a perceived lack of transparency.

Hishamuddin HusseinFive days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar screens, a huge international search operation has failed to turn up a trace of the Boeing jetliner that was carrying 239 passengers and crew.

Frustration over the fruitless search has increasingly been directed at Malaysian officials after a series of fumbling news conferences, incorrect details given by the national airline and civil aviation authority, and a long delay in divulging details of the military’s tracking of what could have been the plane hundreds of miles off course.

The missteps have ranged from conflicting information about the last time of contact with the jet to the sharing of photos of two passengers in which they had the same pair of legs.

“The Malaysians deserve to be criticised – their handling of this has been atrocious,” said Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.Government officials say they are coping as best they can with an exceptional, highly complex crisis.

Confusion, false leads, and misinformation are common in the initial hours of air disasters in any country.

But China, whose citizens made up around two-thirds of the passengers on board the flight, has barely hidden its impatience with Malaysia, urging it several times to step up the search and investigation efforts.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority of China, Li Jiaxiang, told reporters today that the message had been repeated to Malaysia’s special envoy in the Chinese capital.

“Yesterday, Malaysia’s special envoy arrived in Beijing, and the CAAC asked of him that Malaysia step up search efforts and increase their scope, and that we hope that Malaysia’s information release and communication can be smoother,” he said.

Families angry

Some families of the up to 154 missing Chinese have voiced fury at what they said was the slow release of information. Verbal abuse and water bottles were hurled at representatives of the government-owned airline in Beijing.

“The core of Malaysia’s information hasn’t been consistent from start to finish,” said China’s widely read and influential Global Times tabloid, published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.

“It certainly hits at the confidence that the rest of the world has in Malaysia’s ability to be the nucleus of the rescue mission,” the paper added.

Other governments have praised the Malaysian effort, but some officials have complained of a lack of communication and information sharing that has slowed initial fact-finding.

US officials said Malaysia’s failure to disclose the military’s radar tracking data until days after the plane’s disappearance meant important evidence may have disappeared.

“The lack of communication about what is going on is catastrophic,” said one Western regulatory source, asking not to be identified. “We are in the fourth dimension here.”

Communication deficit

Malaysia’s government, one of the longest-serving in the democratic world with the same coalition in power for the 57 years since independence, has struggled to cope with the harsh glare of international scrutiny.

The rulingUMNO has long been criticised, including by some of its own members, for cronyism, an authoritarian streak and breeding a political culture in which loyalty is prized over talent.

Majority ethnic Malays have benefited from a system of economic and social privileges that has steadily alienated ethnic Chinese and Indians, who make up large minorities in the nation of 29 million people.

Just a day before the plane vanished, a court convicted opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison, overturning his acquittal two years ago in a ruling that supporters and international human rights groups say was politically influenced.

Ministries often meet requests for information or interviews with silence.

“There was a lot of confusion on the first and second days of this incident,” a senior Malaysian Defence Official with knowledge of the operations told Reuters.

“A lot of permissioning, especially when you start sharing information with other ministries in government. I admit there is a lot of bureaucracy and we were slow.”

Malaysia’s response has been overseen personally by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who put his cousin – the defence and acting transport minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein – in charge of day-to-day operations and interaction with the media.

“This is unique what we are going through,” Hishamuddin told reporters at a Wednesday news conference, batting away their complaints over a lack of transparency. “Coordinating with so many countries is not easy.”

The frequency of news conferences given to hundreds of reporters now massed at a hotel next to the international airport has dwindled sharply since the first day. The delayed briefing on Wednesday evening was the first to give details on the search operation in two days.

Confusion from start

The confusion began hours after the flight vanished from air traffic control radar early on Saturday morning. Malaysian Airlines initially said the plane lost contact at 2.40am, two hours after its departure. Hours later, it corrected the time to 1.30am.

As details emerged that some passengers had boarded the flight using stolen passports, Malaysia’s Home Minister was quoted by state news agency Bernama as saying that two men travelling on Italian and Austrian documents had “Asian faces”.

That was denied by Hishamuddin, and the muddle deepened when Malaysia’s aviation chief attempted a confusing analogy with the black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli.

The men turned out to be Iranians who were not suspected of being connected with the disappearance of the plane.

On Tuesday, police displayed pictures of the two in which their legs appeared exactly the same, sparking speculation of a cover-up. Police later said this was a photocopying error, according to local media.

The Arrogant IGPInspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar flatly denied a statement by the Civil Aviation hief that there were five passengers who checked-in for the flight and did not board. Malaysia Airlines later clarified there had been four passengers who did not show up at the airport for the flight.

Perhaps the greatest confusion was generated by the Malaysian military’s revelation on Sunday that the plane may have turned back from its scheduled path off Malaysia’s east coast before disappearing.

Officials did not give more details on the suspected “turnback” until Wednesday, leaving a gap that was filled by speculation the government was hiding something and doubts over whether the search was being conducted in the right place.

On Wednesday, officials confirmed they tracked an unidentified aircraft into the Malacca Strait, hundreds of miles and off the opposite coast from where the jet went missing.

Bowers, the Southeast Asia specialist, said Malaysia’s apparent mishandling of the situation could have long-term strategic consequences in a region where China’s economic and military might is growing rapidly.

“They have no maritime domain awareness and it doesn’t look like they have a strong command and control structure and they’re not well coordinated with friends. Sadly, that’s what the MH370 situation demonstrates,” he said of Malaysia.

“It’s not good and it fits in with the narrative I believe is forming in Beijing that China should and needs to take control.” – Reuters, March 13, 2014.