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

ESSCOM: Another Dysfunctional Security Set-Up


April 16, 2013

ESSCOM: Another Dysfunctional Security Set-Up

by Aidila Razak and Hafiz Yatim @www.malaysiakini.com

The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) leads to a duplication of work, said a former Sabah Police Chief.

However, Dato’ Ramli Yusuff, who was Police Chief from 2002 to 2004, refused to comment on whether Esscom should be scrapped, saying that it was a policy issue.

On the same note, Ramli said, Esscom should be headed by the state Police Chief to avoid duplication of the chain of command and ensure a better grip on security operational matters.

“I have studied the area well and I think Esscom, or whatever you want to call it, should be headed by the Police or Army. But I prefer the police because this is an internal (security) matter..,” Ramli told Malaysiakini in an interview.

“This is my personal opinion, but (current Esscom Chief) Mohammad Mentek is from the Immigration Department and he doesn’t know operational matters,” he added.

Ramli, who headed Ops Nyah which saw the deportation of more than 100,000 illegal immigrants from Sabah during his time, said Esscom creates a conflicting chain of command.

“I don’t know… they may have their own standard operating procedures. But to me, as the ex-Police Commissioner, I think it is ridiculous. It is better to increase the assets of the local Police or Army for that matter… These things should be coordinated already,” he added.

Commenting on the recent kidnapping of two women from a resort off Semporna, Ramli said if the Police were in charge, no time would have been wasted. Instead there was “pushing (bertolak-tolak)” between Esscom and the Police to figure out whose jurisdiction the kidnap fell under.

Ramli said when he was Police Chief, there were no incursions or kidnappings because coordination was tight among all enforcement agencies, including the Army.

In fact, he said, he “wiped out” a gang of kidnappers from Sarawak with help from the intelligence and operations teams from Bukit Aman, with which he had worked before.

As Police Chief, Ramli said, he would advise the Chief Minister on security issues and coordinate everything with the Navy, Air Force, Army, volunteer corps (Rela), and Immigration and Customs departments. “I advise politicians, I don’t listen to politicians,” he added.

Visit Malaysia Year without security?

Ramli said the Army and Police shared their assets throughout Sabah, and compared notes on intelligence which he insisted is the most crucial aspect of security operations.

Special attention was also given to tourist areas where more personnel were deployed at outposts and for patrols.

“(The kidnappers) are clever, and they have phones. They will try to invade but if you put your people there, they won’t take it lightly. All our boys were there.

“Security must be in place, especially if you want to have Visit Malaysia Year. Or else who will come?… It doesn’t matter (how long the border is). If it happens in your district you have to know,” he said, adding that ground intelligence should be water tight in “red zones”.

Based on his experience, Ramli said “there is no way” such kidnappings and incursions can take place because the state and security personnel have already identified these “red zones”.

“So I cannot understand why Esscom cannot (handle) this… These are the areas we used to take care of before and we beefed up (security) in all these areas.

“If only the Police and Army can sit down and work together again, it will be very good. We worked based on information on the ground. Now I believe they have many platoons… There is no reason for such things to happen,” Ramli added.

April 16, 2014

Ramli: I’d have hit Sabah intruders fast and hard

by Aidila Razak and Hafiz Yatim

http://www.malaysiakini.com

INTERVIEW: The Lahad Datu incursion last year remains a black mark in the nation’s history but former Sabah Police Chief  Dato’ Ramli Yusuff said if he was at the helm during the crisis, he would have wasted no time hitting the foreign intruders quick and hard.

Ramli, born in a leap year 62 years ago, said if he was in charge, he would never allow armed invaders to prevail.

“I would straight away (have my men) kill them. No negotiations in matters of security – if it is confirmed they are armed intruders, we whack them.I do not negotiate,” he said, when asked how he would react to that armed incursion.

The former senior Police officer, who rose to number three in the Police Force before his retirement, added that there was no compromise when it comes to the country’s sovereignty.

In last year’s armed incursion, the authorities moved in on the Sulu invaders on March 1, after the intruders had holed up at Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu for almost three weeks.

“As far I am concerned, when it comes to internal security, the Commissioner of Police of Sabah is in charge of operations, as he looks after the security of the state.”

Ramli was Sabah Police Chief from 2001 to 2004, and prior to that he had served as the Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department (CID) deputy director for seven years from 1994. He later progressed to become Pahang chief police office (CPO) and later Commercial Crimes Investigation Department (CCID) Director.

As Sabah Police Chief, Ramli said he took three months in 2001 to clear the illegal settlements during the state-wide Ops Nyah II in all 20 Police districts.

He said the Police worked with intelligence gathered from the ground in identifying which houses held the illegals and acted against them.

Within three months, thousands of squatter areas were cleaned and demolished from Pulau Gaya, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kudat, Marudu, Beluran, Kinabatangan, and Semporna, said the former Sabah CPO, showing aerial pictures of the clampdown on the settlers.

“During that time, the Police, Army, Rela, Immigration, and marines were with us in mounting the operation and moving into the villages, where many had weapons. If the Police were to move on their own, it would be dangerous. In some of the places, it was like moving into fortresses as they were well armed.

“When we moved in, we documented the illegal immigrants by taking their photographs and fingerprints. This was to make sure that they did not come back illegally, with false papers and passports with new names. We warned employers that if they wanted to hire them, to do it legally.”

Death threats

Ramli said biometric documentation was done when he was Sabah Police Chief and the Police would keep a copy while another was handed to the Immigration Department to deter the illegals from coming back. If they returned and were caught, they would immediately be deported.

“All in all, we sent back hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and we charged another 100,000 who did not have documents. The courts were packed with these cases,” he said. Ramli added that if the illegal immigrants surrendered willingly, the Police would deport them without them being charged.

As a result of his stern actions, Ramli revealed he received death threats, and showed an article from the New Sabah Times on this (right).

“They dared to call my office to threaten me. But that did not deter me. I continued to hit them harder. I suspect it was foreigners or illegal immigrants who had called following the arrest of their relatives.”

He said as a result of the strong action taken against the illegal settlers during his time, crime went down by 30 percent in Sabah in 2002.

“The illegals were drug addicts, drug pushers, criminals. They were a major cause of crime. When we hit them hard and sent them away, crime rates immediately dropped,” he said with quiet pride.

Once a Upon Time: Malaysia was known for its Institutions


April 15, 2014

Once a Upon Time: Malaysia was known for its Institutions

Commentary

by The Malaysian Insider (http://www.themalaysianinsider.com)

There was a time when Malaysia was known for its institutions – a civil service that facilitated rapid development from an agrarian economy to an industrialised one, a judiciary that was held in high esteem of the Commonwealth, and a military that defeated a communist insurgency.

Today, more than 50 years as a nation spanning from Perlis to Sabah, we see ineptitude and incompetency, a complete meltdown of Malaysian institutions.

Gani PatailThe Attorney-General now farms out cases to an UMNO lawyer; the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) leads an organisation which does not act when a High Court rules; the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) suffers a credibility deficit; and the Air Force has not covered itself with any glory.

So who do Malaysians turn to in time of need? Not any of the above, it appears. Sad but true. The saga of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared with 239 people on board on March 8, has confirmed what Malaysians have suspected for a long time. That there is not much meritocracy and thinking going on in the civil service.

The authorities, from the Minister downwards, have yet to explain what happened in the crucial hours after MH370 was found missing. A CNN and BBC television report yesterday showed Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein avoiding the question.

Tiga AbdulTiga Abdul (Abdul Muhyuddin, Abdul Najib, Abdul Hisham)

Can the civil aviation sector trust the DCA to do the right thing immediately after a flight vanishes from the radar screens? Why wasn’t the Air Force told that a jet was missing? Why wasn’t plane maker Boeing told immediately? Why didn’t the air traffic control respond to their Vietnamese counterparts when told that there was no contact with the Boeing 777-200ER that was on its way to Beijing?

Why the silence?

These days, Malaysia just has bad jokes passing off as the Civil Service, Police Force, Military and the Public Prosecutor. This is the meltdown of institutions that had shaped the country from its formative years to the Asian tiger that it once was.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) also has to explain how it defends the Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali Daudcountry’s airspace throughout the day. Yes, we have brave men and women in uniform keeping watch but a mysterious blip on the radar moving east to west was left unmolested.

Not even hailed by radio, let alone scrambling jets to check on the blip. Or even to ask the DCA and air traffic control if they were also seeing the blip.Does the RMAF have fighter jets on standby? How many can fly these days apart from those used for parades, air shows and F1 races?

The IGP has decided to play marriage counsellor to a divorced couple rather than enforce the law after the ex-husband forcibly took away his son from the ex-wife’s legal custody. Does the IGP or anyone else in the police force know the law and the offence that was committed, or do they assume there is a conflict in the civil and Shariah law that they cannot take any action?

Can anyone cite religion and get away with a crime? How can people trust the Khalid Abu Bakarpolice to enforce the law passed by lawmakers elected by the people?

Where is the Attorney-General in all of this? Is it more important for him to go to London to figure out who will have custody of the MH370 black box, once found, rather than stay back in the country and decide on whether to prosecute or take action against a man for abducting his child from his ex-wife’s legal custody?

Or just outsource some jobs to an UMNO lawyer – from defending the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in a judicial review brought by the  DAP to prosecuting Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his sodomy appeal. Is the Attorney-General’s decision to outsource some work a tacit confirmation and acknowledgment that there is no talent left in the A-G Chambers to do the work?

And is there any talent also left in the Civil Service, Police Force and Military? Malaysia’s Civil Service was the envy of many – from working on poverty eradication and affirmative action policies to industrialisation and a respected Judiciary and prosecution. They did more with fewer resources and lesser people then. But they had quality talent back then.

These days, Malaysia just has bad jokes passing off as the Civil Service, Police Force, Military and the Public Prosecutor. This is the meltdown of institutions that had shaped the country from its formative years to the Asian tiger that it once was.

It might take a generation to possibly set things right with these institutions. Or is that just a hope that is fading as fast as the chance of hearing another ping in the southern Indian Ocean?

 

Defense Spending UP. What’s Happening?


April 2, 2014

Defense Spending UP. What’s Happening?

by http://www.malaysiakini.com

The DAP’s Raub MP Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz has demanded answers as to why Malaysia has not sent its two Scorpene submarines to assist the search and recovery operation for the missing Malaysian Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370.

Mohd Ariff (right) – who blogs under the handle ‘Sakmongkol 47′ – raised questions as to what the country has to show for its expenditure on defence, which has gone up from RM13.8 million in 2011 to RM16.1 billion in 2014.

“How is our defence spending structured? Is it structured to enrich a few UMNO cronies or is it structured to strengthen our defences?”

He noted that, when the MAS aircraft was reported missing over the South China Sea in the early hours of March 8, the government had not deployed its “celebrated” submarines to the area because the military said the area is too shallow.

“In any case, our submarines are designed to search and destroy. We responded by saying we only wanted the search part – no need to destroy,” Mohd Ariff wrote.

“We did not send our submarine rescue ship (SRS) either- the one built by a company known as Target Resources Sdn Bhd. We are paying RM6 million a month to Target Resources to be on standby. How come we did not send the SRS? Singapore did.”

The Scorpene submarines – KD Tunku Abdul Rahman and KD Tun Abdul Razak – were commissioned in 2009 and are said to be equipped with TSM 2233 Mk 2 sonar capability.

He suggested that the vessel may not have the equipment for full underwater search capabilities, including a remote-operated vehicle.

What does ‘ended’ mean?

Mohd Ariff, the former Pekan UMNO Information Chief, also questioned Premier Najib Abdul Razak’s conclusion that the aircraft has ended in the Indian Ocean.

Does ‘ended’ mean that it crashed into the Indian Ocean or that it stayed suspended in the netherworld as suggested by the bomoh, he posed.

“Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein came along to say the PM did not say the plane had crashed in the Indian Ocean.

“Even now, Hishammuddin is still muddling (along). Yet there are people who say Hisham has done well. Done well by which standards? By the standards of school dropouts?”

Mohd Ariff listed the nation’s military assets but asked how many of these are still operational.

He claimed that the Royal Malaysian Air Force has 224 aircraft and 84 helicopters; the Army has 74 tanks, 20 towed artillery pieces and 1,318 armoured fighting vehicles; and the Navy has 61 vessels comprising four frigates, four corvettes, two submarines, 39 coastal craft, and four mining vessels.

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

 

Ground the RMAF over MH370 Fiasco


March 29, 2014

Ground the RMAF over MH370 Fiasco

by Mariam Mokhtar@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

 The RMAF has failed everyone on board MH370 and let down a whole nation.

mariam-mokhtarCOMMENT

Seven years ago, two RMAF jet engines disappeared and ended up in South America. That loss was never fully explained. The Defence Minister in 2007/8 was Najib Tun Razak.

Today, a passenger jet with 239 people on board has also disappeared. The circumstances of each are different but the way in which we handled the situation, and the manner in which our leaders dismissed our concerns, is worrying. It is business as usual after the event.

The price of irresponsibility has been high as we have seen in MH370. Lessons must be learned but Malaysian leaders must stop the art of saving face and start facing up to their responsibilities for once. Undoubtedly, several heads must roll.

hishammuddin-hussein-in-lahad-datu-300x225Last year when the Sulu army invaded Lahad Datu, the response from the erstwhile Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (left) was pitiful, “it is only a ragtag bunch of old men having a picnic”.

He ignored the fears of the public. They questioned the role of intelligence gathering and the poor air and sea defences which had failed to note the invasion by armed and uniformed Sulu militants.

The questions I posed last week remain unanswered: “Where was the RMAF when Flight MH370 traversed Malaysian air space in the early hours of Saturday March 8, 2014?” and, “How did the radar operator know from the radar blip that the plane was non-hostile?”

Military radar signals showed that after MH370 disappeared from civilian radar the plane climbed sharply to 45,000ft, higher than the approved ceiling for the Boeing 777, before turning sharply to the west and descending to 23,000 ft. The plane then climbed again this time heading north-west towards the Indian Ocean.

What did the radar operator and the air force do with this information? The “non-hostile” plane acted strangely with funny twists and turns in the air. These must have been the first signs that MH370 was in trouble.

A few days ago the Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri made a rash statement and said that the air force assumed that Flight MH370 had been ordered to turn-back by the civilian air traffic controllers.

The following day when he was attacked for making this statement Abdul Rahim backtracked. He said that he had made this assumption. This U-turn is a typical tactic of the government of Malaysia.

Now Malaysians will not learn whether the RMAF really made this assumption or Abdul was forced to retract his statement and become a fall-guy for the RMAF which is being widely criticised for its apparent blunders.

Common sense mistake No 1: Never assume. The popular urban definition of assume is “Don’t make an ass out of u and me.”

The Air Gorce radar operators failed to double check with the air controllers in Subang. Is it beyond their intellect and curiosity to make a quick phone call?

Local of communication

Perhaps, they were not at their radar screens. Remember the MACC staff who were implicated in Teoh Beng Hock’s death? Their work computer hard drives showed that they were surfing pornography and shopping sites, instead of working. The consequence of making assumptions has been the loss of 239 lives. Precious time was wasted. If only fighter jets had been sent to intercept the unidentified aircraft.

This is what Abdul Rahim said in Parliament: “The turnback was detected in our radar, only we thought the turnback was done by MAS, an aircraft that was not hostile or a friendly aircraft, so we thought maybe it’s an order from control tower.”

“….only we thought…..!” In any civilised country, the public outcry would have demanded the mass resignations of the Defence Minister, his Deputy, the Chief of the Armed Forces, the RMAF Chief, and the Prime Minister. If this had been a wartime situation, Abdul Rahim and all the squadrons of air force planes could have been obliterated.

Common sense mistake No 2: Not keeping abreast of news and not reading enough. Are the radar operators unaware that the two passenger jets which were deliberately flown into the New York Twin Towers were the weapons of death and destruction? In a hypothetical scenario what if a passenger jet had traversed Malaysian air space and hurtled into the Petronas Twin Towers, or other sensitive locations?

Common sense mistake No 3: Never assume that the rakyat are as clueless as the Defence Chiefs. Abdul Rahim Bakri failed to mention the lack of communication between civilian and military aviation authorities. Was he hoping we would not remind him?

On March 12, military radar detected an aircraft some 200 miles northwest of Penang in the Straits of Malacca. At 2.15am on the same day it went missing. We are told that there was no way to determine if the blip was MH370.

Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali DaudThe Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief Rodzali Daud (left) claimed that Malaysia was working with experts to confirm that blip was the missing plane. The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) Director-General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman explained that the primary radar used by the military could only show the presence of an aircraft and nothing else.

The chief of the Armed Forces Zulkifeli Mohd Zin claimed that the unidentified aircraft was first noticed in the spot where MH370 had disappeared. He claimed he ordered ships to be despatched from Lumut that night towards the suspected location of the aircraft. He then claimed that a C-130 plane was sent to scout the area the following morning.

Air-space is unprotected?

If none of the military brass were aware what the blip meant that night why was Zulkifeli confident enough to despatch ships to that particular location? Was he simply making a remark after the event to pretend he had done something useful? What made him think he was looking at a potential crash scene that night? What else is the military hiding from us?

Why did they make a mistake with the time? MH370 was in trouble an hour into the journey.Is the radar viewed in real time or was the radar operator looking at recorded radar information? If it is not in real time, then are our skies open to invasion?

We know that security checks and passport controls are lax. No wonder Najib Tun Razak wants to guarantee that his spouse, the self-styled First Lady of Malaysia, travels safely on private jets when flying overseas.

More importantly, it appears that our air-space is unprotected. Perhaps, it is time we grounded the Air Force or rename it the Royal Myopic Air Farce. The RMAF wasted those first few hours. We could have at least known where to look for MH370. The RMAF has failed everyone on board MH370 and let down a whole nation.

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.

Search is on for Government competence too


Search is on for government competence too

by CT Ali@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

The government is doing its very best. The tragedy is that its very best is not, in the eyes of many, simply good enough.

 COMMENT

Missing MAS OC_Hishammuddin Hussein-KhalidIt has been a traumatic month for Malaysians.

On March 23, the by-election that we did not have to have took place in Kajang bringing to an end to yet another of PKR’s much touted ‘big leap’ forward that started with a bang but ended with a whimper.

PKR won with a reduced majority. In hindsight, was the Kajang Move a loss or a gain for PKR? The jury is still out on that, and only time will tell but suffice to say that for now the old adage that men proposes and God disposes remains true for PKR.

As it is PKR will have to deal with its aftermath – a reduce majority, Anwar’s conviction and there is still the ‘Khalid as MB’ issue.All I can say to PKR is this: As you make your bed so must you lie in it. While Kajang is only a distraction, MH370 is not. The tragedy of MH370 is threefold.

The first and most heartfelt is the loss of lives of all those on board that MAS flight. Next is the excruciating wait by families, relatives and friends for closure.

The third tragedy is the one that is most public and being played out on the world stage – questions are being asked globally as to the competency of this BN government to manage the search for MH370 and the unfolding drama of families desperate for news of their love ones on the missing plane.

In my living memory I have not seen Malaysia and this BN government caught in a perfect storm not of their own making where 26 different nations are directly involved in the search mission.

The rest of the world is now into the third week of having no news bulletin broadcast without some mention of Malaysia and flight MH370.This failure of the BN government is not because it has not done enough to find out what has happened to flight MH370 after it went missing. Nor has this BN government failed to empathise and sympathise with the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew.

This BN government is doing its very best. The tragedy is that its very best is not, in the eyes of many, simply good enough.The government under Najib Tun Razak is managing the hunt for MH370 in the same manner that it does governance – incompetently bordering on farce.

Inept, incompetent, clueless

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While what they do domestically can be contained within the borders of our nation, this is not so with the search for MH370 with the whole world watching and a media contingent tasked with foraging for whatever they can find to feed the 24/7 news cycle.

For starters there has been a cacophony of ‘facts’ delivered by the Inspector-General of Police, the RMAF Chief, the Civil Aviation Director-General, the CEO of MAS, the Acting Transport Minister, and the Prime Minister himself – all eagerly wanting to give credence to what Andy Warhol opined that “In the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes.”.

There have been conflicting accounts on the last known position of MH370 before it went missing – about MH370 turning back, about an air turn back, about a possible hijack, about transponder being turned off deliberately.

Then there was the inconsistency of passengers getting on board or not getting on board flight MH370.There was then the callous manner by which the police dealt with the Chinese who noisily demonstrated because they were dissatisfied with the manner Malaysian authorities were handling the search for MH370.

The police were only doing what they normally do when there is dissent or any incident that will embarrass BN – they stifle these dissents the only way they know.

Only this time the protesters were foreign nationals and the whole contingent of foreign media were watching and recording the incident – and beaming it to millions of homes across the globe.

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein did belatedly apologise but the damage has been done, and now the world knows what is standard operating procedure (SOP) for our police when it comes to dealing with dissent.

It has taken a lost plane to enable the incompetence of this BN government to go global. And through it all, the head of this BN government, Najib Tun Razak, does two brief appearances at the media briefings where he failed to answer questions from the media.

All this seems familiar – as familiar as the Sabah incursion recently where the lackadaisical and dismissive casual attitude of those in authority and our political leaders allowed what should have been a minor border incursion.

This incursion could have been repulsed easily but it developed into a major two-week standoff resulting in the death of more than 60 members of the Sultan of Sulu invading troops and 10 Malaysian security personnel.

The MH370 saga has yet to come to an end just yet. We can be assured that as the days unfold, there will also be more unraveling of how inept, incompetent, clueless this BN government is in handling any situation.

And if it were not for the foreign press, no one, especially the rest of the world, would be wiser.

MH370: Asking the Wrong Government for Straight Answers


March 27, 2014

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100

On March 24, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (above) appeared before the press to announce that missing flight MH370 “ended in the Southern Indian Ocean.” Najib’s statement finally gave the families of the passengers an “answer” on the fate of their loved ones. But it comes after weeks of spectacular obfuscation by Malaysian government officials, who repeatedly fudged details, contradicted each other, or used the tragedy to score points against the political opposition.

Just to add insult to injury, Malaysian Airlines informed the families of the sad news by sending them a text message. Small wonder that some of the relatives are now accusing Malaysian officialdom of orchestrating a “cover-up,” and demanding to see concrete evidence such as the plane’s black box.

The rest of the world has reacted to the half-truths of the Malaysian authorities with bewilderment. But to us Malaysians it’s nothing new: We’ve been putting up with this sort of crap our entire lives. Our officials are incapable of communicating because they’ve never felt the need to. Our corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy regards its own citizens with such top-down contempt that its dialogue muscles have simply atrophied.

So it’s no wonder that Malaysians have spent the past few weeks coping the way we’re accustomed to: by indulging in conspiracy theories, the last pathetic refuge of people who know that they can never expect the truth from their own leaders. So we’ve seen some Malaysians blaming the loss of the plane on everyone from our own government to the United States, China, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, and — why not? — aliens. Yes, it’s sad. And yes, it’s more than a little crazy. But in the final analysis you can’t really blame us. Where else are we supposed to find any answers?

The Malaysian government’s response has been dismal almost from the moment MH370 went missing. In most countries, the prime minister would step forward and take the lead during a catastrophe of this magnitude. In Malaysia, however, our Prime Minister decided to spend his time boasting about his skill at buying cheap chicken, analyzing the economy’s health based on the price of kangkung (water spinach), or strolling around shopping malls. He’s left the bulk of the mundane task of disaster management to the acting Transport Minister cum Minister of Defense, Hishammuddin Hussein, who has figured as the official government spokesman at a number of press conferences following the disappearance of MH370. (Hishammuddin, it’s worth noting, is a cousin of Prime Minister Najib — a coincidence quite widespread in a country where politicians are often linked by clan ties.)

Hishamuddin HusseinJudging by the reactions from passengers’ families and the international media, Hishammuddin (left) hasn’t exactly been doing a stellar job. In the early days of the investigation, the minister and his team event offered a conspiracy theory of their own.

In this case, Malaysian officials speculated — without offering any particular evidence to back up their claim — that the plane’s pilot, a “fanatical supporter” of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and a relative of Anwar’s son-in-law, might have been motivated to hijack his own plane for political reasons.

The day before, a Malaysian court sentenced Anwar to five years in prison on sodomy charges, a decision that bars him for running for office in upcoming elections. Again, none of this comes as a particular surprise. In recent years, government officials have developed the habit of blaming everything and anything on the Opposition, and especially on Anwar.

One side effect of the government’s inept response to the MH370 catastrophe, according to some, is that it has prompted some unwelcome analysis of the country’s political system, which has been dominated by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition for the past 57 years. So is Malaysia’s paternalistic political culture really being challenged now that MH370 incident has exposed its leaders to the withering judgments of international critics? I’m inclined to doubt it. As soon as the MH370 issue cools down, Malaysia’s government will return to business as usual. Nothing will change.

Just consider the scandal surrounding Abdul Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister ofSararwak's CM the Malaysian state of Sarawak. According to the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss environmental group, and local critics in Sarawak, Abdul Taib, who’s held office since 1981, has amassed enormous wealth (and caused vast environmental damage) through his unchallenged control of the state’s forests. These critics allege that Taib has used his power to enrich his own family and well-connected cronies, who have harvested billions of dollars’ worth of tropical timber.

Early last year, the international corruption watchdog group Global Witness released extensive video footage from a covert investigation that showed Taib’s cousins explaining how they had circumvented state laws to acquired vast tracts of forest land. In January 2013, 20 Swiss members of parliament filed a motion calling for an immediate freeze of assets held by Swiss banks on behalf of the Malaysian Taib family.

In a normal, democratic political system, all this would have prompted official investigations, parliamentary inquiries, demands for accountability. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission did organize a probe to investigate Taib — but the minister simply declared, with apparent impunity, that he would not cooperate with the “naughty” and “dishonest” commission. As a result, Malaysian officials have yet to open a domestic investigation into the case. One year later, in February 2014, the probe made the improbable claim that it could not find any evidence that Taib had abused his power. On March 1 of this year, Abdul Taib was sworn in for a term as Sarawak’s Governor — a position even more powerful than the one he held before.

Taib can get away with this sort of thing precisely because of his cozy relationship with the ruling BN coalition and the party that dominates it (the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO). The ruling coalition sees Sarawak as a vital cache of votes for the party, and within this system, Taib is untouchable.

In our general election last year, the main opposition coalition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, won just over 50 percent of the vote — yet BN still ended up with 60 percent of the seats in the national parliament. That’s because the government uses gerrymandering and elaborate dirty tricks to divide up the election system in ways that ensure continued BN rule, regardless of the way Malaysians actually vote. It’s not surprising, then, that there is zero sense of accountability in our country — and that the government officials who have risen to the top of the system feel little pressure to respond to those pesky demands for information from ordinary people.

The Malaysian government has a long history of ignoring its citizens’ right to know. Just take one of the most notorious cases. Back in 2002, an international human rights group filed an international court challenge alleging that the Malaysian government had accepted millions of dollars in bribes from a French shipbuilding company in the $1.25 billion purchase of two Scorpene submarines. Though the French investigation produced enough evidence to implicate top Malaysian officials, the government summarily denied the claims, and no one was ever punished. Over a decade later, the scandal is still unresolved.

Or take the murder of Mongolian model and translator Altantuya Shaariibuu (which has also been linked to the submarine case). Witnesses linked Altantuya romantically to one of Najib’s best friends and close policy advisors, a man named Abdul Razak Baginda. Sources claimed that she was trying to blackmail Razak with her knowledge of the shady submarine deal before she was killed by two of Najib’s bodyguards.

Rosmah and NajibThough the case implicated both the Malaysian Prime Minister and his wife, the government never initiated any official investigation. The case has remained in limbo ever since.

A private investigator, P Balasubramaniam (known as “Bala”), made a convincing statutory declaration for the prosecution in the Altantuya case — but soon retracted the statement, and subsequently dropped out of sight, along with his entire family.

Bala turned up again a few years later, claiming that he’d been offered $1.5 million by a businessman close to Najib’s family if he’d take back his original declaration. Bala died of a heart attack on March 15, 2013, in the midst of campaigning for the opposition in the upcoming election. Then Olivier Metzner, a French lawyer involved the submarine court case, was found dead in “an apparent suicide” two days after Bala’s death.

Not long after that the Malaysian Court of Appeals decided to acquit the two policemen who had been sentenced to death for Altantuya’s murder. The court’s decision provoked an angry response from Altantuya’s father and the Mongolian government.

But, as we’ve pointed out, foreigners apparently have just as little right to satisfactory information from the Malaysian government as Malaysian citizens do.We Malaysians, in short, have been putting up with this culture of official impunity for decades. Without having much choice in the matter, we’ve become accustomed to living under an authoritarian bureaucracy that mocks our requests for honest dialogue, and revels in its own contempt for basic rules of transparency and accountability. Now the international community is getting its own taste of what dealing with this system is really like.

What’s more, MH370 proves that Malaysia’s political immaturity is not merely a domestic issue, but threatens the citizens of other nations as well. As Malaysian citizens, we offer our sincerest condolences to the families of the passengers and the  international community — and we hope that you’ll join us in the fight against our government’s blatant corruption.

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.

Series of Errrors by MALAYSIA mounts complicating th task of Finding MH370


March, 15, 2014

READ: Series of Errrors by MALAYSIA mounts complicating th task of Finding MH370

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/world/asia/series-of-errors-by-malaysia-mounts-complicating-the-task-of-finding-flight-370.html?hp&_r=0

SEPANG, Malaysia — The radar blip that was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 did a wide U-turn over the Gulf of Thailand and then began moving inexorably past at least three military radar arrays as it traversed northern Malaysia, even flying high over one of the country’s biggest cities before heading out over the Strait of Malacca.

Yet inside a Malaysian Air Force control room on the country’s west coast, where American-made F-18s and F-5 fighters stood at a high level of readiness for emergencies exactly like the one unfolding in the early morning of March 8, a four-person air defense radar crew did nothing about the unauthorized flight. “The watch team never noticed the blip,” said a person with detailed knowledge of the investigation into Flight 370. “It was as though the airspace was his.”

It was not the first and certainly not the last in a long series of errors by the Malaysian government that has made the geographically vast and technologically complex task of finding the $50 million Malaysia Airlines jet far more difficult.

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Reconstructing the Plane’s Path

The main communications systems of the Malaysia Airlines plane were turned off about 40 minutes into the flight, forcing investigators to try to piece together the plane’s location from other systems.

Transponder

Secondary Radar and Text Updates

Air traffic controllers typically know a plane’s location based on what is called secondary radar, which requests information from the plane’s transponder. A plane also uses radio or satellite signals to send regular updates through ACARS, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. Both of those systems were turned off.

Primary Radar

Two Malaysian military radar stations tracked a plane using primary radar, which sends out radio signals and listens for echoes that bounce off objects in the sky. Primary radar does not require a plane to have a working transponder.

SATELLITE

Satellite Communications

If ACARS updates are turned off, the plane still sends a “keep-alive” signal, that can be received by satellites. The signal does not indicate location, but it can help to narrow down the plane’s position. A satellite picked up four or five signals from the airliner, about one per hour, after it left the range of military radar.

A week after the plane disappeared, the trail is even colder as the search now sprawls from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the empty expanses of the southern Indian Ocean. Nobody knows yet whether the delays cost the lives of any of the 239 people who boarded the flight to Beijing at Kuala Lumpur’s ultramodern airport here. But the mistakes have accumulated at a remarkable pace.

“The fact that it flew straight over Malaysia, without the Malaysian military identifying it, is just plain weird — not just weird, but also very damning and tragic,” said David Learmount, the operations and safety editor for Flightglobal, a news and data service for the aviation sector.

Senior Malaysian military officers became aware within hours of the radar data once word spread that a civilian airliner had vanished. The Malaysian government nonetheless organized and oversaw an expensive and complex international search effort in the Gulf of Thailand that lasted for a full week. Only on Saturday morning did Prime Minister Najib Razak finally shut it down after admitting what had already been widely reported in the news media: Satellite data showed that the engines on the missing plane had continued to run for nearly six more hours after it left Malaysian airspace.

Finding the plane and figuring out what happened to it is now a far more daunting task than if the plane had been intercepted. If the aircraft ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, as some aviation experts now suggest, then floating debris could have subsequently drifted hundreds of miles, making it extremely hard to figure out where the cockpit voice and data recorders sank.

And because the recorders keep only the last two hours of cockpit conversation, even the aircraft’s recorders may hold few secrets.

With so much uncertainty about the flight, it is not yet possible to know whether any actions by the Malaysian government or military could have altered its fate. Responding to a storm of criticism, particularly from China, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the passengers, Mr. Najib took pains in a statement early Saturday afternoon to say that Malaysia had not concealed information, including military data.

“We have shared information in real time with authorities who have the necessary experience to interpret the data,” he said, reading aloud a statement in English at a news conference. “We have been working nonstop to assist the investigation, and we have put our national security second to the search for the missing plane.”

Malaysia Airlines issued a similarly defensive statement late Saturday afternoon. “Given the nature of the situation and its extreme sensitivity, it was critical that the raw satellite signals were verified and analyzed by the relevant authorities so that their significance could be properly understood,” the airline said. “This naturally took some time, during which we were unable to publicly confirm their existence.”

Aviation experts said that a trained pilot would be the most obvious person to have carried out a complicated scheme involving the plane. Yet for a week after the plane’s disappearance, Malaysian law enforcement authorities said that their investigation did not include searching the home of the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

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Estimated range of plane with its remaining fuel if it was flying at the plane’s maximum speed:

Kazakhstan

Mongolia

Uzbek.

Kyrg.

Tajik.

60 min. of fuel

20 min.

Afghan.

Approx. area within the top and bottom 20-min. ranges:

2 million square miles

Pakistan

China

Nepal

Bangladesh

India

Myanmar

Laos

Approx. time
after takeoff

Thailand

Vietnam

+40 min. Last contact with civilian radar.

First week

search area

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur airport

+1 hour 34 min. Last contact with military radar.

Indonesia

Position of satellite that received last known signal

from plane.

+7.5 hours Red arcs represent possible positions of plane when it transmitted last signal to satellite.

INDIAN OCEAN

Plane may have flown up to another hour after its last satellite transmission.

Australia

On Saturday afternoon, the police were seen entering the gated community where Mr. Zaharie was said to have lived, and Malaysian news media reported that they had searched his home. The police declined to comment, and it is not known whether the authorities made any effort to secure Mr. Zaharie’s home and prevent any destruction of evidence over the past week.

Mr. Najib said on Saturday that “the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” but Mr. Zaharie has not been accused of any wrongdoing. No information has been released yet on whether the homes of the co-pilot or flight attendants might be searched.

Even before the plane took off, Malaysian immigration officials had already allowed onto the plane at least two people using passports that had been logged into a global database as stolen, although there is no evidence that either person carrying a stolen passport was involved in diverting the plane.

A British Royal Air Force base in the colonial era, the Malaysian air force base at Butterworth sits on the mainland across from the island of Penang at the northern reaches of the Strait of Malacca. There, in the early morning hours of March 8, the four-person crew watching for intrusions into the country’s airspace either did not notice or failed to report a blip on their defensive radar and air traffic radar that was moving steadily across the country from east to west, heading right toward them, said the person with knowledge of the matter.

Neither that team nor the crews at two other radar installations at Kota Bharu, closer to where the airliner last had contact with the ground, designated the blip as an unknown intruder warranting attention, the person said. The aircraft proceeded to fly across the country and out to sea without anyone on watch telling a superior and alerting the national defense command near Kuala Lumpur, even though the radar contact’s flight path did not correspond to any filed flight plan.

As a result, combat aircraft never scrambled to investigate. The plane, identified at the time by Mr. Najib as Flight 370, passed directly over Penang, a largely urban state with more than 1.6 million people, then turned and headed out over the Strait of Malacca.

The existence of the radar contact was discovered only when military officials began reviewing tapes later in the morning on March 8, after the passenger jet failed to arrive in Beijing. It was already becoming clear that morning, only hours after the unauthorized flyover, that something had gone very wrong. Tapes from both the Butterworth and Kota Bharu bases showed the radar contact arriving from the area of the last known position of Flight 370, the person familiar with the investigation said.

Gen. Rodzali Daud, the commander of Malaysia’s Air Force, publicly acknowledged the existence of the radar signals for the first time on Wednesday, well into the fifth day after the plane’s disappearance. He emphasized that further analysis was necessary because the radar plots of the aircraft’s location were stripped of the identifying information given by the plane’s onboard transponders, which someone aboard the aircraft appeared to have turned off.

The failure to identify Flight 370’s errant course meant that a chance to send military aircraft to identify and redirect the jet, a Boeing 777, was lost. And for five days the crews on an armada of search vessels, including two American warships, focused the bulk of their attention in the waters off Malaysia’s east coast, far from the plane’s actual path.

General Rodzali went to the Butterworth air force base the day that the plane disappeared and was told of the radar blips, the person familiar with the investigation said. The Malaysian government nonetheless assigned most of its search and rescue resources, as well as ships and aircraft offered by other nations, to a search of the Gulf of Thailand where the aircraft’s satellite transponder was turned off, while allocating minimal attention to the Strait of Malacca on the other, western side of Peninsular Malaysia.

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Sepang, Nicola Clark from Paris, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2014, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Series of Missteps by Malaysia Mounts, Complicating the Task of Finding Flight 370.

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.