On the night of March 8, at 1:20 am Malaysia time, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 passed from the management of Malaysian air traffic control. The pilots said good night to Malaysia and never said hello to the Vietnamese controllers who were supposed to pick them up and monitor them.
Instead, MH370, somewhere out over the South China Sea, is said to have made a steady climbing left turn up to 14,000 meters, putting the passengers to sleep, apparently for good, as it passed above the rated oxygen limit of the Boeing 777200ER, which carried 12 Malaysian crew and 227 passengers from 14 nations.
Then it dropped back to 3,700 meters, seemingly sought to duck under Malaysian radar and disappeared forever. It may well be the biggest aircraft mystery ever. There has been no flight debris and no crash site has ever been found despite what has been called the most extensive search in history. It is growing increasingly unlikely that anything will ever be found, given the currents where the plane is believed to have disappeared, deep in the Indian Ocean.
But one man believes he has an idea what happened. That is the 88-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. It was either the CIA or Boeing that did it.
In his blog, Chedet, published yesterday, Mahathir said Boeing in 2006 had received a patent for a system that, once activated, removes all control from pilots to automatically return a commercial airliner to a pre-determined landing location.
He went on to quote a 2006 article by John Croft, now a respected avionics and safety editor with Aviation Week, saying the autopilot could be interrupted either by pilot, by on-board sensors, “or even remotely by radio or satellite links by government agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency if terrorists attempt to gain control of the flight deck.”
It is normal, in delivering a theory like this, to question why either Boeing, the biggest US defense contractor and a major supplier of aircraft to Malaysia, or the Central Intelligence Agency, would wish to take control of a private airliner owned by the government of a country just about to be visited and praised by the President of the United States as a crucial ally.
Mahathir doesn’t bother to theorize what either Boeing or the CIA would get out of either kidnapping or stealing the plane. That isn’t to say either the CIA or the National Security Agency is incapable of messing around and causing mischief inside foreign governments. But the United States views Malaysia as a crucial linchpin in the effort to bring Pacific nations into the TransPacific Partnership trade agreement, which is now in difficulty.
This is not lip service. Wikileaks liberation of documents in 2010 from the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur included long cables describing Malaysia as a moderate, staunch ally of the United States in Southeast Asia despite Mahathir’s often strident anti-west rhetoric. The United States under a quiet status of forces agreement – agreed by Mahathir himself in the 1980s – has continued to train US troops in jungle warfare in Malaysia’s tropical forests.
In addition, the events of the past few days, with China dragging a drillship into the middle of Vietnamese exclusive economic zone waters, is an indication of why the United States would want Malaysia to be on the US side in its defensive “pivot” towards Asia amid growing tensions over the South China Sea.
“Can it not be that the pilot of MH370 lost control of their aircraft after someone directly or remotely activated the equipment for seizure of control of the aircraft,” Mahathir wrote. “Boeing should explain about this so-called anti-terrorism auto-land system.”
Someone, he said, “is hiding something. It is not fair that MAS and Malaysia should take the blame. For some reason the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA. I hope my readers will read this.”
We will. If Mahathir has a reason why the US would like to drown 239 people who just left Kuala Lumpur, we would like to hear it. Mahathir has often accused the US, and particularly the CIA, of involvement in perfidious doings, including plotting the destruction of the World Trade Towers on Sept. 11, 2001 despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden publicly and happily took responsibility for doing so.
Questions have to be asked why nobody in the Malaysian government has bothered to say that Mahathir’s statement is utter nonsense. The US trade and defense needs, the apparent friendship between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the lack of any reason whatsoever for the Central Intelligence Agency to kidnap Malaysia’s American-made airplane, do not deter Mahathir from somehow imagining the US would destroy relations with a crucial if small ally. The United States was Malaysia’s biggest source of foreign direct investment during Mahathir’s 23 year career as premier. It remains so today.
It was pings from the Rolls-Royce engines of MH370 that enabled investigators to follow the aircraft as far as they could. As far as can be determined, they were readily turned over by US and Boeing authorities to provide crucial cooperation to Malaysia in the search for the craft.
It is American technological equipment that the Australians are towing around underwater in the continuing search. The US Federal Aviation Agency, the FBI and other US agencies are continuing to supply whatever forensic help they can in the search, as Najib noted when he told the president he was thankful for US help.
“From the day the plane went missing, the US has loaned its considerable expertise to the investigation and its unique capability and assets to the search effort,” Najib told the president publicly during Obama’s April visit to Kuala Lumpur
But then again, maybe a rogue CIA or NSA official is somewhere out there, confounding his compatriots’ efforts. Or maybe Barack Obama didn’t really mean it when, on April 24, he stood at a podium next to Najib in Kuala Lumpur and said the US regards Malaysia as “central to regional stability, maritime security and freedom of navigation.”
Two books and a movie have already been produced on the plane’s disappearance. Mahathir can add his theory to the pile. It promises to grow considerably larger.