Return to Transcripts main page


Mystery of Flight 370; Interpol: Terrorism on Flight "Unlikely"; Interview with Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon

Aired March 11, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Stunning new information in the disappearance of Flight 370. What was the plane doing so wildly off- course?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is the THE LEAD.

The world lead. It now appears that, after contact was lost, that Malaysia Airlines flight kept going for about an hour, but in the wrong direction. With every answer we get, the mystery only grows more confounding. What does this tell us about the fate of the plane and the 239 people on board?

Yes, the search, the area here they are looking about is the size of Pennsylvania, but what about the transponder? Did it fail? Did someone shut it off? What about signals from the plane's black boxes? In a world where technology tracks our every move, how on earth does an airplane simply vanish?

And the national lead, the CIA now being accused of spying on the Senate. And the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has defended the government's right to collect their information in the past, well, she says the CIA has gone too far. Is this a total breakdown of the only system that independently monitors the CIA?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the world lead. It's a new twist in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and one of the most baffling yet. It now appears that Flight 370, after initially losing contact, flew in nearly the exact opposite direction of its destination for about an hour.

At 12:41 a.m. local time, Saturday morning, Flight 370 takes off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 239 people on board. Around 1:30 a.m. local, the transponder stops working over the Gulf of Thailand, and at some point the plane practically reverses course and apparently flies back over land to the western side of Malaysia, where a senior Malaysian Air force official now says a military radar, not a civilian radar, picked up Flight 370 at Malaysia's westernmost island called Pulau Perak, way off its course to Beijing.

Now, Malaysia Airlines has claimed that Flight 370 may have tried to turn around, but the question which truly only grows more maddening with every passing hour is, what could have possibly happened on board? The director of the CIA today said terrorism remains a possibility.


JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: This is not the time to relax, because we know that there are terrorist groups that are still determined to carry out attacks, including against -- especially against aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, you're not ruling out that it could be some kind of terrorist...

BRENNAN: No, I wouldn't rule it out, not at all.


TAPPER: Now, that wasn't the only topic that CIA Director John Brennan expounded upon today. He also talked about the accusations that the CIA spied on Congress. We will have more on that later in the show.

Much of the focus of this investigation has been on two men who boarded Flight 370 using stolen passports. Interpol has identified them as two Iranian men ages 18 and 29. But the international police force does not believe they are not linked to terror.

So, what do we make of this new information that the plane was traveling in the opposite direction of its scheduled path? Are any officials closer to finding out what happened to the plane?

Joining me now to talk about this all is John Goglia, a former board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, and John Ransom, a retired commercial pilot and aviation safety specialist with Safety Operating Systems.

John Ransom, I'm going to start with you.

As a pilot, what does it tell you that the flight was traveling in the opposite direction with no communication?

JOHN RANSOM, SAFETY OPERATING SYSTEMS: Well, from my standpoint, most pilots, when they experience a loss of calm, are trained to continue going in the same direction on their original route of flight.

If there was something so massive, a failure of the airplane that caused the transponder to quit, along with all of the other communications, the crew actually could have thought that returning to the airport they departed from was the best course of action and may have initiated the course reversal, until some point where they weren't able to function any longer.

TAPPER: John Goglia, what about the transponder? It stopped working at one point. What sort of red flag does that raise for you?

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER MEMBER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, given that this airplane so many redundant electrical systems on it, that -- my first reaction would be, somebody turned it off.

TAPPER: Turned it off?


GOGLIA: The only other -- purposely turned it off.

TAPPER: And is there any reason why anybody would do that, other than if they were told to?

GOGLIA: A pilot would not do that.

Somebody that didn't want to be seen very well would do that. You know, the transponder, the function is really to enhance the signal from the airplane for radar. Primary radar, which means that the actual bouncing of the beam off the airplane, at long distances, it's not very effective. And we have known that for years. So, that's why we put a transponder on the airplane, to enhance the signal and provide additional information to air traffic control.


TAPPER: Let's walk through some possible scenarios, the same way that investigators are trying to consider anything that might have happened and eliminate the ones that could not.

Cabin depressurization, that happened with pro golfer Payne Stewart in 1999. He had a small private plane. Also happened with the American Airlines flight in 2010, although that flight landed safely.

John Ransom, could that have happened here?

RANSOM: Well, it's certainly possible. A high-altitude decompression is something crews train for, however. Normally, the crew, in recognizing that there had been a depressurization, would put their masks on and then follow the procedures that they have been trained on year in and year out.

The airplane would be descended to a lower altitude, where the rest of the passengers would be able to find breathable air. And then the crew would then decide either to go back to where they came from or to find a nearby airport.

In that case, however, the crew would have had plenty of time to communicate their problems with the outside world. And that apparently did not happen here.

TAPPER: John Goglia, what's the plausibility that this could have been a mechanical failure, as happened with TWA Flight 800?

GOGLIA: Well, given the fact that it flew for an hour in the opposite direction, I wouldn't put it in the same mode as TWA.

Now, the catastrophic failure could be electrical. It could be something in the electrical distribution center that could have -- all the systems, such as a fire on board. That is not uncommon to have the potential to have a big fire on board an airplane, especially in the electrical center, because there's so much energy there. This airplane has been very reliable in those areas. Again, it's -- I would put the airplane further down on the list than other things.

TAPPER: Well, let's consider some of them.

John Ransom, what about this being done intentionally by the pilot, such as happened with Egypt Air Flight 990?

RANSOM: Well, as was mentioned, this is a fairly modern airplane with a bunch of capability to communicate with the outside world, a lot of data transmissions from the airplane.

For them all to have stopped all at the same time would take the work of somebody who actually has studied the systems in some detail to know how to turn off all of the systems at the same time.

There's a satellite data and voice, VHF or regular data and voice. I don't know their aircraft configuration, but they could have had H.F. data link. All those things would have to be deactivated. They might even have to deactivate what is known as the communication management unit.

Boeings transmit over a system known as the health management system constantly to usually the operator to let them know how the plane is doing. And for all of that to have purposely been cut off at the same time would be a pretty good trick.

TAPPER: John Goglia, what about a bomb or a hijacking? Do you think the investigators are still looking at those as possibilities?

GOGLIA: They are going to look at everything as a possibility.

We don't have enough information at all to make any decisions. In the protocol, the accident investigation protocol under Annex 13 of the ICAO is -- really, clearly delineates the steps that the investigators will go through.

They will go through those, even though they may think that they have nothing to do with the accident. They have to go through them. They have to check the boxes and then take them off the table, you know, given that you would put all those -- the possibilities on the table. You have to work them off. They don't fall off the table. You have to work them off the table.

TAPPER: John Goglia and John Ransom, thank you so much for your expertise. Appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD: searching for clues in the faces of the passengers and the crew, how investigators are looking at the psychological backgrounds of the 239 people on board Flight 370 coming up next.

Plus, a woman now coming forward claiming she knew the co-pilot of that flight because he once invited her and a friend to sit in the cockpit while in the air as he entertained them.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More now on the world lead, the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It's been four days and all that has turned up is empty ocean. But we're learning puzzling new details about the flight path of Flight 370, which we now know was far off its course of its destination when it was last accounted for.

We also know that the transponder was mysteriously cut. And now another twist, according to 9 News Australia. A young woman, Jonti Roos, says that, back in 2011, she and a friend were invited to sit in the cockpit for an entire international flight, from takeoff to landing, by one of the pilots who was flying this missing plane, Fariq Abdul Hamid.

Take a listen.


JONTI ROOS, CLAIMS CO-PILOT INVITED HER INTO COCKPIT: Possibly a little bit sleazy. They invited us -- or not invited us -- they asked to -- if we couldn't arrange our flight to stay in Kuala Lumpur for a new nights, that they could take us out.

Throughout the whole flight, they were talking to us. They were actually smoking throughout the flight, which I don't think they're allowed to be doing. I know, for the whole time, they were not like facing the front of the plane actually flying.


TAPPER: The unknowns remain enormous.

Still, Interpol says they are increasingly sure that this was not an act of terrorism. Officials now say two passengers who boarded the plane with stolen passports were unlikely to be linked to terrorism.

One of the men, an 18-year-old Iranian citizen, was, we're told, trying to travel to his mother in Germany, according to Malaysian authorities. But there's still very little we know about what actually happened on that aircraft before it disappeared.

Let's bring in Phil Mudd, senior research fellow of counterterrorism strategy at the New America Foundation, and a former CIA and FBI official.

Phil, good to see you.

What's your gut here when you hear that the transponder was cut, that there was no distressed call, the plane was flying in the wrong direction? As a counterterrorism expert, what do you think?

PHIL MUDD, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: You know, my gut takes me to one place and the transponder issue doesn't really change that place. We haven't seen a claim. Secondly, this target isn't in what my world what we would call iconic. That is, it's not a target that's typically associated with terrorism. A western hotel, a nightclub, a western airliner, for example, out of Britain, U.S., or Israel.

And, finally, the most interesting piece is, (AUDIO GAP) 21st century, that this long in, if there were a dirty person on that aircraft, in other words, a person associated with terrorism, with our databases today, something dirty would have come up.

So, this all tells me that while terrorism is something we can't exclude, I don't think that's the case here.

TAPPER: Interpol is asking for information on these two Iranian passengers who flew with the stolen passports, but without much forensic evidence, they seem to be waving off the terrorism possibility. It seems to be somewhat contradictory. Why would they be seeking more information but also saying they don't think it's terrorism? Just to rule out anything they could?

MUDD: You've got two things going on here. You've got the public face and the private face. The public face, people like the media and the families are looking for answers, in Interpol, and Malaysians have a responsibility to say what they think, which is that this wasn't terrorism. But if you're a practitioner, as I was sitting in the chair, it doesn't matter if you're 99.9 percent certain, you've got to pursue every lead as long as you're not certain what happened here.

So, I could see both being perfectly logical to me. Interpol is saying no terrorism and the CIA saying we've got to keep checking the traps.

TAPPER: These two young Australian women who were back in the cockpit in 2011 with at least one of the pilots, does that tell you anything about security concerns, safety, or anything else about this pilot, assuming her story, which is backed up with photographic evidence, assuming it's true?

MUDD: It doesn't tell me a lot about the pilot. What it tells me is that everything we did post-9/11 in the United States, things like hardening cockpit doors, putting together flight manifests so we knew who was getting on a flight, for example, from Europe or the United States, it doesn't work when you get, for example, to the third world and security practices are lower than what would you expect in the United States. You're out in the hinterlands, and somebody who has practices different than what we expect in Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: And we saw that with the two individuals with the stolen passports being able to get on this plane.

MUDD: That's right.

TAPPER: Now, Malaysian authorities say they are looking into the psychological background of the 12 crew members on board the missing plane and also the passengers. Do you expect that that will bring any more clues? MUDD: I doubt it. This reminds me of what you mentioned earlier in the show, that is the Egypt flight that was taken down. But I go back to the point earlier, there are options here. One is a bomb, one is terrorism, one is a hijacker, one is, as you see, the psychological state of the crew on the plane. Did they take it down? And until you have an answer, until you find a black box, until you figure out why that plane turned around, I don't see how as an investigator you can stop pursing any of the leads even if appears that those leads won't take you anywhere.

TAPPER: But as a counterterrorism expert, it doesn't feel (AUDIO GAP) to you as of right now, with the information we have?

MUDD: It doesn't. I learned in the business that you can depend on feel to a certain extent. This really doesn't smell like what I've dealt with in 25 years. But, I mean, as I said, I wouldn't rule that out but I'd be a heavy bet against this if I were in Vegas. I don't think so.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mudd, thank you so much for your views. We appreciate it.

Coming up next, she's cool with the CIA snooping on you, but the CIA better not be spying on her. The head of the Intelligence Committee angrily suggesting the agency broke the law by illegally searching congressional computer. Edward Snowden says she's a hypocrite.

Plus, clinging to hope as anger grows. Family and friends of those missing on flight 370 demanding answers while they pray for the tiny chance that somehow their loved ones are safe.

Stay tuned.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for our national lead.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has spent much of the past year defending the intelligence community over Edward Snowden's leaks and more. But she's now in a standoff with the CIA, accusing them of searching computers and removing documents that her committee was using to investigate the agency's now defunct interrogation program. She says the agency may have violated the Constitution and may have broken federal law.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN: I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers, principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause.


TAPPER: It was great timing for Senator Feinstein because CIA Director John Brennan was taking questions today at the Council of Foreign Relations and he was asked to respond to her accusations.


JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further than the truth. When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.


TAPPER: Joining me now is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

So, Senator Feinstein, as the chair of the committee, has taken the helm on this issue. You, obviously, have been heavily involved as well. Here's you questioning CIA director Brennan on January 29th, what the time seemed to be a rather cryptic issue.


SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA? It seems to me that's a yes or no question.

BRENNAN: I would have to look into what that actually calls for and it's applicability to CIA's authorities.


TAPPER: It seems clear that you were referring to this. Brennan responded to you by letter saying the act does not, quote, "prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective or intelligence activity of an intelligence agency. Feinstein made it clear she thinks the CIA may have violated the Constitution. What do you think?

WYDEN: Well, Mr. Brennan also did say, Jake, that in fact the computer fraud law does apply to them and the reality is those computers, in effect, belong to the CIA but they were reserved exclusively for the committee's use. And what this goes to, the fundamental question here is whether the Congress of the United States is going to be able to do effective oversight over the intelligence apparatus. And again and again, it is not just this instance, but again and again, the intelligence leadership has in effect thwarted the ability of Congress to get the information it needs to do that oversight.

TAPPER: Do you think that by searching in these computers and doing what the CIA admits it did back when Brennan met with Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, her Republican counterpart, do you think that was a violation of the Constitution of the Fourth Amendment or any other federal law?

WYDEN: I think that the facts that were laid out by the committee chair, Senator Feinstein, today are very credible and, yes, the reason I asked that question that you put on tape, Jake, is that I think it raises very troubling questions.

And I also, before we go any further, want to make clear what I think is the bottom line. I'm becoming convinced that the CIA is simply fearful of the interrogation report being made public and I think it's time for the American people to get that information, they ought to get it consistent with making sure that a national security information is not contained, that the American people have a right to know.

TAPPER: Brennan, when he was asked about this today, he denied hacking into Senate computers. That's not really what he's accused of doing, though, is it?

WYDEN: I think that Senator Feinstein laid those facts out in a very straightforward manner. What I'm concerned about again is whether or not the agency is going to understand what the president of the United States said and that is vigorous oversight is necessary and in fact the Constitution speaks to it. We've got to be able to do that and that's the bottom line.

TAPPER: Edward Snowden issued a statement. He pointed out what he considers to be hypocrisy by Senator Feinstein, calling this a constitutional issue. He says so are the NSA policies he's made public, he argues that Feinstein believes it's only a scandal when it happens to a politician.

I know that you have been out there on the forefront trying to bring attention to this NSA surveillance programs. What do you say to Edward Snowden?

WYDEN: My view is that this is a part of a pattern by the intelligence leadership. We saw, for example, the head of the NSA, Keith Alexander, say we don't hold data on U.S. citizens. I consider that to be one of the most false statements that's been made about surveillance.

So, we have false statements. We have misleading actions. And today, it looks like to me, once again, that we're going to face the question, will the committee be able to do its job, which is vigorous oversight.

TAPPER: What do you think needs to happen, Senator? Does John Brennan need to lose his job over this?

WYDEN: What happens, what now in terms of the priorities for me is that the agency has to answer the questions that it was sent by the committee. That's the first thing that we need to have to get straight answers and it seems to me that the CIA ought to set the record straight about what it did and I will tell you, I find it very troubling when they in effect make referrals to prosecutors when committee investigators are trying to do their job.

TAPPER: Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- thank you so much.

WYDEN: Thank you.