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Is Terrorism Threat Growing for Malaysia Air Flight; Agony for Waiting Passenger Families; Theories Emerge Online About Missing Plane

Aired March 13, 2014 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The mystery of Flight 370, day six now in the search for the jetliner that just vanished into thin air with 239 people on board. And the question @ THIS HOUR, did Flight 370 keep flying for about four hours after its last reported contact?

According to "The Wall Street Journal," U.S. investigators suspect that it did. The report says Rolls Royce engines aboard the Boeing 777 automatically sent data to the engine manufacture as part of a maintenance program.

But Malaysian officials say "The Wall Street Journal" report is inaccurate. The chief executive of Malaysia Airlines says Rolls Royce and Boeing have told them of no transmission of any kind after 1:07 a.m. on Saturday.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Now, all of this is unfolding as Vietnamese search crews find nothing in the debris field that Chinese satellite images spotted showing objects in the water. They went there. They searched. They had many search planes looking. Now the Chinese say that those images were released by mistake.

"The Wall Street Journal" report opens the door to a whole new round of theories about the fate of the missing Flight 370.

BERMAN: Yeah, I want to read a paragraph from this report, because it is so fascinating. It says, quote, "U.S. -- counterterrorism officials are pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board the plane may have diverted it toward an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection." That's according to one person tracking the probe. Explosive theory there.

Our intelligence and security analyst, Robert Baer, joining us from Newport Beach, California.

Bob, based on what you know, give me a sense, as each day passes are the concerns of terrorism growing?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: We've been misled so many times on this story by false leads like the debris field the Chinese supposedly found. You know, it's hard to tell. If indeed the plane flew on four or five hours it suggests hijacking to me. Somebody that knew what they were doing turned off the transponder, continued the plane onto somewhere else. I've seen speculation it was hijacked and going to be used for some undetermined purposes.

So I think if this report is right, it's a key piece of information. Would somebody take a plane like this and turn it into a weapon? We saw that in 9/11. What you can do with one of the airplanes is follow another into a metropolitan area. It will come up as a radar blip. That's sheer speculation. I offer that for what it's worth.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting with that speculation, it makes you wonder -- we've been sitting here talking about the threat of terrorism, the possible link to terrorism. I was talking to John before the show. Do you think here in the United States we're more concerned and more a tuned to this being a terrorist event? Do you think this is front and center in the minds of Chinese, of the folks in India, Malaysia, other nations taking part in the search efforts?

BAER: Well, no. We've been traumatized by 9/11. This came as a surprise to us using an airplane as a weapon. I firmly believe we're still subject to an attack of terrorism using airplanes. This would be one way. Again, there's no evidence for this is what occurred.

BERMAN: To follow up on what Michaela said, the majority of passengers on that flight were Chinese. What's China doing in terms of the investigation? You would think they would be deeply involved on the tracks the U.S. and other countries are on now, one seeing if there was a mechanical issue. Or number two, if there was a terrorist attack. Is this a concern to Chinese?

BAER: Yes. They have leakers that could hijack a plane like this and run it into a building in Beijing for instance. That's why they turned satellites on in the search areas. There's nobody not doing their best to find this airplane. Malays don't seem coordinated on this. The rest of the world is. That's the mystery of it. We've got all these countries turning attention to this airplane and there's still no solid lead.

PEREIRA: None of us want to believe what it means. Not only would the people be lost, it would have been used for other means. None of us want to believe that has happened. The reality we're soon going to find out or at least hope it will be found out.

Let me go back to your theory on the hijacking. We talked about this before on our air. We were talking about the fact there's been no claim of responsibility. The hijacking and no claim of responsibility, how do you put those together in your mind?

BAER: This borders on a conspiracy theory. That's where it should remain in that territory, someone is going to use this airplane later for other purposes so. They would want to put it in a warehouse or something and then take it out for terrorism. Again, this is verging on conspiracy theory. I don't necessarily put stock in it. That's one theory.

BERMAN: We're going to talk more about conspiracy theories later in the show. One of the things coming out of this vacuum of information is this outgrowth of theories much more outlandish than the ones you're talking about.

We thank you for joining us because there are so many questions.

PEREIRA: We're going to look at other stories we're following AT THIS HOUR. This scene in Austin. Police say a wrong way driver tried to avoid a DUI stop, plowed into a street full of people. That street was closed off trying to keep pedestrians safe.

That car hit a scooter killing the two people on board it before the vehicle crashed. Another almost two dozen people were hurt. In fact doctors are saying some of those won't survive their injuries. Police say the driver tried to run away. They stopped him with the taser and were able to take him into custody.

BERMAN: Seven are reported dead after the huge building explosion in New York City. Dozens more are injured. A two story apartment building stood yesterday morning. Authorities are investigating the cause. All signs at this point to a gas leak.

PEREIRA: Crimeans prepare for a vote to leave Ukraine. Angela Merkel has strong words for Vladimir Putin. She is warning the president the leaders will not hesitate sanctions on Russia if he does not back down from Crimea. The chancellor is acknowledging efforts to get Mr. Putin to come to the negotiating table. Those efforts have failed so far.

BERMAN: The wife of a passenger on the mystery flight 370 calls it "blank" waiting and praying. Every day is like an eternity for the families who just want answers and are getting none.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Of all people who want answers, who need answers about Malaysia Airlines flight 370, no one needs them, no one deserves them more than the families of passengers and crew.

PEREIRA: Imagine that.

BERMAN: I can't.

PEREIRA: Our Piers Morgan had the chance to speak to Danica. Her husband was on board the flight. She's trying to do her very best to stay strong for their young children. She's holding onto hope that he'll come home.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST, PIERS MORGAN: How are you coping with your two young children with this devastating news?

DANICA WEEKS, HUSBAND ON FLIGHT 370: Yeah, not well. We're taking it slowly. I'm trying to keep myself as distracted as I'm sure every family member is. You just hear all the news. I'm trying to not take too much in. It's a bit of a roller coaster. One minute it's this, the next minute that's not confirmed. That's the toughest part everyday waking up and looking on the news and seeing that there's nothing. There's no calls from Malaysia to say we've found something. Everyday it just seems like an eternity. It's an absolute eternity. You can only go minute by minute and try to get through the day. I hope something comes soon. We're wishing for the best. As it gets further and further down the track, it's not looking good.

MORGAN: Your husband, Paul, left for a job in Mongolia, mining construction equipment company. You've got two young sons, Lincoln, 3, and Jack, 10 months. Before he left, Paul left you his watch and also left you other items for your kids. Why did he do that do you think?

WEEKS: We had a car accident December 30th. I'm glad we got to talk about these things and our plans should something happen to us. We were afraid after that. We said we had a reality check that one of us could go or both of us. He obviously he can't take -- can't wear his ring on the mine site.

He said I'm going to leave my wedding ring here. I'm going to leave my wedding ring and watch. Should anything happen to me, I want the ring to go to the first son that's married and the watch to the second. I said something like don't be stupid. Just come back and I'll give it back to you. You can give it to them. I've got it here. I'm praying I can give that back to him. I can hold onto it. There's no finality to it. We're not getting any information. Whether they know anything and they're not telling us at this stage -- it's just blank. Just "blank" waiting and praying. Praying.

MORGAN: What kind of man is Paul?

WEEKS: He's amazing. He's amazing. He was the most amazing husband and most amazing father. He's spent so much time with his kids. He also bathed them every night. He would take Lincoln to golf, take him to the zoo. Lincoln when he was his little shadow.

Of course, Jack -- of course, he was extremely intelligent, worked hard and tried to do everything right for his family. All the jobs, everything he does, he always thought about us. He was doing this for the right reason. That was his dream job. He had worked weeks to get up to speed and be there to hit the ground running. That's the kind of man he was. He was strong. He was in the Army. They trained them very strongly there. You know, he had strength, character. He's just so much fun. He was my best friend, soul mate.

I can't wait for him to come back I hope. I'm deluded by the fact as this goes on, there's less and less chance of finding anything. There's no finality to it. I can't give up. You know, you just sort of think at what stage -- there's no menu for this. If he knew, at what stage could you sort of let go? I don't want to ever let go. It's going to be just -- just praying. We have to keep hoping.

I know it's getting -- my brain is going, "It's getting slimmer and slimmer." My heart isn't letting it go. I've got my two kids. They're the hardest to look at to know they've been robbed from such an amazing father and amazing man. You know, that's just too much. I'm just going to take it slowly.


BERMAN: So sad. You know, there are probably 239 stories like this or more for every passenger on board. We get so caught up in this theory or that theory and every piece of evidence. Think how heart wrenching.

PEREIRA: That was so interesting seeing her cradling the ring he left behind and talking about the conversation they had beforehand. Nothing can prepare you for getting a phone call to say your loved one is missing. It was agonizing to hear her explain. It's agonizing as the moments tick by.

BERMAN: The mystery goes on for her and all families right now waiting for any answer.

Our Saima Mohsin is in the area where families are waiting.

Our question is, how are they holding up?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really not easy. We just heard from one of the relatives of the passengers. I've been speaking to family, friends, next of kin of those on board flight 370 who have flown in here. That agonizing wait. We've had six days, heading to our sixth night. Waiting to hear of anything that happened to that plane and what happened to those on board. I met one of the elderly men in one of the hotels here.

When I arrived he was shouting at officials saying, look we don't want compensation. We just want answers. Please give us something, anything to hold onto as to where our family is. His son is just 29 years old. Called his father before he was boarding the flight saying I'm heading to Beijing dad. That was it. He said that's it. Of course we've seen a spectrum of emotions. There's sadness, people who are hoping for miracles. Then of course there's a deep frustration with the lack of information and knowledge coming out. John?

PEREIRA: You know, I was thinking about that passenger we heard from, the wife of the passenger, Danica. Talking about the fact they're being told nothing. I'm curious if the airline is doing anything for these people, giving them any help in trying to answer the questions from their children, from the younger people, from older people. What is being done there?

MOHSIN: Michaela, so far what Malaysia Airlines has done is flown the people who are related to those on board or friends, family to where they want to be whether Beijing or Kuala Lumpur, the points of departure and points of arrival for those on board. And so -- (AUDIO PROBLEM).

PEREIRA: We just lost her unfortunately. That's the part we want to hear. What people on the ground are told. We know there's passengers, relatives far away, waiting to hear.

BERMAN: The people on the ground feel they're not being told enough. They want more information. Got to be very, very, very frustrating.

PEREIRA: We're going to take a short break. Ahead AT THIS HOUR, obvious ahead of actual facts there are wild theories spreading online about what may have actually happened. They're spreading because there's no real information about what actually happened. We're going to look at some theories and try to figure out if these are even plausible.

BERMAN: Are they're hurting the investigation at the same time.

PEREIRA: Good point.


PEREIRA: So certainly there's a lot of theories emerging of what may have happened to this missing jet. They're popping up online, like did the plane land on a remote island, did a meteor take the plane down? There was actually a known meteor in the area at the time the plane took off. Could it have hit the plane? Or could it have been shot down by an unidentified military jet over the gulf of Thailand? Then it ranges to the ridiculous, the plane was abducted by aliens.

BERMAN: Clearly ridiculous.

National security analyst, Peter Bergen, joins us.

They range from the absurd to the outlandish and we don't want to give credence to them, but what we want to talk about is why they're popping up and in some cases in greater numbers. Is that understandable given the real vacuum of information we have here?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think so, John. And I think also, you know, when a spectacular event happens, I think it's human nature to try and find some sort of because that explains something mysterious. And we've seen this in other airline crashes, TW800, a lot of eyewitnesses said they saw the plane being taken down by service-to-air missiles when it crashed in 1996.

Pierre Salinger, who was JFK's press secretary, took it a step further and said a U.S. Navy warship had brought down TWA800. Even somebody with his kind of distinctive official history came up with this conspiracy theory. We've seen it again and again. Pan Am 103, the insurers came up with the theory that the CIA brought down Pan Am 103 that an operation had gone awry and that was untrue. It was the Libyan government and the Libyan government admitted to that.

One thing which we haven't mentioned much that corresponds with the facts we have now is the plane could have been commandeered. A commandeering is usually somebody with idiosyncratic. If we accept the "Wall Street Journal" report of today that the plane flew for some several hours, the transponder was off and may have been taken -- at least this is the theory of U.S. Counterterrorism officials taken for some purpose that isn't clear.

That would correspond to a commandeering. And commandeerings are not uncommon even in the United States it was a Fed Ex that was commandeered in 1994 here in the U.S. There was a Southwest Airlines flight that was commandeered in -- before 9/11.


PEREIRA: Peter, in the idea of commandeering you've listed many instances where that happened. Is your idea that if you follow through with that that maybe the plane went down after it was commandeered? That's how you're following your theory through. They didn't drive it, they didn't crash it purposefully?

BERGEN: Well, yeah, I'll give you another example which I haven't mentioned. British airways commandeered out of Nairobi in 2000. And the guy got in the cockpit, the plane descended about 10,000 feet very rapidly. Luckily, you know, it didn't crash. So commandeering is -- would fit with the few facts that we do know and certainly a theory that we haven't heard a lot of that isn't a conspiracy theory but actually corresponds with the facts that we do know.

PEREIRA: Is the concern though here given the fact we've got the internet and they seems to be a place these kinds of conspiracies thrive, is it going to hamper the investigation? Is it going to hamper the information outpouring?

BERGEN: I don't think so. Some very large number of Americans believe that UFOs exist and there's no evidence of that. So I mean the fact that people believe things that aren't true, that doesn't influence necessarily a serious investigation. I will say in the TW800 case it took four years for the National Transportation Safety Board to come up with the actual reason the plane crashed, which was a mechanical failure in the central wing tank, electrical failure. So these investigations take a long time in the best of circumstances.

BERMAN: Our thanks to Peter Bergen, national security analyst.

You know, I will say even if they don't hamper the investigation, what they sometimes do do is make it impossible or harder for people to believe the results after the fact.

PEREIRA: To cut through the noise, right?

BERMAN: Well, after it's all over. TW800, when they came up with the reason and there are still so many people that don't believe it. And because Malaysian officials the answers have not always been consistent there, you can see why we're hearing more and more theories as days go on.

PEREIRA: Let's hope they're closing in on more facts.

That wraps it up for us AT THIS HOUR. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right after this.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Thursday, March 13th.