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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.S. Officials: Plane May Have Flown 4-5 Hours; Cultural Challenges Impeding Search For Missing Flight?; Who Are The Passengers Of Flight 370?

Aired March 13, 2014 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. U.S. officials are now telling CNN that they believe pings of data from the plane may show that it traveled four or five hours from it is last known location. That could expand the search into the Indian Ocean. The National Transportation Safety Board, the FAA and Boeing are now working to analyze the new information and while they caution this is not 100 percent. It's one of the more promising leads in the ever growing search for the missing plane.

Joining me is the man who headed up the FBI's investigation of TWA Flight 800, former FBI assistant director, James Kallstrom. James, thanks for joining us. U.S. officials are now saying they believe flight 370 could -- I want to emphasize again, could -- nothing is definite yet in this story -- could have flown for several more hours, based on some pings of data and that could be as far as the Indian Ocean. What does this new information telling you?

JAMES KALLSTROM, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, my understanding, Jake, is that that data is not continuous, but builds up in little blocks of data and then periodically every half hour, every 20 minutes or whatever, it sends particular data to the airline company, Boeing, to the owner of the airline, Malaysia Air and to the builder of the engine, which in this case is Rolls Royce. So it would give them a lot of technical data on how the systems are operating. I don't know what kind of location data it would give, if at all. But if this is true, if that plane continues to fly, I mean, that's another whole chapter in a very, very confusing case.

TAPPER: But so just to clarify, James, the fact that it stores up data and then sends it out in whatever half hour increments or whatever the time actually is, the fact that it continues to send it out, that means that the plane is still existent somewhere, right? It goes to a satellite and then distributes the data.

KALLSTROM: Right.

TAPPER: OK.

KALLSTROM: You're right. I would think that that means there was not some catastrophic event that put the plane into a million pieces and it's not in 100 feet of water somewhere, that it's continued to fly, I would guess that that would be the case. Yes. And why would that be?

TAPPER: And so that would change where investigators are looking and also what they are looking for, presumably?

KALLSTROM: I would think so, Jake, if -- you know, they are going to be searching for every little radar they can find because they need a heading on that plane and an altitude. You know, you draw that arc and you look at countries like Pakistan and you know, you get into your Superman novels and see the plane landing somewhere and repurposing it for some deed down the road. I mean, that's not beyond the realm of realism.

I mean, that could happen. Why else would you do that? Why would you take a plane off your normal route, shut off your transponders so that every other radar return looks about the same to a radar interceptor officer, it looks like a bunch of birds and then lower your altitudes apparently and fly somewhere else? Why would you do that with a plane full of people?

TAPPER: So, we have heard in the last day renewed emphasis on the possibility -- again, just the possibility of terrorism as the motive for and some sort of explanation for what happened to this flight. It sounds to me that as somebody who used to work for the FBI, a catastrophic event happening to an airplane, you're revisiting that as a possibility?

KALLSTROM: I think without question. If in fact, you know, we're getting so much conflicting data, Jake, it's hard to -- you know, you veer one way and then veer the other way. People are saying that didn't happen. You know, we really need definitive -- I say, we, the investigators need some definitive, correct data. If that was the case, the data exists. If it exists, it's going to tell them an awful lot.

If it's fuzzy, they don't know it came from that plane, my understanding is that data is finger printed with that plane information. It's not just some random data. That data comes from that airplane.

TAPPER: And James, finally, as somebody who headed up the investigation into what happened to TWA Flight 800, what is your assessment of how the Malaysians have done so far, the Malaysian government, when it comes to running this investigation?

KALLSTROM: Well, I don't want to pick on them because it's a terrible, you know, tragic thing. I had the benefit of having this whole situation in the United States of America. Having access to the Navy operations on the east coast of this country and had their great divers. So we had it a lot easier and with that it was very, very complicated. It took us over a year to recover the airplane.

It was in a million pieces and my heart goes out to those families sitting in these airports that don't know what's going on with their loved ones. It's a tragic, tragic situation. Hopefully we'll get more focus on what really happened in the next day or two.

TAPPER: I agree. God bless on that and the anguish that they must be going through right now is unimaginable. James Kallstrom, thank you so much for your time. Good to see you as always. Coming up, confusion and contradicting reports. Now the Malaysian government is reportedly asking its citizens to keep their mouths shut, but in a country where the government doesn't have to answer to anyone but itself essentially is lack of transparency one of the problems here?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now continuing with our "World Lead." Adding to the complexities in this search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are the layers upon layers of confusing and conflicting information being doled out by Malaysian investigators and various authorities. One U.S. official tells CNN that the Malaysians have been sharing conclusions, but not always the raw data behind them.

Some critics say the ensuing chaos after the disappearance of the flight highlights a lack of confidence and accountability by the government that the people of Malaysia have frankly come to expect.

Joining me now live is Ernest Bower. He is a senior adviser for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ernest, thanks so much for being here. Can you explain why accountability may be at play here? There's no free press in Malaysia and obviously there's no freedom of religion. Could that be one of the problems?

ERNEST Z. BOWER, SENIOR ADVISER FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA STUDIES, CSIS: Actually, you're wrong on both counts.

TAPPER: There is freedom of press and religion?

BOWER: There is.

BOWER: The predominant press has been stayed down, but the media is open. The main newspaper is owned by the government. But social media has popped that wide open and the government actually had a really run for its money in the last election. Religion is free. It's an Islamic state, but actually all religions are present there and it's also a multi-ethnic country.

TAPPER: OK. So I don't want to get into quibbling. There are different experts who disagree with you. What do you think the problem is here? Because obviously this has not been what Americans are used to when a disaster happens in this country. Obviously this is a developing nation, but what's the problem?

BOWER: Well, Jake, I think the problem is that the Malaysians don't have experience with this kind of disaster. It is one of these countries because of its geography that it doesn't have earthquakes. It doesn't have tsunamis. It hasn't been tested with a disaster like this and I think stress -- on a stress test they are failing in terms of coordination among interagency process and communication with the world and with their partners.

TAPPER: What is the culture there in terms of transparency, in terms of the government being accountable to the public to provide information as quickly as possible and expeditiously as possible?

BOWER: I think like most developing Southeast nations, it's in the middle of a turn. It has started to open up. Social media has opened it up. The growing middle class has opened it up, but before this there wasn't a culture of accountability. The government has been very defensive and we can see that in their responses.

TAPPER: Do you think there's anything there that the fact that this was the state-owned airline, that that's one of the other reasons that they have a pride about the airline, a previous expert said that this reminded of him of the Egypt air crash in that sense. The Egyptian government didn't really want to acknowledge any problems potentially because it was a source of pride for the country.

BOWER: It is. I mean, there's no doubt about it. The Malaysians are a proud country and I think they are horrified that this could happen to one of their planes. It's a state-owned company, Malaysia Airlines. The military obviously doesn't have the answer and it's embarrassing. They don't have the maritime to know where this airplane is and they have countries like China, the United States and others who are asking to help and are asking questions about where the people are.

TAPPER: Well, the Chinese are very angry because obviously a lot of people on the flight are Chinese. How close are China and Malaysia? How close are the governments?

BOWER: The prime minister of Malaysia, his father really opened relations with China. So there's a close link there. Malaysians are also very close to us. The Chinese have been vocal in their criticism and I think they could be learning the wrong lessons and what we don't want to see is the Chinese connect dots and use this as a reason to expand their presence in the South China Sea.

TAPPER: All right, Ernest Bower, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

BOWER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, young parents on a much needed vacation, teenage sweethearts traveling back after visiting their families. Just some of the passengers on board Flight 370, their stories and the wife who won't yet believe that her husband is gone. Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We'll return to our top story in a moment, the hunt for missing Flight 370, but first some other important stories that we're watching. A massive show of force on Ukraine's doorstep. Russia started military exercises near the border today as their standoff with Kiev and the west over the Crimean Peninsula threatens to spill over.

More than 8,000 Russian artillery men are now training in the southern military district of Russia. The exercises come just days after a controversial referendum in Crimea set for Sunday on whether to permanently join the Russian federation. It's a vote that President Obama says he completely rejects. Today, at the U.N., the interim Ukrainian prime minister said he still believes there's a chance to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner.

The "Politics Lead," inner city poverty is partly a cultural problem according to congressman and former Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We have got this tailspin of culture in the inner cities in particular of men not working, generations of men not even thinking about working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Ryan made the comments yesterday on Bill Bennett's radio show "Morning in America" and immediately lawmakers from across the aisle took issue. Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California says it was, quote, "A thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let's be clear, when Mr. Ryan says "inner city," when he says culture, these are simply code words for what he really means, black."

Ryan later insisted that his comments had nothing to do with race at all and that these problems also exist in rural areas. In a statement obtained by CNN, Ryan allowed that after reading the transcript of the interview, quote, "It was clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community but of society as a whole."

Perhaps the biggest problem, of course, with Ryan's comments may have been his reference to the academic work on the subject of poverty by social scientist, Charles Murray, who has been accused of using racist pseudoscience in misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of some racists.

A spokesman for Ryan tells CNN that after this controversy erupted, the congressman called to Congresswoman Lee to try to express his points. The congressman they point out has been devoting a great deal of time trying to discuss ways to combat poverty.

The inner city is the focus of CNN's original series "Chicagoland." Tonight, you can see the second episode of the show that explores the toughest issues facing a tough town. That's 10:00 Eastern and 9:00 Central right here on CNN.

Coming up next, we know 239 passengers and crew including two infants were on board Flight 370. Now we are learning more about who these were or are. Next, the stories of missing parents, teenagers, and traveling friends. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our World Lead, the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, as we wait for official word on what exactly happened to the 239 people on board, those impacted by the tragic nature of all of this are finding poignant ways to honor the passengers and crew. Take a look at the sand sculpture created along the shores of the beach in India. This shows two hands holding a plane with the words, "pray for Flight 370."

In Shanghai, China, the Citibank Building is lit up with the missing plane's flight number. We've learned a lot in the past six days about who was on that plane. Some were families with young children, some businessmen taking what should have been a routine trip or couples taking long-awaited vacations. While their stories and backgrounds may be vastly different, their fates are forever tied together by a mystery that may never be solved.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Two hundred thirty nine souls including 12 crew and two infants boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: It's our duty to follow every lead and we owe it to the families and trust me when I say we will not give up.

TAPPER: As investigators try to solve the baffling mystery of the plane's disappearance, we all run the risk of not paying enough attention to the tragedy behind it, the loss of humanity. Phillip Wood, an IBM executive, a father of two. The 33-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim was traveling to start a new job. He's seen here on board the flight in a photo he posted to social media.

French students and teen sweethearts, Jao Young and Audrey Ann Batrilo, seen here on Facebook were traveling together, returning from a trip to Malaysia with his mother and younger sister. Paul Weeks of New Zealand left his wedding ring and watch with his wife before boarding the plane to give to their sons in case anything should happen. She held on to the ring Wednesday as she spoke to CNN.

DANICA WEEKS, WIFE OF PASSENGER ON MH370: I've got it here and I'm praying that I can give that back to him. So I can hold on to because there's no finality to it and we're not getting any information. It's just blank crazy and praying.

Mokatash Mokergi and Shamo Bai left their two young sons with other members of their family as they embarked on a vacation together.

MATTHEW MCCORKEY, FRIEND OF COUPLE OF MH370: They left the two boys with her mom back in Beijing. He was very much in love with her. And as parents, nothing was more important to them than those kids.

TAPPER: A dozen crew members are also missing. The daughter of Chief Stewart Andrew Nari continues to tweet messages to her missing father. My dad must be busy serving the passengers food and drink, she tweeted on Wednesday. Among Nari's fellow flight crew, First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, age 27 and Zaharid Akmad Shah --

ZAHARID AKMAD SHAH: Hi, everyone. TAPPER: The experienced pilot as seen here in one of the many YouTube videos posted under his name. Teaching others how to do household repairs. Comments such as, come back, Captain, fled the page. But with each passing hour, that seems increasingly, tragically, impossible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Pages have been set up on social media sites honoring the plane's passengers. One on Facebook already has nearly 20,000 likes. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, breaking news, the mystery of Flight 370 as they sit through conflicting information. Investigators have new reason to believe the missing airliner could have flown for several hours after the last radar reading was received. New details about the signals --