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Malaysia Airline Search Expands Dramatically; Obama Meets with Irish Prime Minister; Terror Groups Operating in Southeast Asia; Was Plane Stolen from the Sky?

Aired March 14, 2014 - 11:30   ET



MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: @ THIS HOUR, the mystery of flight 370 deepens. We're at day seven since the jetliner vanished with 230 souls on board. The search area now expanding dramatically, both east and west.

The latest news, "Reuters" news agency reporting the belief among some that the plane was being deliberately flown towards the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, making it hundreds of miles northwest of the last known location between Malaysia and Vietnam. The report is based on military radar data from unnamed sources. CNN got from a senior U.S. official says there is a significant likelihood that the plane is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. That based on electronic signals, satellite pings that the plane kept sending after losing contact, indicating it kept flying for as long as five more hours.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, Chinese researchers are saying they reported a sea floor event in the waters around Malaysia and Vietnam about an hour and a half after the plane's last definitive sighting on civilian radar. That would, if you take it for what it's worth, put the jet on the other side of the Malaysian peninsula. The Malaysian prime minister today attending prayers for the missing passengers. His government is not confirming any new information. Officials say the hunt for the plane is spreading deeper, both west of the Indian Ocean and father east into the South China Sea.

Right now, the destroyer, the "USS Kidd" is moving into the Indian Ocean to search for the plane. The fleet commander told CNN the search went from a chest board, to a football field. Much bigger now.

PEREIRA: Some believe the theories are gaining momentum, one of them, the hijacked theory.

Joining us now, CBN News terrorism analyst, Eric Stakelbeck. He is in Washington. And right here in New York is our own Richard Quest.

Richard, we have been talking to you, and you've been a frequent guest, commenting on all of this. I can sense your frustration, too. There is a wide amount of speculation. You say we have to stick to what we know. But there is so little to know.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Exactly. Which is all the more reason you have to stick to it. In the frustration of anything, when I have seen these incidents before, you can usually speculate between a fairly narrow range of possibilities. The flaps won't put down, the wheel tie bursts, wherever it might be. When you get something as tricky as this, and the Malaysian minister summed it up, this is no ordinary investigation.

PEREIRA: Not like anything seen before.

QUEST: When you get this and speculation of, is it hijacking on this side of the spectrum or is it mechanical failure on the other side or is it pilot suicide on the other side of the spectrum? When you end up with that, the only thing you can do, the only thing you can do is go back to the last-known fact. The last-known fact is where the plane was handed off from Malaysian air space to Vietnamese air space. The next known sort of facts are these waypoints that we hear about as it flew electrically to the west.

PEREIRA: What do they indicate?

QUEST: This is it. If you take the radar pings, which is what you talked about, and you add it to the "Reuters" story, this is what you end up with, the supposed route the plane actually flew. Those waypoints are the junctions that exist over the entire aviation world. This plane flew Igari to Vampi, Vampi, to Gival and Gival to Igrex. To any aviation person, that would be the root it was taking.

BERMAN: Eric, I want to bring you. Looking at that route it was taking -- because "Reuters" reported speculation among some officials that it could only take this route, it would only take this route if someone were deliberately forcing it to take this route. Is that what you take from this?

ERIC STAKELBECK, CBN NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: John, right now, it is all speculation. I share the frustration. This looks like a man- caused event. Why would you divert the flight? Either pilots, who I know Malaysian authorities are looking at very closely, or it was a hijacking. When we talk about the terrorism possibility -- again, we don't know this was the cause -- but there are new possibilities. Number one, in Malaysia, majority Muslim country, historically, more moderate. The 9/11 hijackers passed through Malaysia. There was an al Qaeda presence in that country. And number two, a very interesting wrinkle is the China angle. This flight was bound for Beijing. In western China, there is a group called the Uighurs. Very dangerous. Linked to al Qaeda. And they want to form their own Islamic state. They want to break away from China, form their own Islamic state. Just a week before the plane disappeared, they killed 27 people in China and have carried out a number of attacks in China. That is another possibility here, if it was the terror/hijacking angle.

BERMAN: Richard, go ahead.

QUEST: My problem with that is the moment we start raising this flag, to such an extent, you start to cut off possible other avenues. You start to then focus -- I'll give you a good example. At the beginning of the week, quite rightly, quite properly, we were focused on a fact, two stolen passports which led to two people on board the aircraft. By midweek, not only was that incorrect -- I mean, the passports were stolen -- but those two passengers now seem to be more innocent victims of this flight. We have to be very careful when we start to raise --


STAKELBECK: We are being careful, but if you bring me on to talk about a possible terrorism angle, I'm just laying out possibilities. I did not say this was definitively terrorism. We can't say that. It's all speculation at this point. But if you are looking at the terror possibility, we have to consider it was terrorism.


STAKELBECK: And you have to look at some of the possible perpetrators.

QUEST: I fully take on board what you are saying. I suppose my point is, we have to keep coming back to this -- And I'm saying this to my colleagues there as well -- we have to keep coming back to what do we know? What we know is that last point of departure and what happened there after.

BERMAN: We appreciate you being here to help us lay out what you know.

Eric, we appreciate you being to discuss what is being discussed not just here but in many circles. There are still officials that suggest they haven't shut the door on any possibility. There are investigating every angle of this.

Our thanks to you both.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, terrorism is just one of the possible explanations for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet. We are going to speak, when we come back, with a former Defense Department official about some of the groups operating in Southeast Asia. That will be next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

So much news today, the mystery surrounding flight 370, but also the diplomacy surrounding Ukraine right now. Just two days before a scheduled referendum in Crimea. People voting whether they want to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Russia troops massing on the Ukrainian border, a serious threat and a serious reason for concern for so many leaders around the world.

Now, a short time ago, President Obama met at the White House with the Irish prime minister. Let's listen to what the president said after this meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had an opportunity to discuss a range of global affairs. Obviously, on our minds right now, is the situation in Ukraine. Ireland has been a strong voice in the European Council for the need to send a clear message of support for Ukrainian democracy and self-determination, a strong message to Russia that it should not violate the integrity and the sovereignty of its neighbor. We continue to hope there is a diplomatic solution to be found. The United States and Europe stand united, not only in its message about Ukrainian sovereignty but also that there will be consequences if, in fact, that sovereignty continues to be violated.


PEREIRA: The president speaking with the Irish prime minister.

We are also awaiting comments from John Kerry, set to meet with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov for one more push looking to stem that crisis in Ukraine. That referendum vote just two days away on Crimea. The fate of the area hanging in the balance.

As officials look at all possible scenarios for what happened to the missing Malaysian flight 370, we want to look at the idea we have talked about, one of many theories, that terrorism could have perhaps played a role.

BERMAN: It is part of the theories but it is part of the discussion. Experts say there are plenty of other possibilities. So far, CIA former director, Michael Hayden, says there hasn't been much chatter associated with the idea of terrorism. Hayden appeared on "New Day" earlier. He did make the case that he thinks that if this were an act of terror, we would have heard something, the Internet chatter, the phone chatter that we are so keyed in on.

PEREIRA: Former CIA agent and assistant secretary of defense, Peter Brooks, author of the book "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Rogue States."

Glad to have you on the show with us.


PEREIRA: Peter, we want to talk about the possibility. We want to couch this, we don't know. We are looking at all of the possibilities, all the theories here. If we were to take the route of terrorism being involved, give us an idea of the backing of that. What kind of terrorism groups are active in that part of Southeast Asia.

BROOKS: After 9/11, there was some significant terrorist acts. Remember the Bali bombing, attacks on hotel. Terrorist attacks against hotels in Jakarta as recently as 2009. A lot of these groups are actually linked to all Qaeda. So there are plenty of groups active in that part of the world. It is certainly a possibility.

In addition, we have seen groups like Iran active in there. We had that passport situation. But, last year, in Thailand, the Thais arrested some Iranians who had come through Kuala Lumpur and were involved in a plot to target the Israeli embassy in Bangkok. The State Department talks about there is planning that's gone on in Kuala Lumpur. It's a transit hub for terrorists. And there is also Hezbollah that has been active.

BERMAN: With the issues with the two Iranians with the stolen passports, in this case, everyone seems to suggest there was no connection to terrorism.

Peter, what do you make of the former CIA, Michael Hayden, telling us, had there been some terrorist activity, there would have been more chatter by now but there has been nothing?

BROOKS: It is hard to argue with the former CIA director, isn't it? A person who worked with these issues very, very closely.

And I agree with him, unless this was a lone-wolf operation and that person was on that aircraft. It could have been the pilot or somebody else and there is nobody to talk about it.

The other issue is, there has been no -- except for one -- there's been no claims of responsibility. A group that nobody heard of, the Chinese Martyrs Brigade, about the China connection, they have claimed responsibility but nothing more than that. This group had never been heard of before.

The possibility of no chatter, which the intelligence community is looking at, pushes you in a different direction. The fact that only one group has claimed responsibility that has not been involved, to our knowledge, in any terrorist acts before this plays down the possibility of this being terrorism. I think the former director is probably on to something there.

PEREIRA: Peter Brooks, we thank you.

In the absence of facts, we have to look at the possibilities. Investigators are searching all avenues. At this point, what we do know, 239 souls remain unaccounted for.

BERMAN: That's exactly right.

The search does continue.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, one of the theories people are discussing: Could this flight have just been stolen. Could this plane have been taken out of the sky with some plan to sell it? We'll talk about that next.


BERMAN: We're talking about the mystery of flight 370 and there are no shortages of theories right now about what might have happened to that plane. What we do know is that flight with 239 people on board is simply just missing right now. One of the theories being discussed is this, you know, could this flight have just been stolen?

PEREIRA: Yeah, what if somebody stole that plane? It would be a case of grand theft in the sky, if you will.

Science journalist, Jeff Wise, is here once again.

Jeff, we had you here yesterday. We were thinking that, at that point, it was just sort of a fringe possibility. Today, you feel like it might be more real.

JEFF WISE, SCIENCE JOURNALIST: You know, it's really difficult. The one bedrock principle of this story is it's so difficult to come to any definitive conclusion. We're surrounded by the fog of uncertainty. But as these threads of information gradually emerge, some seem to bolster one another, some seem to fade away.

When it first happened, all the reporting on this subject was it's a crash, it went down somewhere in the vicinity of Malaysia. It's becoming increasingly likely that this was not an accident. If these recent "Reuters" reports are accurate, this plane was flown on a deliberate heading to the west on a zigzag course towards the Andaman Islands. There's been a lot of reporting lately that they were heading to the Andaman Islands. We have no reason to think that it was --


WISE: -- going to the Andaman Islands.

BERMAN: Give me a sign post, to you, which point to theft.

WISE: Very soon after the incident happened, there were reports of -- supposedly coming from Malaysian military that they had tracks on their radar of a flight descending and turning to the west. And at the time, it was hard to lend much credence to that. But this "Reuters" report makes me go back and think maybe that was accurate in the first place. There's been some speculation on airline forums that if the pilot took his plane to 29,500 feet, headed over a well traveled airline -- there's essentially highways in the sky that passenger planes regularly fly along. Air traffic controllers know them. Military radar operators know them.

PEREIRA: Somebody would have seen it.

WISE: Well, it's like hiding in plain sight. If you leave that track, all of a sudden, you're a blip in the middle of nowhere, you'd stand out. So --

PEREIRA: But the question that then is begged to be asked is why on earth go to those lengths to steal an aircraft? Aren't there simpler ways if you want to steal a jet liner than take it with 239 people on board?

BERMAN: Yeah, where do you land it?

WISE: The last thing anyone would want to speculate on is motive. What we can try to do here is look at the data and say, what kind of behavior is this consistent with. I don't know why someone would want to steal a plane with over 200 people aboard it. But if someone was to turn off their electronic data at the point where they were last in contact with air traffic control, descend to a certain altitude, head on a -- on the highway in the sky that they are not supposed to be on, but that other planes are, so you wouldn't stand out, then follow a zigzag course, which potentially could distract people -- maybe if you were going to anticipate that people are later going to go back and look at your track and try to deduce what you're doing, they'd be confused by your zigzag pattern. It's not clear where this plane was heading. As soon as this person left -- if indeed any of this happened -- but they left the area of radar coverage out over the Indian Ocean, then they could go directly to where they wanted to go.

Now, we've all seen the 2200-nautical miles circle that's been drawn from the last point of contact. It sort of encompasses India and does not include Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, some of these places, but if more fuel was added, we don't know. The possibilities expand.

BERMAN: Just the great mystery of flight 370.

Thank you so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

PEREIRA: Thanks, Jeff.

WISE: Pleasure.

BERMAN: We're going to change gears now. The Internet sex economy is a big, big business in the United States. $290 million a year and in Atlanta alone. That's according to a new study. But the human cost to sex trafficking is harder to calculate and many involved are trapped by addiction, they're trapped by abuse.

That's where this week's "CNN Hero" Benita Carter steps in. She now helps other women break free.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I was 14 years old, I ran away from home and within 48 hours I was recruited by a trafficker.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I sold my soul, the less I felt like a human being. I saw no way out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were labeled a ho and what's what you were. You were a prostitute. Benita thought I was worth saving.

BENITA CARTER, CNN HERO: Prostitution has been known as the oldest profession. I know that it's the oldest oppression. I was able to get out, but the majority of women, they're trapped. That's why I do this work.

A lot of the ladies are really needing housing right now.

We're a survivor-led program. Many of the women that work here have been there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My last trick was turned behind a storefront.

How are you doing, my sister? Are you safe?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need some condoms or anything? All right, baby. You know where we're at.

CARTER: When they are ready, they can come here.

So you were referred by a friend?


CARTER: We have many different services, housing, education. Another core piece of our support groups, we have to learn how to live with it and forgive ourselves. It is healing for them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Working full time now. I'm almost off probation.


CARTER: Their lives start to change.


CARTER: And we're educating women who have -- men who have been arrested.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not here to make you feel like a piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED). But that's somebody's daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just imagine the hurt that's going on.

CARTER: We're really raising an irony here, and that's it's not OK to buy and sell us. We're not for sale.


PEREIRA: Way to go, Benita. If you know someone amazing who deserves the recognition, tell us about them,

That's it for us at this hour. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right after this.