In early March 2014, the world was captivated in a way never seen before by the news of a missing Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, MH370.
The last voice contact with the flight crew was early morning 8th March somewhere over the South China Sea, just over an hour after take-off. Soon after the plane disappeared from Malaysian Air traffic Control radars, but was tracked shortly after flying over the Malay Peninsula, and tracking across the Andaman Sea.
MH370 was a Boeing 777-200ER, which had 227 passengers and 15 crew members aboard that night. This disappearance of the aircraft has led to one of the largest and longest searches in history for the aircraft, which is still going on today in the Southern Indian Ocean, the most probable place authorities believe that plane went down.
MH370 is not the only aviation mystery. There have been a long line of aviation mysteries, many which still have not been solved today. One of the most famous cases that have attracted a lot of speculation was flight 19, a group of 5 TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle in 1945. A PBM Mariner flying boat that went searching for the lost planes also disappeared.
Charismatic Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, mysteriously disappeared in the Pacific while on a round the world flight in a twin engine Lockheed Electra 10E. In 1956, a fully nuclear armed B-47 Stratojet disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea and was lost without a trace. In 1962, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation flight from Travis Air Force Base in California to Saigon disappeared without a trace after a mid-air refuelling over Guam. In 1979, a Boeing 707-323C transporting valuable paintings disappeared mid-flight between Tokyo and Rio de Janerio and was never found.
However, some aircraft have disappeared by design. In 2003, a Boeing 727-223 was stolen in Angola from the airport, took off and has never been seen again.
All the above cases have not been solved and led to speculation and conspiracy theories ranging from the plausible to the extra-terrestrial explanations.
Yet time has allowed similar cases to be solved when someone stumbles across wreckage or other artefacts from these besieged flights. Such a case included a South American Airways Star Dust aircraft that disappeared in 1947. It took 50 years to solve this mystery when glacial ice in the Andes melted, exposing the aircraft wreckage. More recently, the remains of Air France Flight 447, were only found two years after it disappeared.
However the search area for the ill-fated MH370 is hundreds of times more expansive than flight 447.
As the events of March 2014 panned out, several things became clear.
The first thing exposed by the MH370 tragedy was the ad hoc haphazardness of the Malaysian Government. The early responses of the government were heavily criticized for uncoordinated and sometimes contradictory approach to the disaster. The chief spokesman for the Malaysian Government Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein was criticized for his smugness, evasiveness, sometimes condescending attitude, and delay in providing information to the families of MH370 passengers and public.
It took Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak a week before he appeared on television after the plane vanished. This delay made Malaysia appear very unprofessional to people who were not familiar with the political culture of Malaysia.
The families and relatives of the missing were particularly critical of the search operation. Critical time was lost searching for flight MH370 in the South China Sea. Voice370 representing the families of the passengers accused the Malaysian Government of a cover-up. The families and relatives of the passengers, mainly Chinese nationals, were angered by the coarseness of an English language text message “we have to assume beyond all reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and all those on board haven’t survived”. This led to Chinese protests outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing.
After more than a year since the disappearance of flight MH370, criticism still persists about Malaysian Airlines safety issues which were found wanting. Malaysian Airlines has performed very poorly financially, since the disappearance of MH370, the shooting down of MH17, and boycotts by Chinese that brought a reported 50% drop in tourists compared to the previous year.
The Malaysian Government’s poor response to the MH370 disappearance showed up both the lack of transparency and the dismal state of the Malaysian media that has been shackled for years. Ministers and public officials were not used to the scrutiny the international media put them under.
The second issue was the poor coordination between civil and military authorities. This was not unique to Malaysia, the same problem purportedly occurred during the 911 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. Although Flight MH370 was detected by Malaysian military radar crossing the Malay Peninsula soon after the final voice communication to Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control, it took civil authorities a number of days before they moved the search from the South China Sea to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean. Vietnam also expressed concerns that Malaysia was not forthcoming with new information and cooperative.
This leads onto the third issue of international defence capabilities and cooperation, which appear very poor out of this disaster. MH370 must have come up as a radar signature across Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. According to reports, it was only after MH370 had disappeared 9 days that the Thais informed the Malaysians that they had picked up an unidentified flight crossing the Malay Peninsula. According to Indonesian authorities no unidentified flight was ever picked up on radar, which hints that either the system wasn’t being used or MH370 very skilfully flew along the boundaries of the radar detection area of Indonesia.
This raises questions about actual ASEAN military surveillance capabilities.
Given that military authorities may be hesitant to disclose the extent of their respective early warning radar systems, The Mail suggests that air defences may not be what they are supposed to be.
The delay in sharing vital information with Malaysia shows the poor state of defence cooperation within the region.
The fact that a large modern airliner could just disappear has been met with much disbelief, leading to a number of conspiracy theories.
Some claim that the aircraft was hijacked by North Korea over the sea for the new technologies that Boeing 777 has incorporated within the plane. A US science writer Jeff Wise, who regularly appears on CNN postulated that the aircraft flew north rather than south into the Indian Ocean and landed in Kazakhstan. Other theories put forward include the United States shot down the plane to prevent a drone shot down by the Taliban over Afghanistan with secret technology in the cargo bay, didn’t get into the hands of the Chinese. A variation on this theory is that the aircraft was forcibly taken to a US base on the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia, where the crew and passengers are captives.
Conspiracy theorists put weight on the fact that 20 employees of a semi-conductor company Freescale Semiconductor developing components for hi-tech military weapons and navigation systems were on board MH370. Their disappearance according to some could have been the result of stealth technology this group had been working on. Alternatively others have proposed that the disappearance of these engineers allowed a member of the Rothschild family to secure sole ownership of an important patent.
Still more theories speculate the plane’s disappearance was about a life insurance scam, the plane was captured and exchanged for MH17 which was shot down over the Ukraine, later in August 2014, the plane was cyber-jacked electronically, and the plane was abducted by aliens.
Even though fragments of MH370 found on Reunion Island and have been confirmed as parts of MH370, there are some who claim that the pieces are fake, and one of the above conspiracy theories hold.
Debris found washed up on a beach along the East Coast of Thailand last month was suspected of being parts of MH370, until this was discounted by aviation authorities in Bangkok.
The initial suspicion on the disappearance of MH370 was related to two passengers using false passports. This indicated a possible hijacking. The turn flight MH370 made over the South China Sea and around Indonesian territory appeared to support this deliberate act. News breaking out that the co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid had allowed passengers into the cockpit during a previous flight also made this theory appear plausible.
The phone call Fariq was reported to have tried to make over Penang even adds more weight to the MH370 disappearance being a deliberate act. However upon investigation of all the passengers and crew, no links to terrorism was ever made with anybody on the flight. This only exposed a lapse in security as the two passports of the passengers involved where actually on the Interpol database, but not checked by Malaysian Immigration.
This doesn’t count out a disturbed member of the crew having a ‘death-wish’ and using the flight to commit suicide. The captain could have locked the co-pilot out of the cockpit and proceeded down to the Southern Indian Ocean and take the whole plane to a deep ocean grave. This scenario happened on a Silk Air flight some years ago where the captain lost his savings on the stock-market and committed suicide, and with Egypt Air flight 990 where the co-pilot committed suicide by diving the plane straight into the sea.
The latest explanation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATAC) suggests a power failure, which probably disabled avionic systems where the plane would have flown on auto-pilot until fuel was exhausted, where it would turn into a spiral nose dive going straight into the Southern Indian Ocean. The rebooting of the ACARS system which transmits engine data to the ground suggests a power failure. The lithium batteries in the cargo hold could have been a source of that fire which disabled electronic systems, vital to control and manage a sophisticated aircraft like a Boeing 777. Lithium batteries have caused fires on aircraft before. This is what happened to a South African Airways flight in 1987.
The crew and passengers may have been disabled through hypoxia, where the plane flew on autopilot. This could have been a similar scenario to the Helios Airlines Flight 522 crash in 2005, where two jets were scrambled and the pilots saw all the passengers incapacitated, when the flight eventually crashed after it ran out of fuel.
However this explanation doesn’t explain the apparent deliberate flight around Aceh, where MH370 avoided Indonesian radar. This would have to be a carefully planned part of the flight. This scenario points to a purposeful act, and MH370 could have been a hijacking gone wrong, something like Ethiopia Airways Flight 961, where the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea in 1996.
Although it was confirmed pieces of wreckage washed up on Reunion Island where part of MH370, what happened and the whereabouts of the fuselage and remains of the passengers and crew still remain a mystery. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said that the search effort will now have to retrace some previously searched locations due to the complexity of the ocean surface and possibility the wreckage may have been missed. The search has been extremely hazardous resulting in a loss of the deep water sonar which hit an underwater volcano and sank to the bottom of the ocean a few weeks ago.
A French team is currently developing another theory of what happened to flight MH370 based upon the piece of wreckage washed up on Reunion Island, which was found in an unexpected location in relation to the targeted search area. Another report expected to be released by the Malaysian Government on the 2nd anniversary of the plane’s disappearance may incorporate this theory in the report.
The shocking truth about MH370 is that we don’t really know what happened on that night of 8th March 2014, how the flight ended, and what became of the passengers and aircraft. Everything the authorities have said is pure speculation. The black box data recorder holds all the secrets to the doomed flight. This needs to be recovered before the truth can be known with certainty.
Even with all the technology we have today, the Earth is larger than we think. Satellite photography, the US ability to identify any missile launch on the face of the Earth, aviation procedures and protocols, and defence surveillance around the globe failed to notice and find a rogue aircraft, even post 911.
Ideas are needed and resources allocated to help prevent this scenario ever happening again. However almost two years after the disappearance of MH370, nothing has been put in place to enable the tracking of rogue aircraft, should they deviate from flight plans and procedures.
The solutions exist and are in practice. Over the vast region of Hudson Bay, radar blind spots are covered by approximations using flight plans, GPS, and broadcasts under an Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADSB) system. Such systems are not operating within South-East Asia and Indian Ocean. The MH370 tragedy indicates that the skies over the region are not being watched closely at all. This lack of diligent surveillance has made the search for MH370 the most costly in history.
With the present search only planned to continue until June this year, the shocking truth about MH370 is that the relatives and loved ones of the people on MH370 may not get closure for two or three generations to come.
Authorities are now beginning to return to some of the original hypothesized theories to explore the MH370 disappearance further, such as a flame out or rogue pilot scenario similar to the Andreas Lubitz case where he deliberately crashed a Germanwings Airbus A320-211 into the French Alps. The questions about whether the pilot deliberately turned off the transponder over the South China Sea will probably be open to debate once again.
The mystery of MH370 may only be finally put to rest in the later part of this century, and this may only happen by accident.
USA and Australia Worry About Cyber Attacks from China Amidst Pegasus Spyware
Pegasus Spyware Scandal has shaken whole India and several other countries. What will be its fallout no one knows as we know only tip of iceberg. Amidst Pegasus Spyware Scandal USA and Australia both have shown serious concerns about Cyber Attacks on US and Australian interests. Both say that China is hub of malware software and both face millions of such attacks daily.
I am trying to understand why a software is needed to spy on a particular individual when all calls, messages, data, emails are easily accessible from server. In most of cases these servers are located in USA and some cases these are located in host country. In certain sensitive cases Government Agencies have their own server like Central Intelligence Agency and hundreds of other agencies and military establishment world over including India. Now point is who installs those servers.
A couple of years back I had talked to Mr Mike Molloy who is Chief Executive Officer of Orion Global Technologies previously known as Orion SAS. He had explained me how his company installs servers in host countries on request of private or gov bodies. He talks about contract and trust. That means even when a company or Gov buys a server or software for designated uses the “Secrecy” Factor remain on discretion of company which has supplied server or software.
Now if all data, e-mail, chat, messages, calls are accessible to Gov as per law and technology (Through Server all components of Communication are accessible and thats why me and you see start seeing call recording of a person even after many years later), I am unable to understand why a Gov will be needing a software to Spy on any one.
Now coming to where Australia and USA wants to carry the whole debate.
Australian Foreign Minister Sen Marise Payne said, “Australian Government joins international partners in expressing serious concerns about malicious cyber activities by China’s Ministry of State Security.
“In consultation with our partners, the Australian Government has determined that China’s Ministry of State Security exploited vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange software to affect thousands of computers and networks worldwide, including in Australia. These actions have undermined international stability and security by opening the door to a range of other actors, including cybercriminals, who continue to exploit this vulnerability for illicit gain”, She further added.
She opined, ”The Australian Government is also seriously concerned about reports from our international partners that China’s Ministry of State Security is engaging contract hackers who have carried out cyber-enabled intellectual property theft for personal gain and to provide commercial advantage to the Chinese Government”.
She warned China by saying, “Australia calls on all countries – including China – to act responsibly in cyberspace. China must adhere to the commitments it has made in the G20, and bilaterally, to refrain from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage”.
On other hand USA’s The National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a Cybersecurity Advisory on Chinese State-Sponsored Cyber Operations. National Security Advisor said, ”Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity poses a major threat to U.S. and allied systems. These actors aggressively target political, economic, military, educational, and critical infrastructure personnel and organizations to access valuable, sensitive data. These cyber operations support China’s long-term economic and military objectives”.
The information in this advisory builds on NSA’s previous release “Chinese State-Sponsored Actors Exploit Publicly Known Vulnerabilities.” The NSA, CISA, and FBI recommended mitigations empower our customers to reduce the risk of Chinese malicious cyber activity, and increase the defensive posture of their critical networks.
Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geopolitical blocs
Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Varundeep Singh*
On July 14, 2021 a terror attack was carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in which a number of Chinese engineers, working on the Dasu hydropower project (a project which is part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor) were killed. The attack predictably evinced a strong response from China. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi speaking before a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Minister’s meeting asked the Taliban to disassociate itself from ‘terrorist elements’ and in a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to book. Earlier in April 2021, a car bomb attack took place at Serena hotel in Quetta which was hosting China’s Ambassador to Pakistan (four people were killed and twelve were injured)
Wang Yi significantly praised the Ashraf Ghani government, for its attempts towards building national unity and providing effective governance. Beijing clearly realizes that its economic investments in the country as well as big ticket infrastructural projects can not remain safe if there is no security. Afghanistan also criticized Pakistan for its role in sending 10000 Jihadis to Taliban, this is important in the context of the region’s geopolitics.
Like all other countries, Beijing and Islamabad, would have expected uncertainty after the US withdrawal of troops but perhaps over estimated their capabilities in dealing with the turbulence which had been predicted by many.
Importance of Chinese Foreign Minister’s statements
Wang Yi’s statements are important because days earlier a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen had praised China and welcomed its role in the country’s reconstruction. He had also assured China that those involved in the insurgency in Xinjiang would not be given refuge in Afghanistan (one of China’s major concerns has been the support provided by Taliban to the East Turkmenistan movement)
While Beijing may have opened back channels with the Taliban and realized that it needs to adapt to the changing geopolitics, recent developments would have increased its skepticism vis-à-vis the Taliban. On the other hand, Russia has been more favorable towards the Taliban. Russia’s Deputy Chief of Mission in India, Roman Babushkin argued that the Taliban are a reality which needs to be accepted, and also that any military activities without a political process are insufficient.
Babushkin did make the point that for successful negotiations, Taliban needed to end violence.
‘that Taliban should deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate, in order to [get] delisted [at the UN Security Council], in order to go ahead with the future Afghanistan and creation of the inclusive government
It would be pertinent to point out, that Zamir Kabulov, Russian President’s Afghanistan envoy went a step further and said that the Afghan government was not doing enough to make talks with Taliban a success.
China’s statements subtle warning to the Taliban, indicating its reservations, and praise of Ghani indicate a possibility of greater understanding between Washington and Beijing (even though Beijing has repeatedly attributed the current troubles in Afghanistan to Washington’s decision to withdraw troops).
Can US and China find common ground
It remains to be seen if Biden who has exhibited dexterity on a number of complex issues reaches out to Xi Jinping to find common ground with regard to Afghanistan. Significantly, while US-Turkey relations had witnessed a downward trajectory and Biden has been critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and Human rights record, both leaders met on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in June 2021. During the meeting Turkey agreed to secure Kabul Airport. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan while commenting on Turkey’s assurance said
‘The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport, and we are now working through how to execute to get to that,’
Taliban earlier this week warned Turkey of ‘consequences’ if the Middle Eastern nation increased its troop presence in Afghanistan.
Russia’s statements with regard to the Taliban indicate that it is not totally on the same page as China (its prior experience in Afghanistan has made it more cautious and circumspect), and that the Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geo-political blocs and traditional lenses. All major stakeholders in Afghanistan, both within the region and outside, seem to be understandably befuddled by the turn of events. It is not just the US, but even China which would be worried not just from an economic stand point but the overall security implications of the turmoil in Afghanistan. The terror attack in KPK indicates that other CPEC related projects could also face threats from militant groups. Beijing would thus need to be quick to react to the overtures from the Taliban in order to secure its economic assets and lives of Chinese workers in neighbouring Pakistan.
It is especially important for Washington, Beijing and other important stakeholders in the region to work together for dealing with the near term turbulence as well as long term challenges Afghanistan is likely to face.
*Varundeep Singh is an Independent Policy Analyst.
Pegasus: Human rights-compliant laws needed to regulate spyware
The UN human rights chief on Monday said the apparent widespread use of Pegasus spy software to illegally undermine the rights of those under surveillance, including journalists and politicians, was “extremely alarming” and confirmed “some of the worst fears” surrounding the potential misuse of such technology.
“Various parts of the UN Human Rights system, including my own Office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety in order to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition”, said High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in a statement.
According to reports, the Pegasus data leak allegations which surfaced through a consortium of media organisations over the weekend, suggests widespread and continuing abuse of the software, which the manufacturers insist, is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.
The Pegasus malware infects electronic devices, enabling operators of the tool to obtain messages, photos and emails, record calls, and even activate microphones, according to the consortium’s reporting. The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers which reportedly belong to those identified as people of interest, by clients of the company behind Pegasus, including some governments.
Surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even killing of journalists and human rights defenders, according to the senior UN official.
Reports of surveillance also trigger fear and cause people to censor themselves.
“Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer”, she said, reminding all States that surveillance measures can only be justified in narrowly defined circumstances when necessary and proportional to a legitimate goal.
Given that Pegasus spyware, “as well as that created by Candiru and others, enable extremely deep intrusions into people’s devices, resulting in insights into all aspects of their lives”, the UN rights chief underscored, “their use can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats.”
If recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, she maintained that the “red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity”.
Companies developing and distributing surveillance technologies are responsible for avoiding human rights abuses, she said, and they must take immediate steps to mitigate and remedy the damage their products are causing, or contributing to, and carry out “human rights due diligence” to ensure that they no longer play a part in “such disastrous consequences” now, or in the future.
States also have a duty to protect individuals from privacy rights abuses by companies, she added.
One key step in this direction is for States to require by law that the businesses meet their human rights responsibilities by becoming more transparent in their design and use of products and by putting in place effective accountability mechanisms.
Better regulation key
Reports also confirm “the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technologies and ensure strict oversight and authorization.”
Governments should not only immediately stop using surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, but also “take concrete actions” to protect against such invasions of privacy by “regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others”, the High Commissioner said.
Without human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks, Ms. Bachelet upheld that there are “simply too many risks” that the tools could be used to intimidate critics and silence dissent.
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