The Most Ridiculous Assumption about MH370

So how do we defend our government against the foreign media? 

Kee Thuan Chye

I feel sad and ashamed that the foreign media is saying that Malaysia cannot be trusted in giving out information on MH370, that we don’t know what we are doing, that in saying the plane has crashed into the southern part of the Indian Ocean, our prime minister just wants to put the whole incident behind his government.

The foreign media is making fun of us and calling us incompetent and irresponsible. It says that out of deference to us, we were allowed to handle the crisis but that has caused the progress in the search and rescue operation to be delayed by two weeks. Some journalists even say the prime minister’s announcement about the fate of the plane is a cover-up. How can we take that?

The problem is, we might be able to fight back and challenge what the foreign media is saying if we could defend our government’s handling of the crisis, but can we? As ordinary citizens with no privileged insight into what is going on behind close doors, we see only the public conduct of the people in charge, what they do and what they say. And so far, the impression we have got from this is not only far from reassuring; worse, it has sometimes made us cringe.

I don’t want to go back to the issues of the two passengers who managed to get through our immigration officials and board the plane with stolen passports and the confusion over their identities, or the issue of the Inspector-General of Police contradicting what the Director-General of the Department of Civil Aviation said about people having checked in for the flight but did not eventually board the plane. I’ve already written about these before.

What shocks and puzzles me now is the statement made by Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri in Parliament last Wednesday. He said the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) did not intercept MH370 when it was caught on radar on March 8 headed towards the Straits of Malacca because the RMAF “assumed” that the plane was “non-hostile” and had been ordered to turn back by the civil aviation control tower.

This is the most ridiculous thing I have heard throughout the MH370 crisis.

Assumed? This means the RMAF did not verify it first with the aviation tower, right? This means the RMAF merely came to its own conclusion?

Apparently so, as indicated in the words of Abdul Rahim: “We understand that the RMAF was confident that it was not a hostile aircraft, meaning that there is a high possibility that there was no risk to national security.”

How did the RMAF come to be “confident” that the plane was non-hostile? Does it possess a super radar that nobody knows about that can distinguish between hostile and non-hostile flying objects?

Should it gamble on our nation’s security on only a “high possibility” that there was no threat?

And why didn’t the RMAF check it with the aviation tower? Hasn’t it learned from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York that a commercial plane could be turned into a weapon of destruction, and so a flight that was going off its course should be viewed with at least some measure of suspicion?

Abdul Rahim also said, “We noticed that the plane was heading towards the Straits of Malacca or the Andaman Sea. So we informed the task force responsible the next day.”

The next day? Why was there no sense of urgency? Doesn’t the RMAF know that time is of the essence? Is this a reflection of the tidak apa syndrome we have been living with all these decades?

Above all, what really did happen with the RMAF at the time it detected the plane on its radar?

Is Abdul Rahim telling us the whole story or is this a cover-up? Was the RMAF asleep at the time – as has been insinuated by some observers – and therefore did not respond in the expected manner?

Already, CNN’s aviation and airline correspondent Richard Quest has declared: “The big question is how the Malaysian military missed MH370 going back across the country. THAT is a scandal.” And he’s not the only one.

Even before March 17, online news network wrote: “Malaysian air defence is almost non-existent, as revealed by the evidence that the aircraft turned around over the South China Sea and then headed back over Malaysia towards the Indian Ocean, and although its identity wasn’t confirmed, no jets were scrambled, no action was taken, and it took days for this information to come to light.”

Around then, too, our fellow Malaysian Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz, who is the DAP’s MP for Raub, made the same observation. In his blog, for which he writes under the nom de plume Sakmongkol AK47, he asked why the RMAF did not do anything. “Where were our 18 Sukhois, our MIG and all that?”

He pointed out: “I read a report from the Indian Military saying that, typically if an unidentified plane intrudes into Indian airspace, the response would be an immediate scramble of its fighter jets to intercept. That is how we confirm whether the object is hostile or not – not by waiting for people in the flying object to say – hello, general, we are evil people with evil intentions.

“Now in Malaysia’s case, the intrusion was taken lightly or in the worst case of possibilities, our fighter jets were not on standby 24/7. That would have important ramifications on our nation’s security.”

That last point is scary.

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