Return to Transcripts main page

WOLF

Fight Route Possibly Changed By Someone Inside Cockpit; Malaysia Under Fire for Handling of Flight 370 Investigation; Israel Issues New Rules for Foreign Flights; Putin Blasts World For Messing in Russia's Personal Business.

Aired March 18, 2014 - 13:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take a closer look at the news today that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight route may have been changed by someone inside the cockpit.

Our Martin Savidge is outside Toronto's main airport inside a flight simulator.

Martin, what does it take to reprogram a flight path from inside the cockpit where you are?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it does take a certain amount of expertise and knowledge. But it also can be done relatively simply.

Let me point out a new piece of avionics equipment for you here in the cockpit of the 777, the flight management system, or FMS. This is, basically, I guess you could say, for this explanation, a GPS, a very robust GPS. But it works kind of like one in your car. You would you pick out where you're headed, and you would enter that information. Now, with the flight 370, they went from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. All the waypoints, all the information the aircraft needs to do that would be loaded in before the plane takes off. However, once they're in the air, it is possible to reprogram, choose a different waypoint, head in another direction.

Mitchell Casado, the pilot, can demonstrate how easily.

MITCHELL CASADO, SIMULATOR PILOT: Martin, absolutely. Very easy. So this screen here, we have a potential -- this is our flight path. This triangle here, the apex of the triangle is us. To modify air path is very simple. All we do is enter the waypoint, or the destination where we want to go. And we enter into the computer. The computer then asks us if we want to verify that. And then we would go ahead and execute that. And, of course, the airplane would do that. So in this case, we can see the new path on our left side and you would see the airplane outside turn.

SAVIDGE: I don't know if you can see that, Wolf. But actually the aircraft now is beginning to respond to the input that it's just received. If you're a passenger back there, really, it's not like this is some sort of very strange maneuver or that you're suddenly reeling over on your side. The aircraft is doing it in very casual way. I mean, you wouldn't really think anything was wrong, even though now we know the plane is going very much off the course it had originally been programmed for.

BLITZER: Yeah. And is there -- you know, give us an explanation for some reason why the pilot or co pilot, might want to reprogram the flight path along those lines. There are legitimate reasons for doing it.

CASADO: Yeah, of course, there's legitimate reasons. I mean, weather. There's things that come up. Sick passengers who want to deviate or you want to divert an airport for help. All kinds of reasons. But, you know, regardless of the objective, the airplane, if you know how to use the computers, it's actually a very simple procedure physically. It's the back knowledge to that that's difficult to obtain. That would have to come from a professional, some sort of professional training to know how to do it.

SAVIDGE: And it's pretty common, on takeoffs, they will have to make a change like this, an adjustment. However, not so common at cruise altitude, which is where they were at?

CASADO: That's right. It's a little less common in cruise, although it does happen from time to time, like I'm saying, with the weather. But definitely every flight -- commercial flight taking off and landing, they're deviating from their original flight plan, that is getting vectors for a more efficient approach to the airport.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. Good explanation. We'll check back with you, obviously, throughout the day.

Malaysia has come under fire for its handling of the missing plane investigation. Up next, a former FBI agent and an aviation attorney give their assessment and we'll talk about the legal recourse that the families might have.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Malaysian officials have been criticized for the way they have handled the disappearance of flight 370. Information has been confusing, often contradictory, from one day to the next. But keep this mind, this is one of the most baffling aviation mysteries we have ever seen.

Joining us now to talk a little bit more about it, the aviation attorney, Steven Marks. He has handled the legal investigations of plane crashes dating back to 199. Also joining us, the former FBI agent, Foria Younis. She's CEO of South Asia Middle East Consultants.

Thanks very much for coming in.

Steven, let me ask you, what do you think of Malaysia's handling of this investigation? How do you think they're doing? STEVEN MARKS, AVIATION ATTORNEY: Well, I think they're doing a very poor job. Transparency is critical to the families. The roller coaster of emotions with the misinformation, first, that the transponder was turned off. All we know was the transponder stopped working. We don't know if it was intentionally turned off. We also don't know, because they haven't released any raw data, whether or not the ACARS messages did continue, when they stopped, whether it was before or after the radio communications. And most importantly, these radar blips and the unofficial reports by the military that the aircraft was sited was all inconsistent.

If they knew this after the accident, why did they allow all the search and rescue assets to be located and wasting all that money and time in an area that the aircraft was known not to be.

I don't think it's that complicated, although everything needs to be considered. It's terrible for the families.

BLITZER: Certainly is.

And, Foria, you're a former FBI agent. You've trained Malaysian law enforcement authorities. Is there a cultural problem here? Or is it just, you know, they're not, you know, evil or anything like that. Maybe they're just not experienced in dealing with an investigation along these lines.

FORIA YOUNIS, SOUTH ASIA MIDDLE EAST CONSULTANTS & FORMER FBI AGENT: Yep. And I don't think it's much to do with culture. I think what it is, is not having the same amount of crashes we have had in the U.S. They probably haven't had anything big, catastrophic like this happen. So I don't think it's culture. I think it's more that it takes a lot of experience to know what to do when a big thing like this happens. I think it's -- you know, you can practice and theorize all you want. But until you have experienced some of these issues, such as crashes or terrorism attacks, it's almost like going into it for the first time.

BLITZER: I know they're proud people. I know they're sovereign rights and all of this. But would it be smart for them to hand over the main responsibility to Australia or even the U.S., who have a lot more experience in dealing with an investigation along these lines?

YOUNIS: Well, they'll have to make an assessment whether or not they have the ability or the confidence to go forward in this investigation. They are very intelligent people. I'm sure they have a lot of country pride like we do. But they'll have to make a decision. It's not unknown or not uncommon for countries to turn over investigations. So when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan, they turned over the investigation. That has been done before, but I'm sure they might do a teaming effort. There are other things they can do if they feel like they need extra help with the investigation.

BLITZER: You know, Steven, you're an aviation attorney. Let's talk about the families. They have been going through agony, as all of us know, right now. 239 people were on board that aircraft. What kind of legal recourse do these folks have? MARKS: Well, they have legal recourse against the carrier, no matter what happens, because it's an international flight. And Montreal convention, an international treaty, will govern the air carriage for almost everybody. If there was a third party such as a manufacturer, which I still believe, like I said before, is not as complicated as everybody is making it, from -- assuming there was a catastrophic failure. That would explain a lot of things. But even if there wasn't, the recourse is still against the carrier, because automatic liability. The difficulty under the convention is what law is going to apply and how to get the victims fair compensation in the best and fairest form possible.

BLITZER: That's not going to be easy, I'm sure.

Foria, you think this was terrorism? Was it commandeering, some criminal act, pilot suicide, mechanical failure? You've studied this now for almost two weeks.

YOUNIS: Yes, I've been looking into it just as much as you have. What it looks like to me, right now, as an investigator -- and I can comment as an investigator -- it doesn't seem to be any nexus to terrorism. But airport security and knowing what employees and what access control you have at airports is very important to prevent something like this from happening.

It does appear to me, Wolf, that somebody, either they watched the Air France missing plane back in 2009, somebody out there might have enjoyed the fact that this plane was missing for five days. Could be a copycat type of thing where someone was thinking about making a plane go missing and enjoying what would happen afterwards.

So I don't see any nexus to terrorism. The different agencies have -- would have immediately started to look into that through cell phone connections, Internet connections and all of that. None of that has come up. If it was a hijacking, we would have seen some indications of where the plane is now, some demand. So since we don't have that, all we can keep doing is go back and keep looking at the people that are involved and taking a closer look at that.

BLITZER: Good point.

All right, Foria Younis, Steven Marks, thanks very much.

Up next, more on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. And a move now by Israel tied to the disappearance, cutting off possible threats with new rules for foreign flights anywhere near Israel. We're going to go live to Jerusalem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As the search goes on in the Indian Ocean for Malaysia Airlines flight 370, Israel is preparing for the possibility of a repeat.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us live from Jerusalem now. What's the theory there? What are officials in Israel doing about this, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this afternoon, we spent time at Israel's Aviation Security Operations Center. This works in parallel, in partnership with air traffic control. They are on a heightened state of alert. They have tightened up, if you will, their procedures, their checks. They're more rigorous. They're more thorough.

What are they doing? They have a multilayered approach they describe as sort of data-mining on a matrix of information about security at different airports, about passenger lists, about air crew, about every piece of information they can have about the plane, where it comes from, who might have -- who might be on board. And that goes all the way down to when their pilots are trying to enter Israeli air space and making the requests. We heard those pilots requesting to come into Israeli air space today, to land at the international airport. So Israel is taking much tighter control of identifying aircraft from a further distance.

The checks they have in place, Wolf, they're using on these aircraft, and the airports their coming from are sometimes days in advance of the aircraft actually taking off. And this is a sign of how seriously they are addressing the situation in sort of post-MH-370 disappearance -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Nic, hold on for a moment.

Tom Fuentes, former assistant FBI director, our law enforcement analyst; and Peter Goelz, a former NTSB managing director.

Quick thought. The Israelis have incredibly tight air defense systems to begin with. And for them to ratchet it up even more now says to you?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST & FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Well, they have to worry, Wolf, about the thousands of aircraft take off every day in Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East. That could easily change course and crash into Israel. So the threat they're facing is from thousands of aircraft, dozens of airlines, which then multiply out the number of people on those aircraft. So obviously, the threat is bad for them.

BLITZER: What do you think about this Israeli decision to ratchet up their air defense?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Sure. I think it makes sense for them. Because, you know, they have been a constant target of terrorism, and they are going to continue to be. So I think it's a wise decision.

BLITZER: And, Nic, let me go back to you.

I guess the big fear the Israelis might have, and correct me if I am wrong, this plane, this missing plane, may have landed someplace. It could be refueled and then used as a missile to hit one of the high towers in Tel Aviv or something along those lines. I assume that's what they're worried about.

ROBERTSON: They're worried about that but they're also worried about the implication of what this means. And I was talking to an aviation expert that has been in the business for more than 25 years. He helped design this sort of threat matrix assessment, which even looks at the number of people that are actually cleaning, mechanically working on the planes before they even leave the airports to fly towards Israel. He has a very worrying assessment. He says, look, in the past, we were looking and scouring the passenger manifest. We thought the passengers were the threat. Post-9/11, we thought the aircraft were the threat. He says, what he's concerned about now is that the last ring of trust, as he calls it, may be broken, and that is the air crews.

What he is concerned about now is the level of checks that the different airlines are making on their air crews. Some pilots, he says, passed those checks 25 years ago. They need to be more rigorous. He said there are 70 airlines every day trying to fly into Israel, 70 different carriers trying to come into Israel. He wants to know that those airlines are doing better and more routine checks on their air crew. This is his concern going forward. He points to the Ethiopian Airlines jet that the co-pilot hit the hijack button, flew the plane to Geneva, flew it in circles before landing safely. A Mozambique flight a couple of months ago where the pilot ultimately crashed the aircraft. These are his concerns. It's the air crew now that are on the radar now here -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Very quickly, Tom, you have a thought?

FUENTES: That ring of trust should have been broken in 1999 when the co-pilot of an Egypt Air flight crashed his plane deliberately into the Atlantic Ocean. So this phenomenon that a pilot could crash his own plane or hijack his own plane or fly somewhere else and ask for asylum, that's nothing new. That just didn't arise with this Malaysia flight.

BLITZER: A lot to worry about.

Guys, thanks very much.

We'll have much more on the missing plane coming up as our continuing coverage unfolds.

Also, Vladimir Putin comes out swinging today, blasting the world for messing in Russia's personal business. We'll have more on the crisis in Ukraine coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to get back to the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane in just a few moments.

First, there's other news out of Russia today. Vladimir Putin signed the treaty, making Crimea part of the Russian Federation. Over the weekend, voters in Crimea chose to be part of Russia. Afterwards, the United States, the European Union, a whole bunch of other countries started leveling new sanctions, protests against Russia.

President Putin alluded to those sanctions during his speech to his parliament this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translation): As far as Ukraine is concerned, our partners have crossed a line. This is unprofessional and unacceptable.

(APPLAUSE)

PUTIN: Russia, an independent country, part of the international community thereof. National interests that we need to be taken into account and respected.

(APPLAUSE)

PUTIN: We do not want to divide Ukraine. We do not need that, as far as Crimea is concerned. Crimea was and remains Russian.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He got lots of applause for saying that.

Putin, after his speech, the White House announced President Obama will meet next week with G7 members to discuss the Ukraine. That's the G8 without Russia.

Let's talk about what is going on. Joining us is Peter Beinart, a contributing editor at the "Atlantic" and the "National Journal."

So what do you make? I guess Crimea according to Putin is now part of Russia, but is that it? Is he going to stop with Crimea or continue to try to take other parts of Ukraine?

PETER BEINART, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, ATLANTIC & NATIONAL JOURNAL: Well, I think the conventional wisdom would be that sending your forces into eastern Ukraine would be a bad idea. You -- it will be very much harder to control. It's a much more open area. You really would need military resistance.

Also it's an economic basket case. Let's say you do manage to control it, you'll have a lot of economic problems.

I think that what he's still doing is putting pressure on the government in Kiev. I think one of the things that's really significant about that speech is he said this is not a legitimate government, which is to me code for saying I'm going to either try to bring this government down, or try to bring it to its knees and force it to become more Russian. I think that might be the next move.

BLITZER: The U.S. and the European Union, they opposed some sanctions, a couple dozen Russians and Crimeans, if you will. And now the Russians presumably are going to retaliate by imposing some sanctions on U.S., Senate members, or whatever. That doesn't sound like a big deal to me, but what's your analysis?

BEINART: I think Vladimir Putin is loving that. This is a guy who said that the Soviet Union's collapse was the greatest tragedy of his life, virtually. So now he gets to look like he's going toe-to-toe with the other superpower, with the United States. You have sanctions on us. We have sanctions on you. He's a dominant figure on the international stage. He's very popular at home. I think, in many ways, this is really what he's always wanted.

BLITZER: So if the U.S. imposes sanctions, travel restrictions or whatever on leading members of the Russian parliament or some senior foreign policy advisers, they do the same thing to, what, Dick Durbin, Senator from Illinois, or John McCain, and that's going to be that? Is that where this is going?

BEINART: Well, I think unless he goes further. The question is what are the additional events that take place? If it's just Crimea, I think Robert Gates is sadly probably right. Crimea is lost. The question I think is, we are holding sanctions in reserve as a way of having something to hold over his head to try to keep him from further destabilizing the rest of Ukraine.

BLITZER: This is a big issue right now. It looks like the tension between the U.S. and Russia is about as bad as it's been since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

BEINART: Right. It has big implications on whether it is possible to do a deal on Syria ever and that gas tragedy. Because we would need Russia to put some pressure on Bashar Assad to make some kind of agreement. It may have implications for the Russians' relationship with Iran, which could make our efforts at cutting a diplomatic deal much harder. So it's a problem, because we have these terrible relations with Russia, understandably now, but we also still need to do business with Russia.

BLITZER: The thought is the U.S. and the rest of the Europeans basically came to terms with Russia occupying parts of Georgia, an independent sovereign former republic of the Soviet Union. The Russians are still in control of parts of Georgia, and the world got used to that. Now will the world get used to the Russians occupying Crimea?

BEINART: I think sadly the world will get used to that. Even the Ukrainian government is going to get used to that. And it's going to be difficult because they still have these soldiers, who are still sitting there in Crimea, who they are going to presumably have to evacuate at some point, which will be very humiliating to them.

BLITZER: Peter Beinart, thanks very much for joining us on this story.

BEINART: You're welcome.

BLITZER: That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern, a special two-hour "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM right now starts with Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer, as always, thank you.