Earl Tilford

The seemingly ambiguous attitude of the Malaysian officials may result from their desire to distance themselves from the U.S., since Malaysia is a Muslim nation and Islamist perfidy may be involved. They also might recall how Washington deserted South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in 1975 and is currently bailing on Iraq and Afghanistan and might not want to get burned by seeming to cooperate too closely with the United States.

It is likely U.S. intelligence quickly figured the missing plane was hijacked. When the search off the coast of Thailand and Vietnam proved futile, a story appeared that Malay military radar detected a change in MA 370’s direction. Then, when Chinese intelligence offered a photo of something floating off the Vietnamese coast, suddenly a new story revealed that engine monitors continued functioning for hours after MA370 turned sharply west.

By now the National Reconnaissance Office should have tasked its assets to survey areas within a 7,000-mile radius from where the plane diverted course. Super computers should be able to compile a list of airfields in secluded areas that have been recently refurbished to include a building large enough to conceal a Boeing 777. Also, a long runway would be needed—one 10,000 feet long if this plane is going to take off.

If MA 370 isn’t at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, then who took it? Leading suspects capable of such an operation include al-Qaeda, Iran’s Quds Force, and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. Each would have different motivations and plans for what to do with the plane. Reaching mainland America would be a stretch, but cities in Western Europe, or targets in Guam or Hawaii could be possible. Al-Qaeda might convert the plane into a flying bomb to hit any number of targets: the U.S. base in Diego Garcia; Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan; or, a target in the Persian Gulf. A strike on Pearl Harbor would grab the kind of press coverage al-Qaeda craves and Israel would be high on Iran’s list.

If this was a hijacking, time is critical. The terrorists know they must strike before U.S. Special Forces respond or before potential targets from Honolulu to Tel Aviv are alerted making it more difficult for a large airliner chocked full of explosives to reach its target.

Ten days into this mystery it is clearer than ever: It is time to let U.S. intelligence do its thing.

Earl Tilford

Earl Tilford is a retired Air Force officer and college professor who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of several books on the air war in Vietnam. His latest book, Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s has been accepted for publication by the University of Alabama Press.