MH370 Southern Indian Ocean search grids. (Source: Wikipedia)

With the fifth anniversary of Malaysia Airlines flight 370’s vanishing upon us in March, this long-delayed edition of the True Lies newsletter aims to refresh our collective memories. Despite writing conspiracy espionage novels full-time, I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist. (I know, I know . . . bear with me.) There are many more popular conspiracies I don’t believe in than those I do. I don’t claim to know what happened to MH370, either. But the wall of silence surrounding this plane’s disappearance mutely screams coverup.

The rational explanations fall short of the mark

Trying to apply a rational framework, perhaps some combination of the following three factors explain why MH370 hasn’t been heard from since Saturday night, 8 March 2014 over Vietnam:

Billions in lawsuits: Several parties (e.g. Malaysia Airlines, Boeing, the giant insurance companies and Malaysia’s government) are terrified of multi-billion dollar legal liabilities and have put the clamps on the investigation. I can see the US going along because Malaysia is an ally in Southeast Asia (and a good one to have as China muscles into Indochina and the former Raj), while Boeing is a national champion. But that still leaves the generally law abiding Australians and even the French as two governments who should be more interested in finding out what happened. And what about China? On the face of it, the families of China’s one-hundred-fifty passengers should be suing the bejeebers out of everyone and anyone . . . except China. So this core group is missing several big players. Money matters alone can’t explain the situation.

US intel gathering secrets: The US doesn’t want to reveal what it does (and doesn’t) track militarily in the region. This would be understandable if something tricky was involved, but we’re not asking for launch telemetries for intercontinental ballistic missiles inbound over the pole . . . we’re looking for radar tracks that should be available from at least three civil aviation organizations (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand) and possibly two others (Vietnam and Singapore). Certainly China would be expected to play the “concern about fate of missing citizens” card as hard as it could as a way of finding out as much as possible about America’s long range surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean.

Something to hide: There was something on the plane (i.e., people or cargo), or something about the way in which the plane was hijacked (e.g. identities of the hijackers, failure of security/anti-hijack measures, degree of interference with GPS communications) or something to do with how the plane crashed (e.g. shot down, landed somewhere undisclosed) that led all the countries involved to decide a Boeing 777 airliner designated 9M-MRO was better off left on the seabed rather than salvaged and scrutinized by air crash investigators.

Again, I’m not asserting that any of the above happened (though if you read Sea of Lies and Pack of Lies, you’ll find plenty of suggestions in fictional form). What I am saying is that there’s a coverup. Even if everyone involved in the multiple search efforts costing a cumulative US$250 million acted honestly—and they may well have done so—there’s still an inexplicable lack of information sharing that rings alarm bells. After five years, I’d expect leaks of some sort if there’s something nefarious underway. Let’s hope this happens, because the families of those onboard deserve better than a collective raised middle finger.

Sidebar: The True Lies newsletter and Countless Lies series are back in action

I’m in Singapore preparing for the launch of End of Lies. Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and a right wing deep state attempted overthrow of the government are the twin focuses of the third instalment of the Countless Lies series. The book will be published on March 18: you can pre-order a Kindle version on Amazon for $0.99 at Pre-order EOL as well as from Kobo, iBooks, and most other eBook retailers. Earlier in March, you’ll be able to order the paperback for $12. Fans of the Countless Lies series and Bob Nolan’s cast of co-conspirators and adversaries can email me at author@bradleywest.net for a free final draft copy of End of Lies in the hope you’ll leave a book review on Amazon or Goodreads. More on EOL another time.

As January winds down, wishing your families health as we await the Year of the Boar starting 5 February. My wife and I are both pigs, so a pair of hearty oinks your way!

Bradley West, Singapore, 29 January 2019

Back to MH370: Unanswered questions abound

Here’s a shortlist of the most vexing issues I have with MH370’s disappearance and subsequent events.

MH370’s fate is considered a Malaysia state secret. Even though Malaysia citizens re-elected Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister in May 2018, neither the PM nor his heir apparent Anwar Ibrahim have yet to declassify either of the following:

The complete cargo manifest: There were 2232kg of cargo listed as “radio accessories and chargers” plus 221kg of lithium batteries in the cargo hold. MAS denied that there were lithium batteries on board for two weeks after the flight disappeared. On 1 May 2014, the airline finally released a partial cargo manifest after weeks of delays which raised suspicions. MAS has never provided detail in respect of what the radio accessories and chargers actually were and their owners.

There were also four crates of mangosteens, a tropical fruit. The total mangosteen weight was between 3000-4000kg. Nine thousand pounds of fruit creates a lot of leeway for concealing contraband.

The FBI’s conclusions in respect of the pilot’s state of mind. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (“ZAS”) was fifty-three, married (but separated) with children and experiencing a tough time with his girlfriend. He may also have been upset at his friend and (then-) opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim’s renewed jail sentence. MH370’s flight path shows a small irregularity near the island of Penang consistent with a sightseeing (from altitude) jog. ZAS’s home town was Penang, leading several observers to posit that the pilot was taking a last (goodbye) look.

Tellingly, ZAS’s social calendar had zero entries after 8 March 2014. As of late March just weeks into the investigation, the FBI’s strongest theory was that ZAS committed mass murder and suicide (source: private conversation between BW and a Malaysia employee of an involved party), but this was never publicly stated.

Previously, the press made a meal out of ZAS’s home simulator and the practice routes flown into the Southern Indian Ocean. I have read experts’ interpretations which note that there were hundreds of routes (many deleted) on the simulator and none of the routes flown approximated the actual path of the plane that night. I’m not saying that the simulator evidence is irrelevant, but it’s inconclusive. However, that doesn’t explain why the FBI took possession of the simulator and hasn’t allowed third party access to its contents.

When Dr. Mahathir was out of predecessor Najib Razak’s government, he had his own theory about what happened. He said, “Clearly Boeing and certain agencies have the capacity to take over uninterruptible control of commercial airliners of which MH370 B777 is one”. (This is in reference to Boeing’s Flight Management System incorporating a patented uninterruptible autopilot feature.)

The flaperon was sheared off due to lateral stress: how did that happen?

Jeff Wise has been one of the longest-serving investigators of MH370’s disappearance. His website www.jeffwise.net has dozens of entries in the “Aviation” section, every one of them thought provoking. (See below for a description of his latest from December 2018.) Wise’s mid-2017 entry summarizes the findings of two independent experts who examined the flaperon. Each man concluded that the flaperon didn’t break off the wing when 9M-MRO dove into the sea, and it didn’t fly off the B777’s wing from uncontrolled fluttering while in flight, either. An enormous lateral force would be required to rip the flaperon off by the hinges, yet the flat surfaces designed to provide lift were almost intact. The analogy used was that of a wooden door and metal hinges: under all but a few circumstances, any action taken to open a locked door would do more damage the to the surface (i.e., the wood) than the inherently stronger hinges. It’s not a technical read and worth a look: How did the MH370 flaperon come off?

Flaperon hinge tears ,top and bottom, 2015 August (Source: www.jeffwise.net)

The barnacles on the flaperon are wrong on two counts, yet why hasn’t anyone yelled bloody murder? While we’re on the subject of the flaperon, there are also major problems with the barnacles found growing on the flaperon when it was discovered on Réunion Island in 30 July 2015. For one thing, the univalve species attached to the flaperon doesn’t live in water temperatures consistent with where MH370 is believed to have crashed: instead of 35 degrees south, goose barnacles like water temperatures near the equator, three thousand-miles to the north. For another, the flaperon floats yet there were barnacles all over it. Since barnacles don’t grow on exposed surfaces above the waterline, and the MH370 flaperon was covered with them, then the flaperon must have been underwater for a lengthy period. That means it would have had to have sank . . . yet the drift models that scientists used to show the flaperon could have crossed most of the Indian Ocean in the elapsed time since the presumed crash require that the flaperon be floating high in the water and its drift rate aided by prevailing winds.

So there you have it: either the flaperon was submerged and the barnacles attached themselves all over, or it floated and “sail effects” allowed it cross the Indian Ocean double time. But not likely to be both at the same time . . . plus that water temperature discrepancy. Barnacle sleuths can take a look at True Lies posts from August 2016 MH370 update chasing our tails and August 2015’s MH370 Flaperon found on Réunion Island.

Considered together, the conspiratorial minded among us could conjecture that someone use a mechanical process to rip the flaperon out of the wing (presumably with the plane on dry land), then tethered the submerged flaperon in salt water to attract mollusks (not knowing that the species would indicate water temperatures later), and then planted it on or near to Réunion’s shore.

Flaperon showing barnacle growth, 2015 August. (Source: Reuters.)

Why are the official investigators so tight-lipped? The Australian Transportation Safety Board (“ATSB”) published the initial reports on the MH370 crash before the 30 June 2018 1500-page magnum opus from the Malaysians (see http://www.mh370.gov.my/en/).

At over two thousand pages in cumulative length, at first glance it seems far-fetched to claim that the authorities are holding out. But the public’s learned very little from the reports—and virtually nothing from the most recent Malaysia report—with vital information requested by volunteer scientists such as Victor Iannello (and others) of the Independent Group dating from early 2016 still left almost completely unaddressed: Eight questions on MH370.

The list of organizations that must know something more than what has been released to the public is longer than the ones which have said something: Boeing, Rolls Royce (engine manufacturer), Inmarsat (UK-based operator of a global satellite tracking network) and the French government (final flaperon report still pending and deemed secret) for starters.

But the elephants in the room are the United States and China. The US maintains a substantial military presence in Singapore, its biggest naval base south of Japan and east of the Arabian Gulf. It is inconceivable that the US government doesn’t have military radars tracking every flying object within hundreds of miles of my adopted home town. To do otherwise is to invite another 9-11 outcome, except this time with a nuclear aircraft carrier as the target. Add to this the sophisticated Indian Ocean listening array tracking submarine traffic and the world’s best early launch detection satellites monitoring China’s ballistic missiles in Yunnan province (north of Burma), and you have data in triplicate. Yet none of this has ever been revealed and the final flight path of MH370 remains a mystery.

China is the dog that didn’t bark in the Sherlock Holmes story. After an initial flurry of press releases and protests lasting only a few days, China has never again asked in public what happened to its missing one hundred-fifty passport holders. It’s as if someone in China’s military or intelligence community had a quiet word with the bureaucrats and told them to drop it.

Could Jeff Wise be right after all? I’ve not met Jeff Wise, but I’ve read his blogs, we’ve corresponded and advertised Sea of Lies and Pack of Lies on his website. BUT I’ve never subscribed to Wise’s theory that the satellite signals that allegedly placed MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean were falsified—“spoofed”—by hacker-hijackers.

In 2015 Wise published The Plane that Wasn’t There: Why We Haven’t Found Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which hypothesized that the hijacked plane flew north rather than south. MH370 landed in Kazakhstan and then was hidden in the giant hangar that used to house the Soviet Union’s space exploration vehicles. It seemed more the stuff of the tin hat, X-Files brigade than fact.

After an absence of nearly a year, this week I visited Wise’s website to see what his latest thoughts were. He has a post from December 2018 that cites a critical radio signal that emanated from MH370 after all its other communication systems had gone dead—disabled by a homicidal/suicidal captain, most people think/thought. It’s an argument that rests on contentious technical interpretations, but it’s made more powerful by fifty-eight months of searching and still no plane. Take a look at Jeff Wise on the MH370 phony miracle 2018 Dec.


What makes this all the more interesting, however, is that in an earlier blog entry on his site (http://jeffwise.net/2018/10/31/french-mh370-investigators-eye-spoof-scenario/) he quotes from a press conference given by a Mr. Ghyslain Wattrelos (see below) in October 2018 in which Mr. Wattrelos states that France’s investigation is now examining whether the Inmarsat data could have been spoofed (falsified). If so, then we can throw out the last half-decade’s research and start from a clean sheet. Damn.

It’s not just an academic exercise: MH370 continues to consume lives

Geoffrey de Drouas and I met in 1983 when I was new in Singapore and Geoffrey worked for Cartier in Hong Kong. We stayed in touch over the ensuing thirty-five years, and for more than a decade Geoffrey has called Kuala Lumpur home. Location plus an inquisitive mind makes Geoffrey the most frequent commentator on the True Lies blog.

My French friend alerted me in late 2018 to a video (in French) on the May 31, 2009 disappearance off Brazil’s coast of Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris. (French speakers should see https://youtu.be/kXMsmPQKaps). Geoffrey was sufficiently inspired that he next tuned into the companion piece on MH 370. (See https://youtu.be/wQWwy6NNbvo, also in French.) Mr. Ghyslain Wattrelos lost his wife and two teenage children on MH370 and conducted his own investigation. In 2018 he published his findings in Vol MH370. Une vie détournée. It’s available in French on Amazon. (If you’re like me, anything in French is largely unintelligible unless it comes in a bottle with “Bordeaux” or “Burgundy” on the label.)

Geoffrey took notes in English on the MH370 YouTube documentary. His email in late 2018 inspired me to summarize his highlights of Mr. Wattrelos’ investigation, plus add my own comments in this True Lies entry. Wattrelos concludes that MH 370 was highjacked. The pilot(s) and the hijacker(s) could have fought inside the cockpit until all parties were incapacitated. The aircraft continued its last route on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel over the Southern Indian Ocean. A botched hijacking is a plausible explanation, but if true I don’t see why this justifies a perpetual cone of silence surrounding the plane’s fate.

*  *  *  *  *

Maybe the investigators in France will confirm that falsifying the satellite data wouldn’t have been as unlikely as the other official authorities have stated, and then launch a new investigation which starts from a clean sheet and considers all possibilities . . . including a hijacked flight heading north (or west). Until then, we’re all still in the dark five years after. Who’d a thunk it?