Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: The mystery over Flight 370 darkens

FP’s Situation Report: The mystery over Flight 370 darkens

New questions about foul play aboard Flight 370 emerge.  Reuters’ Niluksi Koswanage and Siva Govindasamy, this morning with an exclusive: "Military radar data suggests a Malaysia Airlines jetliner missing for nearly a week was deliberately flown hundreds of miles off course, heightening suspicions of foul play among investigators, sources told Reuters on Friday. Analysis of the Malaysia data suggests the plane, with 239 people on board, diverted from its intended northeast route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew west instead, using airline flight corridors normally employed for routes to the Middle East and Europe, said sources familiar with investigations into the Boeing 777’s disappearance. Two sources said an unidentified aircraft that investigators believe was Flight MH370 was following a route between navigational waypoints when it was last plotted on military radar off the country’s northwest coast. This indicates that it was either being flown by the pilots or someone with knowledge of those waypoints, the sources said… A third source familiar with the investigation said inquiries were focusing increasingly on the theory that someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight. ‘What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards," said that source, a senior Malaysian police official.’" More here.

ABC’s Martha Raddatz, David Kerley and Josh Margolin: "Two U.S. officials tell ABC News the U.S. believes that the shutdown of two communication systems happened separately on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. One source said this indicates the plane did not come out of the sky because of a catastrophic failure. The data reporting system, they believe, was shut down at 1:07 a.m. The transponder — which transmits location and altitude — shut down at 1:21 a.m. This indicates it may well have been a deliberate act, ABC News aviation consultant John Nance said. U.S. investigators told ABC News that the two modes of communication were ‘systematically shut down.’ That means the U.S. team ‘is convinced that there was manual intervention,’ a source said, which means it was likely not an accident or catastrophic malfunction that took the plane out of the sky." More here.

Here’s another question when it comes to Flight 370: who pays? FP’s Dana Stuster: "The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, but it’s only a matter of time before the families of the lost passengers begin to ask a pair of questions: How much money will they receive for the losses of their loved ones, and who will pay? They are questions that don’t necessarily need to wait for the plane to be found to be answered. As it turns out, there’s an international treaty for every occasion. In this case, it’s the 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, which entered into force in 2003 and standardizes the rights of passengers on international flights… In some instances the airline will not even wait until the wreckage is found to start discussing payments — that was the case when Air France began dispersing money to the family of each passenger aboard a flight that went down off the coast of Brazil in June 2009 just days after it disappeared.

Said Mike Danko, an aviation attorney: "The question is how much." More here.

Chilling: The last words of whomever was flying Flight 370, heard before the plane went silent was: "All right, good night." More here.

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Giving diplomacy a chance: Kerry in London to meet with Lavrov over Ukraine. The NYT’s Michael Gordon: "Secretary of State John Kerry held talks on Friday with his Russian counterpart in an 11th-hour bid to ease the escalating crisis over the Kremlin’s intervention in Crimea. Western officials say they believe there is little chance of delaying the referendum that is to be held in Crimea on Sunday to decide if the peninsula should rejoin Russia. But they say that there may yet be an opportunity to negotiate a political resolution if Russia will refrain from taking the next step of formally annexing Crimea. ‘We are going to give diplomacy every chance,’ a senior State Department official said, referring to Mr. Kerry’s meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia. ‘What we would like to see is a commitment to stop putting new facts on the ground and a commitment to engage seriously on ways to de-escalate the conflict.’" More here.

Russian troops have begun to gather at the Ukraine border. The NYT’s Steven Lee Myers in Moscow and Alison Smale in Berlin on Page One: "With a referendum on secession looming in Crimea, Russia massed troops and armored vehicles in at least three regions along Ukraine’s eastern border on Thursday, alarming the interim Ukraine government about a possible invasion and significantly escalating tensions in the crisis between the Kremlin and the West. The announcement of the troop buildup by Russia’s Defense Ministry was met with an unusually sharp rebuke from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who warned that the Russian government must abandon what she called the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries or face diplomatic and economic retaliation from a united Europe." More here.

Not so fast: Ukraine wants weapons but the U.S. provides rations instead. The WSJ’s Adam Entous on Page One: "Ukraine’s interim government has appealed for U.S. military aid, including arms, ammunition and intelligence support, according to senior U.S. officials. But the Obama administration has agreed to send only military rations for now, wary of inflaming tensions with Russia. The U.S. decision reflects the Pentagon’s reluctance to be seen as directly supporting Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces during the standoff with Russia, which has seized the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The risk of escalation was underscored by Russia’s move on Thursday to conduct another military exercise near Ukraine. The Kremlin also confirmed it has sent six Sukhoi fighter jets and three transport planes to another former Soviet republic, Belarus, for joint patrols.

A senior U.S. official said of Ukraine’s request for lethal military support to the WSJ: "It’s not a forever ‘no,’ it’s a ‘no for now.’"

John McCain, critical of the administration’s response and traveling to Ukraine today: "We shouldn’t be imposing arms embargoes on victims of aggression." Read the rest of the WSJ story here.

How making Russia the enemy in the fight against criminal finance could be costly. FP’s Jamila Trindle: "…The West has powerful tools at its disposal for use against Russia, including potentially levying sanctions against certain Russian banks and companies. That would be a huge, and dangerous, gamble. Russia has promised to retaliate for any Western sanctions, perhaps by seizing the assets of American firms operating in Russia. The bigger risk, though, is that Russia could do everything in its power to prevent the United States and its allies from using the global financial system to combat other foes." More here.

What does the crisis in Crimea mean for U.S.-Russian cooperation over cybersecurity issues? Good question. Inside Cybersecurity’s Chris Castelli: "The turmoil in Ukraine has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the next chapter of U.S.-Russian cybersecurity talks, which last year led to the creation of a White House-Kremlin cybersecurity crisis hotline — thus far, never used, according to U.S. officials. White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel told Inside Cybersecurity in a brief interview that the Ukrainian crisis had complicated bilateral relations on cybersecurity and other issues… "At this point in time, it is premature to tell how the crisis might affect our efforts to cooperate with the Russia Federation on cybersecurity," a State Department spokesman said." More here.

Situation Report corrects ­- Our item yesterday about the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s uncanny resemblance to a White House speechwriter, as told to us by a friend of Situation Report, contained an error. We were told Yatsenyuk looks like speechwriter Andrew Krupin, but Stephen Krupin is the one he looks like. Apologies for the mistake.

The Pentagon goes really green. Those headed into the Pentagon briefing room will have a new experience: a stop beforehand in the Pentagon’s new "green room" – that anteroom where briefers, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, pause before they go out before reporters and cameras. It’s where briefers review their notes, sip a glass of water, pop a mint, or straighten their ties. But until recently, the green room was a green room in name only. A month or so ago, it was painted an un-ignorable shade of Kelly green. Col. Steve Warren, who heads the Pentagon’s press office, decided it was time the green room lived up to its name. He had it repainted from "Scuffed-up White," had some chair rail put up, and repurposed a few pieces of Pentagon furniture to pull it all together. Some think it might be a little too green. But Warren likes it and knows no one will forget what room they’re in now. He also knows there are more important things to worry about. But, as he told Situation Report, "this is the Pentagon," and things should look right. Then Warren added by e-mail: "The most important thing to me is having a soldier who can qualify expert on their assigned weapon, max the PT test and perform all combat skills at or above the established standard.  After that I want a sharp haircut and spit shined shoes.  The green room is shiny shoes."

It’s official: State has a new Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. It’s Puneet Talwar, who was confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote yesterday. From an official at State: "We in the PM bureau are thrilled to have Assistant Secretary Talwar taking the helm, as the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs moves forward in its mission to integrate diplomacy and defense, and forge strong international partnerships to meet shared security challenges."

Blowing up: Dunford talks about disposing military vehicles in Afghanistan. Military Times’ Rich Sisk: "U.S. troops are likely to spend part of their remaining time in Afghanistan blowing up thousands of their own vehicles, the top commander said Thursday. The U.S. has been looking to sell about 4,000 worn out or damaged vehicles – MRAPs, Humvees, medium trucks and others – to allies, but so far there has been little interest, said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of the coalition and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. Dunford posed his own question: ‘What do I do’ with that vehicle that has been ruled ‘in excess’ of the needs of the U.S. military? Dunford’s solution: ‘Either it’s going to go to some other country or it’s going to be destroyed in Afghanistan.’" Read the rest here.

What the Pentagon’s budget crunch means for anti-drug efforts: more drugs, less effort. The WaPo’s Ernesto Londono: "Dwindling defense budgets have been a boon to drug trafficking networks in Latin America as U.S. intelligence and interdiction assets in the Caribbean have been pared down, the top American commander responsible for the region said Thursday. ‘Because of asset shortfalls, we’re unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling,’ Marine Gen. John F. Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing about threats and military posture in the Western Hemisphere. ‘I simply sit and watch it go by.’" More here.