THE LOSS OF FLIGHT MH370
So where does all this leave us?
While the facts and premises discussed earlier do not absolutely rule out any of the alternate scenarios, I believe they render them unlikely. Based on my experience, the most likely scenario for the disappearance of MH370 is a fire inside the aircraft.
The fuselage of an airliner like the Boeing 777 is a pressure-vessel. Think of a submarine, except that a submarine pushes out against heavy water pressure, and the airliner pressurizes itself to create a breathable atmosphere for the occupants. Both vehicles share a similar risk: Because they pressurize their atmospheres and contain oxygen in many different forms, they are extremely vulnerable to fire.
A fire in a submarine is usually immediately apparent because there are few (or no) hidden or unoccupied areas inside the pressure-vessel. An aircraft is entirely different. A fire on board frequently occurs dozens of feet to over 200 feet away from the pilots, in locations such as cargo holds, luggage compartments and electrical bays.
Most often, in fact, non-engine fires aboard aircraft—even small aircraft—initially manifest themselves by loss of systems or failure of components long before smoke is smelled or visible fire observed. A pilot will be presented with the unexplained failure of components in rapid succession without obvious cause as the fire burns through wiring and system components. This is referred to a ‘cascading’ loss of systems.
This was the situation I experienced in 1989 when the FBI aircraft I was flying caught fire, a fire which nearly caused the loss of the aircraft.
My first indication that there was a fire on board the aircraft was a high-pitched, piercing squeal in my headset. I neither smelled nor saw smoke at that moment. The second indication was a gauge indicating a dangerous electrical overcharge, which required immediate deactivation of the entire electrical system to avoid a potential explosion.
Closing two switches completely accomplished this deactivation, which resulted in (among other things) the total loss of radio communication and the deactivation of my transponder. (Closing down the electrical systems on a Boeing 777 would be exponentially more complicated, but easily accomplished by the two-pilot crew.) In my situation, engine function was not affected. At the time of my emergency, I was flying in loose formation with another FBI aircraft and had had only enough time to transmit, “I’m going off frequency,” before I shut the system down. One moment, my aircraft was fully operational and the next, it was silent. For several seconds, I attempted to diagnose and address the anomaly. I was unsuccessful, however, and fire visibly ignited behind my instrument panel and the cockpit began to fill with black smoke. My first instinct was to descend and turn toward the nearest airport.
This is very similar to the scenario presented by MH370. They went “silent” and all power to some aircraft systems, the ACARS system, ceased at 1:07 a.m. (Aircraft such as the 777 have multiple electric “busses” which means that large portions of the electrical system can be turned off without affecting other systems.) However, after the loss of electrical power, the aircraft continued to fly straight and level. That is consistent with the crew shutting off electrical systems as a result of an immediate onboard emergency, the nature of which was not clear to the crew initially. Uncommanded depressurization would not require a shutdown of the electrical system.
Significantly, the deviation from MH370’s intended course does not appear to be a random turn, it appears to be a turn toward the nearest suitable airport.
MH370 performed a maneuver very similar to a “procedure turn,” a course-reversal used to re-intercept and track an “airway” or approach course. “Airways” are just what they sound like; specific lanes in the sky that aircraft on instrument flight plans are required to use. All airline flights are instrument flights. When MH370 deviated from course, it executed what appeared to be a procedure turn and established itself on a course in the opposite direction on Airway B219. With electrical components shut down, this maneuver might have been flown by hand by either the pilot or first-officer.
That it was on that particular airway is not an insignificant finding. Following B219 would take MH370 directly over (or to) the nearest airport to the aircraft which would accommodate a fully-loaded Boeing 777—Penang, Malaysia. Penang is the third largest Malaysian airport by passenger volume, and boasts a runway over two miles long—more than enough for a 777.
Penang, a major Malaysian Airlines destination, would also be well known to the pilot of MH370, as he regularly flew in and out of Penang earlier in his Malaysian Airlines career.
During my inflight fire, my problem was identifying the source of the problem, isolating it, and restoring whatever power I could to the aircraft. This would also be the goal of the crew of MH370, reactivating systems one by one and attempting to isolate the cause of the problem. In my incident, I was unable to isolate the faulty component and the fire continued, so I immediately descended to land. Anywhere. My aircraft, however, was not pressurized, which would have fed the fire. It also allowed me to vent smoke from the aircraft.
AIRLINER INFLIGHT FIRES ARE NOT RARE
Fire in airliners, surprisingly, is not rare, but it is deadly.
Since 1980, 26 jet airliners have crashed with loss of life (usually total) due to inflight fire. Once an inflight fire is discovered, the aircraft usually must be on the ground within minutes to save the lives of the passengers and crew. In 1996, a DC-9 operating as “Valuejet 592” took off from Miami International Airport and experienced a fire in the forward cargo hold immediately after takeoff. The very experienced pilots declared an emergency and attempted to return to the airport. But within 9 minutes, fire had burned through the aircraft controls and the DC-9 dove into the ground, leaving no survivors.
Another haunting incident is the 1980 loss of Saudia Airlines flight 163, a fairly new Lockheed 1011 Jumbo Jet. This fire was apparently caused by a passenger cooking on a butane stove soon after takeoff. The crew attempted to return to the airport, but had less and less control of aircraft systems as the fire burned through components. They were able to land the aircraft safely, but fire had eliminated the crews’ ability to depressurize the aircraft, and though safely on the runway and rolling-out on the centerline, all passengers and crew died when they could not open the doors.
Other common causes of aircraft fires are faulty electrical components, hazardous cargo, or even arson.
In the case of MH370, a fire onboard would have been fed by the pressurization. If the crew did not depressurize the aircraft, it would only be a matter of time before the smoke incapacitated all occupants of the aircraft or burned through control cables/wiring/structures. Cabin oxygen masks would not automatically descend, because pressurization was still intact. The deployment of the oxygen masks would be hazardous in and of itself because they provide pure (highly flammable) oxygen (not ‘air’) into the cabin.
If and when the fire burned through the wall of the pressure vessel, the aircraft would then depressurize, and the lack of oxygen at 35,000 feet would put out the fire.
The crew of MH370, when presented with evidence of a fire on board, would have
· Shut down the electrical system, fully or partially
· Turned toward the nearest safe airport
· Communicated (if and when able)
The crew completed the first two imperatives, and I believe that it is very likely by the time they were able to restore some electrical power, they were unable to communicate due to fire damage or incapacitation.
The fact that they were apparently monitoring an emergency frequency; 121.5, and answered (albeit with mumbling) the call of a nearby aircraft, indicates that they had re-established some electrical function and were attempting to communicate, but were becoming incapacitated by some circumstance. Had that circumstance been depressurization, oxygen and fire/smoke masks were available to the crew, but again, they feed pure oxygen into the cabin. The pilots may have been reluctant to do so.
At 35,000 feet, without pressurization or oxygen, useful consciousness lasts only 30 seconds to 1 minute. If the aircraft had depressurized due to fire, it is possible that the crew were unable to cope with multiple “cascading” emergencies posed by a fire and depressurization.
That the aircraft flew nearly level for another 8 hours after it began tracking airway B219, could indicate a fire-compromised autopilot, able to keep an aircraft in relatively level flight but with limited control of altitude or course. It might also indicate that the autopilot had been told to proceed to a point, and that after reaching that point continued flying, awaiting further instructions.
The Boeing 777’s autopilot can hold a specific altitude, and it’s “auto-throttles” will maintain a specific power setting, and therefore speed. Various auto-throttles can be linked to airspeed, Mach number, or engine speed. Mach number is the aircraft’s speed in relation to the speed of sound, and that number can differ wildly from airspeed.
Airspeed is determined by air pressure within a forward-facing sensor called a “pitot tube.” The airspeed indicator extrapolates that pressure to a speed value. As the aircraft climbs, however, the atmosphere becomes thinner, and at a certain point airspeed no longer accurately reflects the speed of the aircraft over the ground.
For instance, I was once able to log some second-in-command time on an FBI Gulfstream V. At 43,000 feet, we were cruising at ‘Mach .87,’ that is, 87% of the speed of sound. The airspeed indicator, however, due to the absence of 90% of the earth’s atmosphere at 43,000 feet, read somewhere between 200 and 250 knots (230 – 280 miles per hour), when our groundspeed, corrected for wind, was approximately 500 miles per hour. Above a certain altitude, Mach number is the important number when managing speed.
The autopilot will “trim” the aircraft to a certain speed based on throttle setting. The 777’s auto-throttles were set to a certain economical cruising speed, based on engine speed. They would maintain that power setting as long as the engines had fuel.
Assume now that the aircraft was cruising at 35,000 feet at Mach .80, an economical cruise setting. The airspeed would be approximately 270 knots or 310 miles per hour. Even if the autopilot altitude hold was inoperative, the aircraft would be trimmed to maintain 310 mph. The wings don’t know how high off the ground they are. 310 miles per hour at sea level feels the same to the wings as Mach .80 at 30,000 feet. The trim settings would be almost the same, all other factors remaining the same.
It is a fact that a trimmed aircraft seeks to maintain its trimmed airspeed. All by itself. So if the power remained the same, it is possible that the aircraft would have continued to hold altitude at least to a point. As the aircraft flew into warmer air, the atmosphere would become less dense and the aircraft would tend to descend very gradually. Descending would cause the speed to increase, which would cause the aircraft to pitch up, based on its trim speed.
Similarly, if the aircraft encountered colder or denser air, the opposite would happen. It would tend to climb. Climbing would decrease airspeed and the aircraft would correct by nosing down. This grand, gentle roller-coaster action could explain its alleged altitude variations from 45,000 feet down to 23,000 feet.
Importantly, if an inflight fire occurred, the systems compromised might be completely random. For instance, depending on the location of such a fire, altitude hold on the aircraft could be compromised, while course and heading hold for the autopilot could be intact. Or, both could be intermittent. ACARs, as stated earlier, seemed to be operating normally throughout the flight, and this is a system which cannot be deactivated by the pilot short of removing electrical power to the aircraft.
[Reader Jim Howard correctly pointed out that the ACARS system on MH370 was not transmitting aircraft welfare information during this flight. It was, however, still in communication with the Inmarsat satellite throughout the flight, with the exception of at least two transient power interruptions.]
I believe the following is the most likely scenario for the disappearance of MH370:
· An inflight fire ignited below the passenger deck shortly after takeoff. This fire spread (unknown to the crew) as the aircraft climbed and pressurized.
· At approximately 1:07 a.m., the pilots became aware of a problem on the aircraft, either by cockpit indication or by system failure (buss failure). If not an outright failure, the crew might have been forced to isolate the offending electrical system, which likely included the communications and transponder buss. The crew would have to have recognized the problem as an imminent threat to the aircraft if they did not check-in with the next sector. I do not believe that their first indication of the fire was a report from the cabin; that would not have prevented a frequency check-in with the next sector—it would make it even more important to communicate.
· The crew, unable to communicate their plight, deviated from their approved flight plan, which indicates that the onboard incident was an imminent threat to the aircraft. They reversed course and established themselves on B219 which would bring them over Penang. They maintained their altitude, which would put them on a conflicting altitude (flights on easterly headings use odd-altitudes). But they may have believed that it was a clear altitude.
· Approximately 14 minutes later, ACARS reporting reinitiated, which is evidence that some electrical power was restored to the aircraft. This might indicate that pilots were trying to reestablish whatever electrical power to the aircraft that they could.
· Between that exact location and Penang, the crew was likely overcome by smoke and/or fire within the aircraft, which could have compromised the onboard emergency oxygen system.
· In fact, the onboard emergency oxygen system could theoretically be the cause of the fire. Emergency oxygen generation canisters in the cargo hold were the cause of the ValueJet crash. Lack of emergency oxygen would make it impossible for the crew to survive the smoke from an intense fire or depressurize the aircraft at 35,000. They may have been reluctant to descend without authorization through altitudes populated with other airliners, when they believed that they would be able to restore communications within a few seconds.
· The aircraft continued on course toward and past Penang.
· After Penang, the aircraft proceeded with no input from the crew, with some systems operational and some non-functional. Which were working and which were not, will only be answered when the wreckage is found, and even then, it is possible that the black boxes won’t answer any questions at all.
· The theoretic fire would eventually cause a compromise of the pressure vessel, which would result in depressurization of the aircraft, and the end of the fire due to reduced oxygen.
· With compromised systems and no input from an incapacitated crew, the aircraft would have continued on random courses and altitudes until the fuel was exhausted. The ACARS system’s attempt to re-connect with the satellite after 7 ½ hours (indicating a momentary loss of power) was indicative of a power loss at the approximate time fuel would have been expected to run out.
· Once the engines ran out of fuel, a ram air turbine (rat), would deploy into the slipstream and provide emergency power to the aircraft. This would explain the reawakening of the ACARS system.
· Trimmed to approximately 310 mph, the aircraft then would have descended at or near that speed, which would have initially resulted in a shallow descent. However, the rate of descent would have increased as the air density increased. The 777 would likely begin an increasing phugoid (porpoising) motion as the aircraft began more aggressively seeking its trimmed airspeed.
· It would be in this configuration that the aircraft would have impacted the ocean.
I do not claim to have all of the information necessary to come up with a conclusion which can withstand all criticism. But there's always room for discussion on these type of mysteries. Especially when information from officials is so closely held.
I watched with amusement as the French authorities refused to confirm that the flaperon found on Ascension Island belonged to MH370. As if Boeing 777 flaperons are floating all over the ocean. After three months, the French finally confirmed that the control surface was from MH370. They boasted that they confirmed this fact 'scientifically.' They said, and I'm not making this up, that they "scientifically" matched a serial number on the part to the serial number of the MH370 flaperon. That's impressive science. Wonder why it took 3 months to read the serial number? Translation problems?
I present this theory as (at best) an educated guess. I do not have in my possession all the information and data in the possession of the actual investigators. I have never flown an airliner. Even if I am correct, know that I am not the only one or the first one with this theory. I can tell you honestly, though, that the theory is original and based on publicly-available information.
Only the discovery and recovery of the wreckage will end the mystery. Maybe.
THE LOSS OF FLIGHT MH370
(Part 2 of a 3 Part Series)
PART IIIn Part I, we discussed information about the disappearance of MH370 which could reasonably be deemed factual or overwhelmingly likely. Using these facts as premises, certain conclusions follow.
CONCLUSIONS FROM PREMISES:
1. Sometime between 1:07 am and 2:03 am, an autonomous, periodic and automatic communications (ACARS) link between a satellite and the aircraft was lost.
- This very possibly occurred seconds after the last voice communication between the aircraft and Air Traffic Control (ATC).
- 1:07 was also the approximate time of the last confirmed communication from the aircraft.
- It is therefore likely that an anomaly of electronic nature occurred at 1:07 am, as the ACARS system is not controllable by the crew--short of removing all power to the aircraft.
- However, the transponder for the aircraft was still operational at this time, and remained so for nearly 15 minutes, suggesting a partial electrical anomaly.
2. The pilot (as opposed to the first officer) made all inflight radio transmissions.
- The First Officer was likely ‘flying’ the aircraft for this leg, as the pilot was making radio calls. Protocol is generally that the ‘non-flying’ crew member will handle radio duties. Crews generally alternate duties. In all likelihood, the aircraft had been on autopilot since just after the landing gear was raised.
3. At 1:07, 26 minutes after takeoff, MH370 was instructed to complete a normal frequency change, and the crew responded normally. The aircraft did not “check in” on the next ATC frequency.
- Frequency changes by airliners from sector to sector occur almost instantly. Before the change is instructed by air traffic control, it is standard operating procedure for the airliner crew to have the next frequency already programmed into the aircraft radio, and once a frequency chance is given, a button is pushed to “flip/flop” the radio frequencies, putting the plane on the next sector’s frequency. This action takes less than a second.
- Whatever happened to MH370 therefore almost certainly began within seconds after the 1:07 am transmission, and began suddenly.
4. Fourteen minutes after loss of voice communication (LOVC), at 1:21 a.m., the ‘Mode S’ transponder return for the aircraft ceased operation.
- The 1:07 am time also corresponds with the exact start of the ‘window of loss’ of the satellite link in the aircraft. This timing is unlikely to be coincidental.
- The “Mode S transponder” is a device required on air-carrier aircraft which responds to a radar wave by transmitting specific information to ATC. It operates similar a garage door remote;
- The garage door opener waits passively to receive a signal from the remote. When it receives the signal, it responds by activating the motor, opening or closing the door.
- The transponder on an aircraft passively waits for a radar wave, like a garage door waiting for a signal. When it detects the wave, instead of activating a motor it sends an electronic signal back to ATC which identifies the aircraft, as well as several operating parameters such as speed and altitude.
- Some have claimed that the Mode S transponder on MH370 was “turned off" by the crew. This statement cannot be defended logically. There is no way to know whether the Mode S was turned off by a crew member or it failed in one of a dozen ways, known or unknown to the crew.
5. Another airline pilot in the vicinity said that he was able to establish radio contact with MH370, but heard only mumbling and radio static.
- Such failure can be caused by the transponder itself, or a power failure in the aircraft, among other reasons.
- At that time, MH370 was still well within strong radio reception range of ATC. Any voice communications from a normally-operating 777 should have been heard loud and clear by ATC as well as the other aircraft. The fact that only a nearby aircraft heard (what they believed to be) MH370 indicates that the electrical system on the aircraft may have been impaired.
- ‘Static’ is also one indicator of an electrical problem inside the transmitting aircraft.
- "Mumbling" from the crew could also indicate that the pilots were impaired.
6. 30 minutes after LOVC, 1:37, the aircraft failed to transmit its autonomous half-hourly Aircraft Communications and Recording System (ACARS) report.
- ACARS is analogous to General Motors’ “Onstar” system, which provides maintenance information to a central location. While Onstar also provides voice communication, ACARS is data only, and that data is uploaded to airline and/or manufacturer maintenance technicians to monitor aircraft health, assist with maintaining appropriate spares, and scheduling of maintenance. It does so without the participation of the pilots.
7. At 2:25 am, 1 hour and 18minutes after LOVC, the ACARS system on MH370 sent a “log-on request” to the satellite.
- ACARS is not operated by the pilots and cannot be disabled by the crew, except by cutting off all electrical power to the aircraft.
- As the ACARS system had previously been "logged-on," this would indicate that ACARS had for some reason gone off-line (possibly due to lack of electrical power), and once power had been restored, possibly due to battery recovery, it attempted to re-log into the satellite.
8. In order for ACARS to properly align its transmission antenna with the receiving satellite, it must have heading and other data from the aircraft’s navigation system.
9. Approximately 7 ½ hours after takeoff, at 8:19 a.m., the aircraft sent another “log-on request” to the satellite, which indicates that power to the ACARS system had once again been disrupted.
- The fact that ACARS remained in contact with the satellite for several hours indicates that it was receiving that data, and therefore, the navigation system was operational.
- This likely indicates that power to the ACARS system had once again been disrupted and points to the approximate time that the aircraft ran out of fuel.
- This timing is consistent with the amount of fuel the aircraft carried.
- Following a double-engine failure, emergency systems would have automatically restored temporary electrical power to the aircraft via a ram air turbine (RAT), a small, propeller-driven generator which drops into the slipstream if all power is lost, and ACARS would attempt to log back in, much like one does when Internet service temporarily goes down.
To arrive at defensible conclusions, investigators look to the scientific method: “Has it ever happened before? Is it repeatable? Is it statistically likely?”
The following scenarios are considered possible, and have occurred in the past. However, evidence currently available makes them less plausible outcomes for the following reasons:
A. Mid-air collision
- No other aircraft missing, unaccounted for, or reporting a midair collision.
- There is substantial evidence of continued flight of MH370 after the disruptive incident.
- Not supported by radar data. No other aircraft were seen in immediate vicinity on radar
- The only factor which would make this scenario plausible would be the existence (not suspected) of a country which would not reveal that one of their aircraft was involved in a midair collision.
- Weather-related crashes are usually preceded by communications from the aircraft crew.
- When the disruptive incident began, the aircraft was in level flight, inconsistent with a weather-related loss. It remained in level flight after the incident, inconsistent with a weather-related loss.
- There was no indication of significant weather in the vicinity of the aircraft.
- A weather-related loss does not address the issue of the ACARS malfunction.
- Scenario does not explain the continued flight of MH370 for nearly 8 hours.
C. Suicide by Crewmember
- The aircraft flew nearly 8 hours after communications and non-pilot controlled electronics ceased operating.
- No known suicides have occurred in which the crew member did not immediately follow-through with the suicide/crash.
- Those who cause a suicide/crash (PSA 1771), (Germanwings 9525), etc. Do so immediately, and only after steps to neutralize the other crew member(s).
- It is highly unlikely that a suicidal crew member could have held off the crew and hundreds of passengers for 8 hours.
- The scenario is inconsistent with a reported mumbling, low-power transmission.
- No indication of motive exists for any cockpit crewmember.
- There would be no motive to disable the transponder.
- ACARS failure is not explained by crew suicide
D. Terrorism (Group)
- Terrorist groups tend to use commandeered airliners to cause collateral damage, such as crashing them into ground targets.
- A missing plane does not have the same conclusive impact as a “crashed” plane—therefore, less terrorism impact.
- Until the wreckage is viewed by the targets of terrorism (citizens) the value of the act is degraded.
- ‘Hidden’ terrorism misses the point, as Dr. Strangelove explained when he found that the Russians had a “secret” Doomsday Machine. “Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?”
- Even if the terrorists decided to down an aircraft over the ocean, they would provide known information on the plot and actions in order to validate their claim of responsibility.
- While not impossible for the aircraft to be commandeered without any type of distress signal, overt or covert, for 8 hours, it is implausible.
- For instance, rather than turning off a transponder, the pilot could change the code on the unit to indicate to ATC that the flight has been hijacked.
- Scenario does not explain failure of ACARS system.
- No potential suspects have been identified in either the passengers or crew.
- When a terrorist is involved in a plane crash, there is usually at least one passenger on the aircraft for whom no family or friends are searching. This is not the case with MH370.
E. Terrorism (Lone Wolf)
- Lone Wolf terrorists are more likely to provide clues, notes or take credit for their actions.
- Suicide in the Muslim world is punishable by Hell, except when one dies as a martyr. It is therefore essential for such individuals to be considered martyrs, and therefore claims of action in the name of Islam by ‘lone wolves’ are almost always made, frequently in an exaggerated manner.
- While not impossible for the aircraft to be commandeered without any type of distress signal, over or covert, for 8 hours, it is implausible.
- Scenario does not explain failure of ACARS system.
- No potential suspects have been identified in either the passengers or crew.
- When a terrorist is involved in a plane crash, there is usually at least one passenger on the aircraft for whom no family or friends are searching. This is not the case with MH370.
F. Improvised Explosive Device, (“IED”) or ‘bomb.’
- The detonation of an improvised explosive device could explain many, possibly most of the known facts in the disappearance. However, it would only do so if the aircraft was completely disabled, yet still able to maintain level flight.
- An IED explosion would usually result in the complete loss of the aircraft.
- An IED explosion could mimic the symptoms of an aircraft fire.
- No credible claim of responsibility (one which includes culpable knowledge) has been made. Again, the Dr. Strangelove scenario.
- Bombs generally disassemble the aircraft rapidly
- ACARS system remained in normal operation and reported no aircraft anomalies.
- The plane was controllable
G. Accidental shoot-down
- The aircraft didn’t lose altitude for 8 hours after the disruption. Again, this is inconsistent with a shoot-down.
- 8 more hours gives the pilots multiple opportunities to communicate their predicament or navigate the aircraft, or attempt a ditching.
- The plane was controllable after the anomaly that caused the problem.
- No missile or anti-aircraft activity detected by any country along the flight track. Any action against the aircraft would have had to have occurred over Malaysian territory.
H. Depressurization and Hypoxia
- No communication from the crew to ground control. Only a rapid or explosive decompression would explain this, and this generally results in loss of the aircraft.
- Such a scenario is inconsistent with crew training and historical depressurization incidents. This is a well-practiced scenario for pilots, and well-defended by aircraft systems.
- Crew would have had audible and visual alarms to warn them of a depressurization in time to don oxygen masks and begin an emergency descent.
- On-board emergency oxygen lasts long enough for the aircraft to descend to breathable altitude.
- The aircraft did not descend, which would be the first maneuver initiated by the pilot after donning oxygen masks.
Clearly, the wild-card in all of these scenarios is the unexplained behavior of ACARS, a system which operates autonomously from the pilots, and whose deactivation would be pointless to terrorists. It's intermittent operation provides a timeline for events in the flight.
In Part III, a single scenario is discussed which is plausible, common, and explains at some level all known data about MH370.
THE LOSS OF FLIGHT MH370
(Part 1 of a 3 Part Series)
PART I: WHAT DO WE KNOW?
As most of you know, I have never been timid about providing my opinion on a subject about which I believed myself qualified. I am certainly not the most qualified person to provide an opinion on the cause of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370), however, I believe I can make a compelling case that I am certainly qualified at some level. To wit:
During my FBI career, I participated in one way or another in the investigation of several downed airliners, including PSA 1771 (murder/suicide by a disgruntled employee), TWA 800, and the attacks of 9/11. As a benefit of my years as an FBI pilot, I accumulated 6,500 flight hours in a variety of aircraft, and am rated for, and have crewed multi-engine, pressurized turbine (jet-powered) aircraft. I hold an FAA Commercial Pilot – Multi-engine license and rating. I have received US Navy training in altitude chambers, dunkers and crash survival. As a maintenance test pilot for the FBI, I have even seen many of the different ways that airplanes can misbehave, including major electronics failures and inflight fire.
Finally, for several years beginning the day after the attacks of 9/11, I supervised FBI Al Qaeda investigations around the globe. I am familiar with tactics, motivations and tradecraft of terrorist groups worldwide, and participated or led investigations and interdictions of planned terrorist attacks on airliners. I believe I have enough experience to intelligently comment on this matter. I have no information not already made public. But I know that investigators rarely discuss publicly their preliminary conclusions and theories. I believe that there are theories and conclusions driving the search for the wreckage of MH370, and I believe that I might have some insight into them.
Some of the world’s best investigators have been brought together to try to find and establish the cause of MH370’s disappearance, and to do so, those investigators are obligated to utilize both deductive and inductive reasoning.
Deductive reasoning is the process by which a premise is established which is believed to be true, and then conclusions taken from that premise. Deductive reasoning is by definition ‘reductive’ in nature, as it eliminates possibilities rather than adds possibilities. It is the opposite of inductive reasoning.
To put it in simple terms, a criminal investigator who uses inductive reasoning starts an investigation with no suspects, and adds suspects as he goes along. An investigator who depends on deductive reasoning, will start an investigation with nearly unlimited suspects, and eliminate the innocent. Think of deductive reasoning as an upside-down pyramid in which the person responsible for the crime is at the bottom of the inverted triangle, and all possible suspects at the top.
Chief Inspector Clouseau of the Sûreté was both an inductive and a deductive investigator; “I suspect everyone and I suspect no one!” In my years in the FBI, I leaned toward deductive logic. I believe that evidence should be used to eliminate innocent people, rather than add potentially guilty people. I also believe that deductive reasoning will point accurately to the reason for the loss of MH370.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
Deductive reasoning requires that at the initiation of the investigation, just about anything could have caused this crash. It uses what is known or strongly suggested to eliminate implausible theories. So let’s start eliminating possibilities and separating what is known from what is unknown.
WHAT WE KNOW TO BE TRUE OR HAVE STRONG EVIDENCE TO BELIEVE IS TRUE:
- 12:41 am (Malaysian time) MH370, a Boeing 777, took off and climbed normally , on course, and toward its assigned altitude (35,000 feet) for approximately forty minutes.
- The pilot (as opposed to the first officer) made all inflight radio transmissions.
- Sometime between 1:07 am and 2:03 am, an autonomous, periodic and automatic communications link between a satellite and the aircraft was lost. This was not normal.
- At 1:07, 26 minutes after takeoff, MH370 was instructed to complete a routine frequency change to another air traffic control sector, and responded normally. The aircraft did not “check in” on the next ATC frequency.
- No further voice communications took place between ATC and MH370
- Fourteen minutes after loss of voice communication (LOVC), at 1:21 a.m., the ‘Mode S’ transponder return for the aircraft ceased operation.
Typical Mode-S Transponder
- After 1:21 a.m., radar could still “see” the ‘blip’ (radar return) of the aircraft, but it was not responding with any information.
- Mode S can be manually turned off in the cockpit.
- Mode S can fail for a variety of reasons, known or unknown to the crew.
"Primary" radar returns showing airliners, speed, altitude, heading and aircraft type. Mode S provides this information.
"Secondary" radar return. Mode S inoperative. Shows only the location of a "target."
- Four minutes after loss of Mode S, and 18 minutes after LOVC, at 1:25 am, the aircraft deviated substantially from its assigned route.
- At 1:30 am, ATC requested that another pilot in the vicinity attempt to contact MH370 on frequency 121.5, the international emergency frequency.
- That pilot said that he was able to establish radio contact, but heard only mumbling and radio static.
- 30 minutes after LOVC, 1:37, the aircraft failed to transmit its half-hourly Aircraft Communications and Recording System (ACARS) report.
- ACARS is analogous to General Motors’ “Onstar” system, which provides maintenance information to a central location. While Onstar also provides voice communication, ACARS is data only, and the data is uploaded to airline and/or manufacturer maintenance technicians to monitor aircraft health, assist with maintaining appropriate spares, and scheduling of maintenance.
- ACARS cannot be disabled by the crew, except by cutting off all electrical power to the aircraft.
- At 2:25 am, 1 hour and 18minutes after LOVC, the ACARS system on MH370 sent a “log-on request” to the satellite and resumed normal maintenance status communications.
- Over the next several hours, multiple radio, airborne telephone and computer signal attempts to MH370’s cockpit were made, and all were unsuccessful.
- During this time MH370’s ACARS system reported “normal” operations.
- In order for ACARS to properly align its transmission antenna with the receiving satellite, it must have heading and other data from the aircraft’s navigation system.
- Approximately 7 ½ hours after takeoff, at 8:19 a.m., the aircraft sent another “log-on request” to the satellite.
- 9:15 a.m., 8 ½ hours after takeoff and just under one hour after presumed engine flame-out, the aircraft failed to respond to a scheduled hourly interrogation and response from the satellite.
- No further communications of any kind were received by MH370.
TOMORROW; PART II: CONCLUSIONS FROM THE KNOWN FACTS
"MY, WHAT BIG TEETH YOU HAVE..."
The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” originated as a European fairy tale written by the French author Charles Perrault, and was later modified by The Brothers Grimm, among others. In reality, the story is more than a little dark and disturbing, and was unabashedly created as a cautionary tale of the consequences awaiting those who would ignore obvious signs of danger. Riding Hood is named after the scarlet hooded cape she wore, and certainly ‘Red’ had many wonderful characteristics, which ironically were also the very faults that ultimately (at least in Perrault’s original version) led to her final undoing.
Red Riding Hood’s faults?
She loved and was loved unconditionally: Her mother and grandmother lavished her with love and gifts and apparently doted on her, even gifting the girl with her eponymous red cover. This doting might have had the unintended result of Red’s apparent inability to recognize that the world outside her home and village was not as safe as the place she left.
She was Naïve: Even after being warned by her mother that the woods were dangerous, and instructed to stay ‘strictly on the path,’ Red skipped off with a basket of food for her ailing grandmother, blissfully unaware of the danger that lurked all around her.
She saw the best in everyone, and discounted the danger signs: As Red skipped toward Grandma’s house, she was stalked by the “Big, Bad Wolf,” who followed her from behind the camouflage of the trees. When he ultimately approached the little girl and asked where she was going, instead of recoiling at the sight of a wolf, Red innocently told him the truth, having no clue the evil acts the Wolf intended to perpetrate with that information.
She refused to attribute evil motives to others, because she could not fathom the evil: The Wolf enticed the innocent child to pick flowers for her grandmother in what seemed to be a loving suggestion. In reality, it was to delay the child so that prior to her arrival at grandma’s, he would have eaten the woman and devised an ambush for Red. What could be wrong with picking flowers for grandma?
As a result of the success of the Wolf’s deception, he got to grandma’s house ahead of Red and pretended to be her granddaughter. Then when grandma opened the door, the Wolf swallowed her whole, and set up the snare for the innocent girl. When the innocent Red arrived, she noticed that grandma looked somehow different.
“What a deep voice you have! And what big eyes you have!” She observed. “Goodness,” she later exclaimed, “What big hands and teeth you have!” She accepted the ridiculous lies uttered to cover her observations, “The better to see you with…” And it was at that point that the Wolf leapt out of bed and swallowed Red, as he had her grandmother.
In Perrault’s tale, the story ends there. The little girl is done in by her naïveté, optimism, goodness, and simple innocence. In the Grimm version, as well as French and traditional German versions, an alternate ending softens the blow for the reader, providing a lumberjack or a hunter to come to the rescue and cut open the wolf, releasing Riding Hood and her grandmother. Perrault’s story seems more authentic, however. It is ironic that after the original tale was written, others would want to soften the terrible consequences of evil people and dilute the very message of evil that the original writer aimed to warn against. Perrault must have turned in his grave.
The uniquely European tale of Little Red Riding Hood, though originally penned in 1697 by Charles Perrault, is neither obsolete nor dated. In fact, it is as modern and relevant as tomorrow’s newspaper. It is currently being retold in the case of Amanda Knox, a modern day Red Riding Hood.
On November 2, 2007, a naïve, idealistic and innocent American girl made a tragic mistake when she unexpectedly encountered a wolf on the trail, far from her own village. Instead of realizing the danger of her situation and how far she was from home, she remained where she was, even at the pleading of her mother to leave. This allowed the Wolves time to set a trap. Instead of recognizing that the prosecutor and police she dealt with were Wolves intent on devouring her, she remained in ‘the woods,’ confident that she was helping honorable people.
Amanda was pretty, well-raised, polite, courteous and compassionate. These qualities were exploited as vulnerabilities by the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, himself once sentenced to prison for malfeasance.
The Wolves took the information she gave them and used it to hurt others and swallow her whole. The people she was trying to help turned on her, and in one of the greatest travesties of justice in the modern world, they took Amanda’s words, twisted them, then created or “found” flawed, formulated and false evidence to convict her and her boyfriend of the murder of her best friend in Italy. A murder that all evidence proves was committed by a burglar well-known to the prosecutor.
In the original tale by Perrault, there was no rescue for the innocent little girl. The story ended when the evil wolf devoured her. Later, Continental and British versions of the story ended with the rescue of the poor girl at the last second. We are soon to see which ending of Amanda’s European tragedy we will see from Italy.
Why did Amanda not recognize the danger? For the same reason Red Riding Hood didn't recognize the Wolf. Evil often masquerades as good. Wolves don’t always show their ‘big teeth’ and ‘big eyes.’ Frequently, they present with soft words, warm smiles, and feigned concern. And who are most vulnerable to this ruse? Ironically, those among us that are the most innocent. How tragically ironic that innocence itself is used to force the mask of guilt on blameless people.
Charles Perrault wrote his stories less as entertainment than as cautionary tales. To ensure that no doubt was left regarding a story’s meaning, he explained them in detail. Of “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge,” known to us today as “Little Red Riding Hood,” Perrault explained as if reading from our headlines today:
“From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses; pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!
LYNCH MOB 2.0
"Ten thousand fools, knaves, cowards, lump'd together, become all-wise, all-righteous, and all-mighty."
--EDWARD YOUNG, The Brothers Lynching
A mob, Young observes with considerable insight, is a group of fools and cowards. Throughout history, and sadly today, mob rule foments its evil from the most backward tribes to the most civilized and modern societies. No city is safe, or any unscathed from mob violence. Mobs rape, they lynch, they immolate, they beat, they terrorize, they loot, and they laugh. This is not ancient history, this is today, and mobs continue, and they are morphing to take advantage of the technical world. And they are on the Internet. Several children have killed themselves as a result of horrible abuse (bullying) they have taken from small mobs on the Internet.
What are mobs? Merriam-Webster defines them as: "A group of angry and violent people who are difficult to control." I am not lumping large, peaceful demonstrations into this definition, nor am I associating with mob actions sit-ins or peaceful civil disobedience. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and the crowd that tore down great chunks of the Berlin Wall are great moments, not mobs. I also realize that in the UK, 'mob' might simply mean crowd, but in the United States, a 'mob' means something entirely different.
In 2014 in Pakistan, village men gang-rape teenage girls as civil punishment for dating outside their religion. In Africa, tribes kill hundreds in rival clans with machetes, or by setting fire to individual men, women and children. Football “hooligans” stain the name of England. In America, a long, disgusting history of lynching leaves in its wake a shameful stench. Germany will never live down Kristallnacht and the mobs of Brown Shirts that destroyed Jewish shops and Synagogues. The United Kingdom suffered from sectarian Irish mobs which would descend on individual soldiers or people of other religions and simply kick them to death in the name of God.
Why are mobs?
Mobs are the ultimate anarchy, and they require:
- Dissatisfaction with the status quo; whether the status quo be political disagreement, perceived unpunished crime, substandard social and economic conditions, or even the weather
- A perception that “they” are right, regardless of evidence.
- Hatred of another gender (misogyny), or sexual preference
- Hatred of a different race
- Hatred of a different religion
- Hatred of another nationality
Random mob attack
Mobs are senseless. They are the very definition of “insanity.” They exist in a world where all reality is—at least for a time—abandoned. They therefore tend to attract the senseless and the emotionally damaged. They are bent on “justice” and will stop at literally nothing to get it. Every mob, however, defines "justice" for themselves. Hence, lynchings. Justice for mobs usually consists of vengeance or bile spewed on people they hate—frequently for irrational reasons. If the justice system under which a group lives does not deliver the verdict, the penalty, or the speediness the group requires, a group of people who perceive that they have been wronged or disenfranchised can transform into a mob in an instant. It doesn’t matter to a mob what is truly right, what is legal, what is actually true, what is important or what is sacred.
Women are especially unsafe in mob or riot areas; too many men find the anonymity and the opportunity to act without penalty too much to resist. Mob attack on Reginald Denney
I have had experience with mobs. During the riots following the Rodney King verdict in 1992 in Los Angeles, I watched the TV in real time, and in real horror as a close friend filmed Reginald Denney, a truck driver, as he was pulled from his truck by an angry mob and beaten nearly to death. Denney survived, brain-damaged and impaired for life.
I spent the next week in and around the riot mobs with the FBI, on the ground helping to protect firefighters trying to put out blazes while taking sniper fire, or flying helicopters over the riots low and fast to avoid small-arms fire. It was a war zone. Looter mob
The HOW of Mobs: Madeiline McCann
THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF ANONYMITY: Earlier, we discussed the essentials of mobs. But we intentionally left out the one key requirement for a mob until now: Anonymity. Anonymity is guaranteed by mob action. Being one in a group of thousands makes one's identification and prosecution almost impossible.
The latest mob venue is the Internet. It provides like-minded people a platform, a means, and a mask with which to do as much harm as they can to people whom they hate. And most of all, it provides anonymity and freedom from accountability.
A case in point surfaced this week. In May of 2007, Kate and Gerry McCann, a young couple from the UK were vacationing in Portugal with their daughter Madeleine and her younger twin siblings. For better or for worse, in the evenings, the McCann’s socialized with friends who were accompanying them on vacation at a restaurant 160 feet from their room at the upscale resort. They left the children unattended. They rationalized that from the restaurant, they could see their suite. They checked in on the sleeping children several times each evening if they were out. On the evening of May 3, 2007, at 10:00pm, Kate McCann realized that Madeleine was gone. This triggered a media circus in the UK not unlike the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey in Colorado. It also triggered the same type of public suspicion of the parents as did the Ramsey case, and for many of the same reasons. For all the tragedy in their lives, the Ramsey’s were fortunate that the Internet wasn’t widely available at that time they lived through their own hell. Gerry and Kate McCann
Brits from around the UK have taken sides on whether the McCann’s are murderers or victims. Madeleine has never been found, and no charges have ever been brought against her parents. No serious evidence exists which would implicate them in the crime. But those in the UK who believe them to be responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance have been unsatisfied with “justice,” with not punishing the McCann’s, and have decided to take matters into their own hands. Trolls are vigilantes. Internet 'troll' Brenda Leyland
The serial abuse the McCann’s have been subjected to on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and others, has been withering, cruel and sadistic. Realistic threats on their lives have been received. An hour does not pass that hateful missives are sent up for thousands or even millions to see. A mother and father who have never been charged with a crime and more than likely lost their first born daughter to a monster, have been burdened with the added torture of being hated for it and publicly pilloried by an anonymous mob on the Internet.
This time, however, one member of the mob trying to socially “lynch” the McCann’s, lost her anonymity. A British “Sky News” reporter identified 63-year-old Brenda Leyland as the notorious Twitter troll “@sweepyface”, one of hundreds who had been torturing the McCann’s. According to British police, Leyland transmitted approximately 4,625 angry messages to the McCann’s, 2,136 this year, and as many as 50 per day. An example: Michelle Moore, defined as "Ugly" by trolls
“To Kate and Gerry, you will be hated by millions for the rest of your miserable, evil, conniving lives, have a nice day!”
The Sky News reporter confronted Leyland—on camera—at her home in Leicestershire. When accused of the hateful tweets, Leyland appeared stunned that she had been found out, and replied about the tweets; “I’m entitled to do that.”
But apparently, having to take responsibility for her vile statements was more than she could live with. Four days after her identity was made public, she killed herself in a hotel near her home.
Internet mob trolls guard their identity with their lives. Why? Because their lives would change forever if their secret hatreds were made public. They are like the Klansmen in the United States who wore hoods to hide the fact that many of them were local sheriffs and preachers. The shame of who they secretly are is more than they can risk. But yet they do, because they still believe (incorrectly) that they will never be found.
I am sad that Brenda Leyland is dead, and so wish she had gotten help before doing something as horrible as she did. Or even as horrible as killing herself. Not surprisingly, there is a movement now to force Sky News to fire the reporter who exposed the troll. Mob action. Where? On the Internet. And of course, most of those involved are....wait for it.....anonymous. Anyone who removes the cloak of invisibility from one troll is an threat to all trolls.
Another Internet mob targets Amanda Knox for the same reason as did Leyland with Kate McCann—they believe her guilty, regardless of the evidence, and believe they, as Brenda Leyland said, are “entitled” to exact revenge.
Those who hate Amanda Knox and her followers long ago abandoned trying to prove her guilt. Now, realizing that she will never return to a prison (for a crime she didn't commit), the mob's tactics have changed from libel to punishment. Really, all they had as evidence is what Leyland had against Kate and Gerry McCann; Amanda “didn’t act” as an innocent person would. There is no book on how a mother should act after realizing her daughter has been kidnapped, no website to teach one how to react when your friend and roommate has been raped and her throat cut. If they cry too much, it’s "an act," if they don’t cry enough, they’re “cold as ice.”
My wife and I have taken a lot of abuse, though not nearly as much as Amanda or other people in her camp. The vast majority of hatred comes to me in criticism of my height, my weight or my intellect, much like a kid might hear on the playground in both maturity and topic. Michelle and I are the recipients of several dozen attacks a day, something that, ironically, reassures us that we are on the right path.
Michelle, however, has taken the worst, because she has been more involved with the public fight for Amanda's vindication, and because she has been open about her faith. The vitriol runs the gamut from mocking God and religion to to ridiculing her for 'hypocritically' "defending a murderer." But mainly, she is criticized by women and men for her looks. Yes, her looks. In their eyes, Michelle is an ugly woman. Why should I be surprised? They also think Amanda Knox is guilty.
More and more, the Internet mob who targets Michelle has become wildly misogynistic and sick. Recently, they have taken to referring to Michelle by the “’C’ word” and sending her vile photographs. She has always been the target of jealous women and perverted men, but recently, they cut and paste her face on the photograph of a semi-nude woman being arrested in public. It was sent to me, to an FBI friend, and another Knox supporter.
Obviously, for this photograph's sick author, several things are true: He hates or completely disrespects women, he is not interested in the facts of the guilt or innocence of Amanda Knox, and he needs help. Amanda Knox haters frequently defend themselves by saying that they are fighting for the victim, Meredith Kercher, who was 19 when she was raped and her throat cut by a known burglar. One wonders how the memory of a beautiful young woman slaughtered in the course of a rape, is advanced by this photograph. And why this particular troll is drawn to that particular case.
What is even more horrendous is that two trolls "retweeted" the post, and 2 (one hopes the same two) "favorited" this obscenely-intolerant and hateful post.
Whether or not these people are disturbed is no longer a question for conjecture. Psychologists are dealing with this behavior as a new psychosis. People who send or re-transmit 25 - 100 angry, abusive social messages a day, (especially if to the same group of people) regardless of how right they believe their cause, must come to grips with the fact that they need help. Certainly, there are those people who transmit or forward more than 50 messages a day because they are committed to a valid cause, and they do so without vitriol, hatred and venom. These are not the people about whom we are speaking. A trolls' online purpose , like a the purpose of a mob on the street, is to hurt others. They find satisfaction causing others pain. It is a thinly-veiled form of sadism.
Dr Arthur Cassidy, a British psychologist who specializes in social media, has advised, "trolls seek and enjoy a response from their victims."
So what to do?
If targeted, do we respond to their sick vitriol? Well, to quote a great line from the movie "Airplane!,"
"No....that's just what they're expecting us to do!"
I'm even reticent to be discussing them now, as they are probably getting satisfaction from it, somewhere in Britain. Obviously, as far as legally allowed, spend your efforts not arguing against or refuting these mobs; but on identifying them and collecting screen shots of every bit of hate that spews forth from their fingertips.
Contemplate the validation you receive when a fool criticizes you. It confirms you are not on a fool's path. Realize that it is the trolls' own misery that provokes them to want to hurt others. If possible, prepare your legal options against those you can identify and lobby your congressman for laws that would protect Americans even from mobs and trolls in other countries.
Never answer a troll with troll-like behavior or words. As I learned in the FBI, a mark of the guilty is that they "Deny, Confuse and make Counter-Allegations." A basic tactic of the troll is to say or post something horrible, then screen-capture the angry response and report the victim as the troll. And more important than anything else, as Dr. Cassidy said, Ignore them, no matter what they say. It might provoke them to more vile messages, but then, that helps your civil case.
Carole Malone of London's "Mirror", recently described the trolls who are trying to destroy the lives of the McCann's:
“The people making these threats are cruel and devoid of humanity – much like the people who abducted Madeleine. But they’re also cowards, too scared to say to the McCanns’ faces what they say anonymously on Twitter.”
And now I prepare for the onslaught of online hate that usually gushes forth after I disagree with trolls. But that's okay: I'm never bothered when criticized by fools. Amused, but never bothered. When they desire to speak to me, they know how to find me. My name, my contact information, my address, my E-mail information, the town I live in, my resume, my family's names, even a book about my life are online and in the public domain.
Finally, if you are attacked by anonymous trolls, know this: They are afraid of you. If they weren't, they would not hide their identity. Take comfort in the knowledge that they fear you, and they live in the shadows because they are terrified that one horrible day, they may be exposed and have to take responsibility for their words.
WHO WILL STOP THE TANKS?
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
Days before the horrible shots rang out, thousands of Chinese who sought nothing more than freedom converged on Tiananmen Square in Beijing to demonstrate for, among other things, the freedom to speak. They knew what they risked that warm June in 1989; it wasn’t police who showed up to disperse the group, it was soldiers and tanks. But the demonstrators did not disperse. In the end, hundreds or even thousands of these brave souls were shot and machine-gunned into silence. One man, however, galvanized the world with his selfless resistance. He will forever be known as “The Tank Man.” The photo of this man standing in front of a line of tanks, stopping their advance on the Square, somehow made everyone in the world a little stronger and braver.
The bravest people in the world are rarely found in governments, in the courts or even on the legal bench. The people who reside in such places are often those who have become most adept at swinging deals, of “give and take” and of compromise. No, the bravest men and women are most often found in Gulags, North Korean labor camps, or Chinese reeducation “centers.” Or in front of firing squads—or tanks. These people are in those places not just because of what they said, but because they refused to ‘unsay’ it. Most could have capitulated and remained, if not free, at least safe.
Like millions of people throughout history who refused to betray their faith, their ideals or their countrymen, they knew that when you betray the truth, you betray not just yourself, but all those who share that truth and have fought for it shoulder to shoulder with you. They echo the truth spoken by Benjamin Franklin two hundred years ago;
“He who would trade liberty for some temporary security,
deserves neither liberty nor security.”
I would add:
“He who would trade anybody else’s liberty for some temporary
security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”
From newspapers, from op eds, from Italian victims and from international judicial review bodies we hear that there is tyranny today in Italy and it resides in the judicial system. This is the same system that recently sentenced six seismologists to prison for failing to predict an earthquake—a feat that science still regards as impossible.
This is the same judicial system that exonerated a man for the rape of an 18 year old girl because she was wearing tight jeans, which the court opined could not have been removed without the girl’s assistance. Therefore, the rape, I mean sex, had to be consensual. This was the decision of the Italian Supreme Court, not a college fraternity ethics committee. The decisions of the courts, the inconceivable reasoning, and the contorted logic validates the general perception that the Italian judicial system is largely an archaic, byzantine, misogynistic 'good-old-boy' network which depends on coercion, superstition and political deals to achieve their ends. Few people with knowledge of the Italian system (and who are not a part of it) would dispute that statement. There are, of course, notable exceptions and honorable judges, but as a rule, ‘Italian justice’ is a contradiction in terms. It remains that way because nobody has yet stood in front of the tanks.
It is not politically expedient for the Italian judicial system to endorse the truth of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s innocence, because it will expose police and judicial misconduct, perjury, and evidence tampering. It will, they believe, embarrass “the system,” and hurt national prestige. (Not realizing that their current strategy is devastating their global credibility.) While Knox remains safely (or so it is hoped) ensconced in a country where evidence and rule of law win out in the vast majority of cases, Sollecito remains under Italian control, awaiting his fate. And Sollecito is apparently the system's best hope of saving face.
Sollecito has, of course, steadfastly held to the truth that he and Amanda were together the night that burglar Rudy Guede slaughtered Meredith Kercher, stole her money, keys and phone, then danced and bought drinks with her money until 4:30 a.m. before fleeing to Germany—again using Meredith’s money. The Italians need Sollecito to say Amanda wasn’t with him the night of the murder; or have him at least allow the possibility she might not have been with him. Though he has steadfastly stated that she was with him, it seems like so little to ask. But it could steal twenty two years of an innocent woman’s life.
During four years in prison, Raffaele never wavered in his dedication to the truth and to his and Amanda’s innocence. This was bravery, this was honor. After his exoneration, Raffaele co-wrote a book entitled “Honor Bound,” in which he defined his unfailing defense of Amanda and the truth as “honor” in the face of extortionate pressure to change his story. The pressure came both from the Italian judicial system and his family to turn on Amanda and lie; destroying her “alibi” in return for his freedom. According to Raffaele's own book, since the first days of the horrible case, his family has chosen the easy way out--capitulate to the corrupt prosecution, perjure yourself and escape.He never did so. I have always admired him for that and always will.
While working on “Honor Bound,” Raffaele stayed in my home with my family and me for a short time. He is a delightful, gentle, intelligent young man and we enjoyed his visit, as well as visiting with his family. At that time, we thought the horrendous ordeal was over and that tyranny had been held at bay by truth, honor and bravery. But now the Sword of Damocles over Raffaele’s head has returned. In a stunning move, the Italian courts overturned the innocent verdicts of Sollecito and Knox (something legally impossible in most western or otherwise civilized nations), and are now -- according to well-placed sources--pressuring Raffaele to separate his defense from Amanda’s. The purpose is obvious; once separated, they can use Raffaele against Amanda. And this time, there are indications that Raffaele’s strength to resist may be waning. After all this time, why lose courage now? I might have an insight.
In 1996, I was diagnosed with cancer. I went through a year of particularly rigorous chemotherapy that was almost miraculously successful. In the years that followed, though, I had to face the threat of possible renewed chemotherapy, and not once did I believe I had the strength to go through it again. Returning to chemo is much more psychologically difficult than starting it the first time—because after the first time you know what you’re in for. I decided that the only reason I would endure chemotherapy again was for the benefit of my family. Returning to prison is likely the same. What was “doable” for Raffaele once, is likely inconceivable to him now.
Now, many in Raffaele’s family, two aunts and a sister in particular, have turned on Amanda (and her supporters) with inexplicable malice and ignoble vitriol, apparently in hopes of trading the freedom of their innocent loved one for the freedom of someone else’s innocent child. Raffaele remains largely silent in Amanda’s defense and the defense of his own supporters against the lies of his family, and one wonders whether he has the strength left to continue to fight the tyranny of the Italian judicial system or his family. Ironically, the women in Raffaele’s family seem to have taken control of him, while simultaneously complaining that he was easily manipulated by a woman.
Certainly, though my wife, my family and I have suffered dearly as a result of our defense of Amanda and Raffaele, I cannot claim to have as much at risk as he does. I am often asked what I would do if I was in his situation. I can tell you truthfully that I don’t know. But I can tell you equally truthfully that I know what “right” is, and what I hope I would do: Fight the tyranny, not just for himself, not just for Amanda, but for the hundreds and thousands who come after him. Raffaele was incarcerated partially because in the decades before his unjust persecution, others capitulated rather than risk the consequences of fighting the tyranny—and they bear partial responsibility for what happened to him. Absent adherence to what is right, the tyranny gains strength from the capitulation of others. It is a vampire which feeds on fear.
But really, the question of what I or anybody else would do in the same situation is a red herring. It’s a misdirection intended to change the subject from the topic of “what is right,” to “what is excusable.” The difference between the two is immense. Ultimately, one doesn’t have to be in someone’s shoes to know what is right or wrong. In fact, frequently, being a healthy distance away endows one with a clearer vision of right and wrong. When the Titanic was sinking, some men dressed as women to board life boats. At the time, some men were able to rationalize that atrocity. Whether or not others would have done the same thing has no bearing on whether the act was right or wrong.
We build monuments to those who stand up to tyranny and injustice. We do so not simply in admiration of their character but because they made the world better. These are people who went to jail—or died, because they refused to be complicit anymore in the tyranny and injustice under which they were forced to live. Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, are among that group. No monuments are raised to those who capitulate. Their memory lives on only as cautions against human failure.
Whether Italian judicial pressure and the threat of more than twenty years in prison ultimately causes an innocent man to implicate an innocent woman in a crime with which neither had anything to do, remains to be seen. But if it happens, it doesn’t change the truth, it simply weighs Italy’s justice system a little lower in the muck. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated because of his fight for freedom and equal rights for African Americans. The year he died, he summed up his decision not to accept injustice;
“A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men
purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.”
When a person capitulates to save themselves from incarceration, only half of that person remains free. That part of themselves that houses weakness and self-interest escapes prison and remains with them forever. Their courage and their ideals, however, hear the doors to the prison clang behind them, never to return. In nations where this is allowed to happen, the innocent fill the prisons, and the guilty roam the streets. Still, I do not believe Italy has any intention of imprisoning Sollecito for a crime most rational people understand was committed by Rudy Guede, alone.
I, at least five other retired FBI agents, many DNA scientists and dozens of other subject-matter experts have seen the evidence in the Kercher murder and know the truth. In reality, it's not a complicated case. Only the investigation was (unnecessarily) complicated. The evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Raffaele and Amanda are completely innocent and while I hurt for Raffaele, I will never, never turn on the truth. I will champion Raffaele and Amanda's innocence and oppose what I know to be lies, regardless of the reason(s) they are told or who tells them.
It was such wonderful times celebrating the “Not Guilty” verdicts with Raffaele, his family, and those who put their lives and livelihood on the line in Raffaele’s and Amanda’s defense. But, as Dr. King once again so perfectly summed-up,
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands
in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy.”
The Raffaele I know would never betray the truth. In his heart, in his soul, he is an honest man dedicated to what is right and what is true. The Raffaele I know would never cede control of his life and future to his family and his lawyer. But every man has his limits. It is his choice now to either to rise to the occasion and fight injustice, or cave to blackmail and become part of it. I remember going to dinner one night, just Raffaele and me, and he mused aloud, “Why do [the Italian courts] get away with things like this?” I responded then as I do now; “Because people allow them to. Because people give in to extortion.”
It is now, ultimately, that Raffaele faces his denouement. I maintain my confidence in his character. Regardless, the world will soon learn whether he still has the courage to step in front of the tanks, or whether he has become an obsequious extension of the four women in his life and his father. If the latter is true, the answer to how the Italian courts "get away" with injustice will be found in his own mirror, and we will all watch in horrified sadness as honor is bound.
THE BERGDAHL TRADE
Before I go into detail on my observations on the Bowe Bergdahl hostage situation, I think it prudent to first discuss in the abstract the concept in play, in order that emotion not cloud the ramifications of negotiating with hostage takers. "So how did that work out for you?"
There is a very simple, true, universal and essential principle of civilized society: When people give in to extortion, extortion increases. When people do not give in to extortion, the extortion stops. Few people would dispute this reality. There may be deep and painful costs to standing up against extortion, but ultimately, in the long run the extortion stops, or at least dwindles to near nothing. Enduring the momentary (albeit deep) pain ultimately saves lives. Failing to endure results in long-term calamity. This is a tenet of civilized society which is ingrained in our psyche.
When you give in to terrorists, you don’t just tolerate terrorism, you encourage it. Trading anything to a terrorist in return for a hostage is like fanning a fire. Trading five dangerous terrorists for a single hostage is like pouring gasoline on the fire.
There is a word for this type of negotiation and deal: “Appeasement.” Appeasement will forever be linked with one man, Neville Chamberlain, who went to Germany to try to pacify a dictator named Adolf Hitler. Hitler had engaged in saber-rattling and was threatening war if he was not given the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia. In essence, he was engaging in a diplomatic extortion.
British Prime Minister Chamberlain participated in a conference in Munich in which the European powers bravely ceded parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in exchange for his promise not to invade and cause a war. The Czechs were not invited to the conference, and to this day refer to it as “The Munich Betrayal.”
On September 30, 1938, Chamberlain returned to England, waving a copy of the signed capitulation to the extortion and famously exclaimed, “I have returned from Germany with peace for our time.”
Within one year, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, and within the next six, over 60 million people—2.5% of the world’s population—had died as a result of that “peace.” Many believe that had the world stood up to Hitler at that point, WWII could have been averted.
At the time of Chamberlain’s return from Munich, future Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke presciently and eloquently in Parliament of Chamberlain's agreement:
“He was given the choice between war and dishonor. He chose dishonor and he will have war anyway.”
What the United States did last week was capitulate to a terrorist extortion. You can sugar-coat it with whatever words you like, but the truth remains the same. The Taliban will now be emboldened to take more hostages. And not just the Taliban. Every terrorist group in the world saw what happened. And every terrorist group now knows what they can get from this administration for a single American soldier, even of the lowest rank.
I do not say these things lightly. I have a dear cousin who has spent time in the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I myself have spent much time in Pakistan and Indonesia investigating al Qaeda. I understand the ramifications of what I am advocating.
Who then, are the most outspoken critics of this action? The men and women of our armed forces, and they are angry because the administration traded for one of their own! Incongruous? Hardly. Every soldier knows (or at least was told) that America will not negotiate with terrorists and that their repatriation after capture was not guaranteed. But they also understood that this policy reduced the possibility of them being used as hostages. These soldiers know that the decision taken by President Obama has put every overseas American soldier at higher risk. And they resent the release of terrorists that soldiers risked their lives to capture.
Every single American overseas fighting terrorism, every State department employee, every low level clerk at an Embassy is now at a significantly greater risk. I spent years in the FBI traveling overseas investigating terrorism in Indonesia, Pakistan and other garden spots. We knew—because we were told bluntly—that if we were captured by terrorists, no deal would be made to free us. That was okay with us, because we knew the potential hostage takers knew that, too.
Now, Americans going overseas have to deal with the fact that the terrorists know that they can trade an American--any American--for something valuable. And there are still 149 of their friends in Guantanamo Bay. Under the Obama equation, that’s just under 30 Americans.
To be fair, the administration is calling this a POW swap, which at the end of a conflict is certainly appropriate and right. But this wasn’t a POW swap. The group that held Bergdahl is a terrorist group. The prisoners at Guantanamo were not members of any organized army representing any specific nation, and have never been accepted as such. And POW’s are not held at threat of death if demands aren’t met. The administration itself has explained that Bergdahl’s life was in immediate danger. That mitigates against him being POW.
The administration is careful to refer to Bergdahl as a ‘prisoner,’ not a ‘hostage,’ much like they referred to the attacks at Benghazi as ‘demonstrations,’ and not ‘terrorism.’ The problem now is not simply with the administration’s foreign policy decisions, it’s the fact that Americans are having increasing trouble believing what they say about the decisions.
Call it what you want, but if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck—it’s a duck.
Maybe the President was trying to fulfill a campaign promise and empty Gitmo. I get that. He was elected. He gets to do what he had promised to do. But please do it without it seeming like a prisoner swap. At least the terrorists you let back out won’t be as inclined to take hostages.
Most troubling to me, however, is the fact that the administration failed to comply with the law that requires the President to give congress 30 days advance notice before negotiating an exchange of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Not simply “within 30 days,” but specifically “30 days in advance.” I am deeply concerned because of the appearance that the administration might have intentionally ignored this law.
The administration says that they had to act quickly because Bergdahl's life was in danger. The point becomes then, how did you know his life was in danger unless you were already negotiating? That would indicate that they were negotiating prior to their reason for not notifying congress. If the peril to Bergdahl was found through other means, how was contact with the terrorists so immediately established?
Problematically, the administration can't get their story straight as to why they didn't advise congress as required by law. First, they said that they didn't have time because Bergdahl's life was in danger. Next, however, they claimed they just forgot.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told Senator Diane Feinstein that the failure to notify congress in advance “…was an oversight.” This, to say the least, stretches credibility. Even if it was true, it evinces a frightening level of incompetence and/or negligence. They forgot? It is difficult to believe that compliance with that particular law was “forgotten,” specifically because of the Obama administration's strong objection to the law when it was passed. At the time it was passed, they criticized the notification required by the law because, “It might tie the president’s hands in a prisoner exchange where time was of the essence.” Yes, it would. And that was the purpose of the law.
No administration can simply disregard laws they disagree with. Period.
THE HOSTAGE AND THE RANSOM
Many claim that Bergdahl is a deserter and some claim that he is a traitor. I do not have enough reliable information yet on which to base a decision. However, even with what has been reported, there is possible mitigation to his actions, even if he left the camp willingly.
Some people do not cope with battle well at all. Some collapse mentally. This is not unusual. It is possible that Bergdahl could not deal with war and his actions are a result of that. If that is true, then he is a casualty in a way. There is, however, not enough information available at this time to determine whether or not that is true.
It is also said that he is having trouble remembering English. I do not know if this is true, but if it is, I am puzzled. I know one American held in a foreign prison for four years, and while they occasionally forgot to speak English upon their release, their English had not degraded at all, though they were fluent in the language of their captor. Another person with whom I worked was an American imprisoned in Bolivia for two years. Not only was his English not impacted, he learned comparatively little Spanish. The fact that Bergdahl allegedly has forgotten English and speaks only Pashtu is troubling regardless of the reason.
According to USA Today, Bergdahl left a note behind when he left the camp saying that he wanted to “start over.” He left behind his rifle and body armor, but took a compass, knife, water, camera and a diary. He wasn’t going out looking for women or booze.
Former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, search team leader the night of Bergdahl’s disappearance, told USA Today that the team intercepted radio and cellphone communications from a nearby village which described an American soldier who wanted to talk to the Taliban. Again, this will have to be investigated. Nothing is certain.
Significantly, soldiers from Bergdahl’s camp believed he was giving the Taliban information on military routes and times, because bombings and attacks on troops became more frequent and more accurate after his disappearance.
The Washington Post identified the terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay as:
“Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, 47. Once, the Taliban’s Interior minister, hard liner. Close ties to Osama bin Laden”
“Mullah Mohammad Fazl, 47. Senior commander Taliban Army, later Chief of Staff. Personally supervised the killing of thousands of Shiite Muslims near Kabul 1998-2001. Present at a 2001 prison riot which killed CIA operative Johnny Spann. His military file states, ‘If released, would rejoin and participate in hostilities’”
“Mullah Norullah Noori, 47. Also present during Spann’s death. May have been involved in Shiite massacre. Military file: ‘Continues to be a significant figure encouraging acts of aggression.’”
“Abdul Haq Wasiq, 43. Deputy Chief of Intelligence for the Taliban. Used his office to support al Qaeda. Central to the Taliban’s effort to form alliances with other Islamic Fundamentalist groups.”
“Mohammad Nabi Omari, 46. Member of joint al Qaeda Taliban cell in eastern Khost province. ‘One of the most significant Taliban leaders detained at Gitmo’”
Back to Winston Churchill;
"An appeaser is one who feeds the alligator, hoping it will eat him last."
America has fed the alligator, and he is still hungry.
Eliot Rodgers, Ryan Chamberlain &
Life In A Sterile Concourse
We've now learned that Ryan Chamberlain did in fact have the (separated) precursors for a bomb in his San Francisco apartment. The list of components provided by the FBI included batteries, unspecified “green” explosive powder, ball bearings, a model rocket motor, a glass jar and a circuit board. These are just about the complete components necessary for an improvised explosive device (IED), colloquially known as a bomb.
As I speculated yesterday, when the FBI found the components for the bomb, they were not assembled and therefore not a danger to explode. The “green powder” is likely as we theorized yesterday; a green “smokeless powder.” Smokeless powder is used by hunters and target shooters to load their own ammunition to save money. It is available over the counter, and legal to purchase and possess in quantities up to 50 pounds. Therein lies the rub for the FBI. Nothing on the list they provided to the press was illegal to own in and of itself. However, I believe that the combination of these items in a single place would constitute proof that an IED was being constructed, which is illegal.
In the FBI, I worked on interdicting these types of threats and I believe that we were able to save lives by preventing planned attacks such as we've seen for the past two decades. But not all of them. Most perpetrators amassed explosives, and most planned to use (or actually used) legally obtained materials, such as ammonium nitrate, fireworks (black powder) as used in the Boston Marathon bombings, or smokeless powder.
The key in identifying and predicting future violence, however, lies not in the weapon of choice. This is simply because a person who might have lived 40 years normally, suddenly divorces, goes bankrupt, has a spouse die, loses their job, develops late-onset schizophrenia or combinations of all of them. Suddenly, a person like Chamberlain experiences several deep and painful losses and they become morose and “scary” within a few months, after 40 years of functionality. Someone who was at no risk to own a firearm (or smokeless powder, or knives, or a car, or a hammer) last year, suddenly becomes an extreme risk to have them this year. There is no possible way to keep all means of violence away from people determined to kill. The Isla Vista killer prior to Eliot Rodger, David Attias (ironically, also the son of a movie director), killed four and critically wounded a fifth with his weapon of choice: A 1991 Saab 900 Turbo, which was legally purchased and which he was licensed to operate. Cars, like guns, are heavily regulated.
Society changes after every disaster. After hijackings in the 1970’s, Americans began to step through magnetometers. Immediately following September 11, 2001, the U.S. created Homeland Security, TSA and enacted The Patriot Act. Subsequent to the attempted shoe bombing, we now have to take off our shoes to fly on airliners or enter some government buildings. Following the Columbine H.S. shootings, students began to walk through metal detectors.
In the post- Eliot Rodger and Sandy Hook world, I suspect that we are turning another corner, and the FBI presence in the Russian Hill neighborhood last weekend is a sign of our new times. To me, it’s an encouraging yet sad sign. It’s encouraging because at least one agency is taking seriously the obvious emotional decay and social media threats of compromised individuals. It’s sad because it marks yet another incident which will force non-violent Americans jump through more hoops.
For all of us to be safe from these types of crimes, we obviously have to begin interdicting them. And interdicting them depends not just on regulation of legally purchased items like guns, knives, model rocket motors or cars, but on the mental condition of individuals. I am not advocating for dangerous items to be universally available without restriction. On the contrary, I wonder how somebody with such obvious mental/emotional defects as Eliot Rodger was allowed to purchase a firearm of any type, in violation of existing laws. But even if he had been stopped from purchasing a firearm, it would not have helped his three roommates who he killed with a knife and a hammer. How many knives and hammers are in your homes?
Eliot Rodgers posted his plans, his pain and his dysfunction on social media far enough in advance of his attack that it was likely preventable. He had a long history of serious mental illness—to the point that his parents feared that he would kill himself or be a danger to others. Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Officers were called to do a “welfare check” on him in the days before the shooting. Yet, inexplicably, they made no check to even see if he owned weapons before the welfare check, because, according to a spokesperson, “The issue of weapons did not come up.” That rings false to me because weapons checks are made before the officers knock on doors. It does you no good to check after you've been shot through a front door you just knocked on. Obviously, the situation was not taken seriously even before the deputies arrived at the residence. I do not believe they were being careless. I believe they were likely jaded from so many false alarms throughout their careers.
Ryan Chamberlain had little if any history of mental illness. But when his world came crashing down around him, he also posted his pain and his dysfunction on social media. This time, however, somebody paid attention—and we learned that he apparently was making a bomb. Had this not been interdicted, what might the next headlines have been?
For these types of attacks to be stopped, the world is going to look a lot less like two uniformed officers knocking on a college student’s door, and a lot more like an army of FBI agents descending on a city block with vans, weapons, bomb trucks and hazmat suits.
And this is good. And this is sad because it turns out that we are our brothers’ keeper. But it works, and it feels better than living in a sterile concourse.
In the western world, anonymity is rightly regarded with suspicion. Newspapers refuse to publish anonymous letters to the editor, and little explanation is needed to explain this policy. It’s also a common understanding that people in masks are generally trying to do something illicit and not get caught. The Ku Klux Klan didn't wear masks because they were feeding the homeless.
In every human being, there is a distrust of anonymity ingrained in our DNA. The U.S. Constitution as well as English Common Law looks very dimly on anonymous witnesses and anonymously provided evidence—and for good reason. Unless one is allowed to “confront the witness,” the person’s veracity, motives and integrity are a complete mystery. Anonymity is the tool of anarchy, totalitarianism and hatred.
The Internet, sadly, has revolutionized anonymity. From consequences-free porn (men no longer have to go to the back area of a video store hoping not to be seen by someone they know) to the Aryan Nations hate site "Stormfront," new and more disgusting uses have been found for anonymity, and the means to hide from responsibility have multiplied exponentially.
More and more, we are seeing large groups of anonymous people spewing hate, lies and misinformation on the Internet—baseless accusations which could take the lives of innocent people as surely as similar lies did in the Salem Witch Trials. In the Amanda Knox case, an American woman and an Italian man, both clearly innocent, are continually vilified, demonized and caricatured by individuals and/or groups too cowardly to use their own name(s) in defense of a victim they claim they would (otherwise) lay their lives down for.
Those with legitimate expertise, insight or knowledge on a case or issue would benefit from revealing their identity. Would President Bill Clinton comment on a government policy anonymously, when his very name and experience commands respect and ensures his opinions a hearing? Of course not.
The fact that a person or persons hide behind an avatar and a fanciful moniker is in and of itself evidence that they know that their real identity would compromise their credibility. In other words, if we knew who they were, we would immediately disregard anything they said. In the Knox case, it’s people like the obsessive poster “Harry Rag” who spends so much of his time spewing hate and lies at Amanda Knox and her supporters that one wonders how he(?) keeps a job, if indeed he’s one person and not a persona created by a firm hired by prosecution attorneys. The fact that “he” sent rank pornography to my wife simply because she disagreed with him leads me to believe he is more likely a sick male than a rational committee. I regularly get hate mail from these anonymous trolls on this very website. Not once has any of them discussed actual case facts. Instead, they comment on my physical appearance (a favorite of theirs) and call me the most vile names--anonymously. Which is why it doesn’t bother me.
But how do they get away with this? They get away with it only when we or anybody else give credence to a single word they utter, type or print. Regardless of their argument, their stated position or their claimed knowledge, the fact is that these entities could be anybody. They could be blogging from a half-way house for sex offenders, or from the recreation room at an inpatient mental facility. Or, they could be groups of people at a public relations firm hired by those with a financial interest in the outcome of a particular trial. Regardless of which it is, it’s time society ignored those who do not have the courage of conviction to even stamp their opinions with their own name.
Today, I begin what I hope will be a continuing series; “Short Take.” It is designed for those who have less than, say, the two days it usually takes to read through one of my regular blog articles. “Short Take” will also allow me to post more often. Depending on your view of my writing, this is either very good or horribly bad news. I will be commenting on current events, my cases, and topics I believe would be of general interest. I will also continue the approximate bi-monthly “treatise” I tend to compose on issues. Thank you for putting up with the length of these articles. For what it’s worth, in 2013 and the first part of 2014, gmancasefile.com has averaged 12,000 unique visits per month. My sincere thanks to those of you who visit.
SHORT TAKE #1: FBI Search Reveals Explosives in S.F.
This is how a crime scene search is done. Are you seeing this, Giuliano Mignini? Listen to your experts in Rome.
4:40 a.m., Hollywood, California: I just finished a CNN New Day segment on the FBI search of the San Francisco apartment of Ryan Chamberlain II and the reports that he possessed explosives. (I'll post the segment later.) Sound-bites rarely convey the entire truth of a situation and this appearance was no exception, though CNN usually gives each issue five minutes, while many other outlets spend half that time. What I didn't get a chance to say was that judging from the protocol used by the FBI Evidence Response Team/Bomb Techs, there was no significant amount of explosives in Chamberlain’s apartment at all. Not trying to defend him, I don’t know anything about him. Just commenting on what I see and comparing it to what I know.
My squads (domestic and international terrorism) worked a LOT of bomb scenes and potential bomb scenes. When we found or suspected explosives at a location, the protocol required us to FIRST assess the potential danger with FBI Bomb Technicians (Bomb Techs) and determine from them--overgeneralizing here-- "How big an explosion could this amount of explosives potentially make?" We would get an estimated radius of blast damage, then add 10-50% for extra safety, and evacuate that big an area. In an apartment building, you would have to assess whether the potential explosion might bring down the structure. If unsure, you assumed it could. Needless to say, even small bombs or explosives caches resulted in large evacuations.
The FBI Evidence Response and Bomb teams in SF evacuated nobody. Not even the people in apartments next to Chamberlain’s. And it's not because they weren't following protocol. From what I saw on news footage, this warrant search was so "by the book" it could be used as a training video. If anything, they were erring on the side of caution. As somebody trained in the discipline, I can tell you that their execution was impressive. If I was their boss, I would be beaming with pride.
So I'd have to ask what type of explosives they found there. I lean toward the conclusion that they found components which are harmless unless combined. For instance, empty foot-long lengths of threaded galvanized pipe, end caps and cans of smokeless powder—the makings of a pipe bomb. If the three aren't combined there's no danger. Maybe blasting caps? Fuses? Uncombined explosive precursors? Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer not yet mixed with diesel fuel, the Oklahoma City bomb components? The list of possibilities is almost endless.
What would really be illuminating would be to get a copy of the search warrant and find out what their probable cause was to search the apartment, and what they expected to find there--and why.
As we go farther down the road of dealing with the violent mentally ill in our society, I can’t help but recognize that when and if guns are banned (or even made incredibly difficult to obtain and keep—like in SF) people will turn to other, unregulated means to cause death and destruction. And they will find that they can cause even larger casualty counts with commonly available items such as the aforementioned fertilizer and diesel fuel, threaded galvanized pipe and smokeless powder, even fireworks and pressure cookers like those used in Boston.
We can play Whack-A-Mole by banning one weapon system at a time as each pops up and causes mass casualties (the TSA model), but American can never be made a sterile concourse. As George S. Patton famously said, “Fixed fortifications are a monument to man’s stupidity.” It’s time to concentrate on the killer, and realize that the means can never be eliminated as long as a man has a car, gasoline, a hammer or a steak knife.