By R.J. Godlewski
©March 17, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Speculation, on any subject, simply represents conjecture with a license to fabricate. How, then, does one satisfy the appetite of a world gone wild over the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370? On the one hand, one could (and some probably very well did) argue that a gamma ray burst from deep space caused the aircraft to enter a different dimension a la The Twilight Zone series, and it would flourish within the Internet. Astrophysicists could argue all day long that a gamma ray burst, or GRB, did not happen at that particular time or offer another reasonable explanation and it would not matter. Most of the media and hardly any of the public would understand what it was that the scientists were actually talking about. Now, on the other hand, people have a profound right to know about such events as Flight 370, no matter how preposterous the suggestion, in order to begin to develop countermeasures (and, undoubtedly, legislation) for future security efforts.
When a week passes on such events, however, patience goes out the window. People want – and deserve – answers, not speculation. Unfortunately, the answers one seeks may very well be months, if not years, off into the future. We simply do not know what happened to Flight 370 and formulating any course of action at the present would prove to be worthless. Or will it? Is there anything that we can conclude from the mystery surrounding the Malaysian Airlines flight that could prove useful for practitioners of security? Depends. Practical hypotheses, even if ultimately wrong, can provide professionals with various ‘What if?’ scenarios that will solve future crises quickly if terrorists and other malcontents actually employ these methods and tactics. Regarding Flight 370, one hypothesis remains very practical – the hacking of the jet’s onboard navigation and control system.
For decades – even predating 9/11 – al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups have been seeking to target multiple airlines, particularly over the Pacific. First, there was Ramzi Yousef’s plan to destroy almost a dozen planes over the Pacific and, more recently, the liquid bomb plot out of London’s Heathrow airport. Terrorists do not fully abandon tactics or targets as shown by the attacks against the World Trade Center in 1993 and 2001. And what could panic the world more than the knowledge of dozens of aircraft mysteriously losing control at the same time?
Some have argued that groups such as al-Qaeda would not need to hijack aircraft to employ as weapons (as seems to be the prominent thesis presently), they could certainly purchase one legitimately. Nevertheless, if I were a criminal or terrorist client, I would want to see proof of what I am laying out money for. In this case, anyone purchasing aircraft hacking programs would want to see the product work in an actual operational setting. Henceforth, I would want to see it control a real aircraft operating with real passengers and crew. This hypothesis bears scrutiny in consideration of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s home simulator and his technical fascination with the Boeing 777. Remember, terrorist operatives are extremely patient. That someone would spend a great many years achieving expert status with one particular aircraft type for a singular mission is not unusual. This pilot may very well have been born and bred for just such an attack. Alternatively, he may have simply been groomed as a sleeper to assume the command of a Boeing 777 to hijack the aircraft once the software program was perfected.
It is very sad that, to date, the family and friends of Flight 370 victims do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones. That, in itself, represents a tragedy (and atrocity) of the first magnitude. Security professionals, however, need to develop a broader database on potential scenarios for the next evolution in airline crises. Even those involving gamma ray bursters…
R.J. Godlewski (GOD LESS KEY) is the manager of Tactical Extractions, LLC., a threat resolution services company and the owner of several tactical security and counterterrorism businesses located throughout the United States. He is a graduate of American Military University, holding an M.A. in Military Studies, Asymmetrical Warfare concentration and a B.A. in Intelligence Studies, Terrorism Studies concentration, both earned with academic honors. He further holds graduate and undergraduate certificates in Security Management and Explosive Ordnance Disposal, respectively. Mr. Godlewski is a veteran of both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Navy Reserve.