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MH370 report urges 'real-time' tracking of aircraft

By The Rainbow
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Screens at the London headquarters of satellite operator Inmarsat show subscribers using their service throughout the world. The search for MH370 was expanded to the Indian Ocean after the British firm provided data from its satellites. Photo: Reuters

Air traffic controllers did not realise that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was missing until 17 minutes after it disappeared from civilian radar, according to the preliminary report on the plane's disappearance released yesterday by the Malaysian government.

The report Thursday recommended that the United Nations body overseeing global aviation consider introducing a system for tracking commercial aircraft in real time. It was sent last month to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

In addition to the five-page report, dated April 9 but made public Thursday, the government also released other information from the investigation into the flight, including audio recordings of conversations between the cockpit and air traffic control, the plane's cargo manifest and seating plan as well as a map showing the plane's deduced flight path.

The report, however, mostly contained information that has been released since the jet disappeared while flying near the border separating Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace.

The plane travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went off Malaysian radar at 1.21am on March 8. Most of the 227 passengers were Chinese.

The report said Vietnamese air traffic controllers asked about the plane only at 1.38am. The report also said the Malaysian authorities did not launch an official search and rescue operation till four hours later at 5.30am, after efforts to locate the jet failed.

A separate report listing the actions taken by air traffic controllers showed Vietnamese controllers contacted Kuala Lumpur after they failed to establish verbal contact with the pilots and the plane did not show up on their radar.

That report also showed that Malaysia Airlines at one point thought the plane may have entered Cambodian airspace. The airline said in the report that 'MH370 was able to exchange signals with the flight flying in Cambodian airspace'' but that Cambodian authorities said they had no information or contact with Flight 370. It was unclear which flight the airline was referring to that exchanged signals with MH370.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last week appointed a team of experts to review all the information the government had regarding the missing plane, and to decide which information should be made public.

'The prime minister set, as a guiding principle, the rule that as long as the release of a particular piece of information does not hamper the investigation or the search operation, in the interests of openness and transparency, the information should be made public,' Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement yesterday.

The White House and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have long tried to quell the controversy around the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. New revelations show that the issue is far from dead.

Earlier this week, the conservative activist group Judicial Watch obtained emails that show the White House tried to link the attacks to fictional protests instead of calling it an al-Qaeda linked attack. In one email, White House official Ben Rhodes urged then U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and White House spokesman Jay Carney “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” He urged them to attribute the violence on protests over an American-made video that criticized Islam.

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Rice and Clinton then told the nation the attack occurred because of the non-existent protest over the video. President Obama refused to call it a terror attack until days after it happened.

From the start, the CIA's station chief in Libya reported that the attack was linked to al-Qaeda. Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell also testified last month that he was not aware of where the story about the protest came from.

Adding to the controversy are statements made by Retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell, an officer who served at DOD's Africa command in Germany at the time of the attack.

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Earlier today, he testified that while the nature of the attack was not clear at the time, “what we did know early on was that this was a hostile action…This was no demonstration gone terribly awry.'

'As the attack was ongoing, it was unclear whether it was an attempted kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement or any or all of the above,” he said. Lovell added that he didn't question DOD's claim that it did not have enough time to get troops to the region to save American lives.

Lovell's testimony adds fuel to a fire that has been raging in the GOP for more than two years. Republicans have long charged that the Obama administration tried to paint the incident as a spontaneous raid instead of a coordinated terror attack because the president did not want to look weak on terrorism before the 2012 presidential election. The GOP is also likely to use the new intel against Hillary Clinton, who angrily defended the White House on Capitol Hill, if she decides to run for president in 2016.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a longtime critic of the White House in general and Clinton specifically, said that the emails released earlier this week amount to a 'smoking gun' that show the White House tried to “shape the story” after the attack.

'Our Democratic friends, for the most part, have been in the tank over Benghazi,' the senator said on a radio show this morning. 'The scumbags are the people in the White House who lied about this.'

Unfortunately for Republicans, polls show that the Benghazi issue is one the pubic care little about. But with Clinton as the front-runner for the Democratic nod in 2016, Republicans are going to do all they can to change that.

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