WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that President Obama is “very concerned about the whereabouts of the plane” as they continued to deflect questions about terrorism surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
That possibility increased as evidence mounted Friday indicating the flight crew or unknown persons manually turned off locator systems, turned the plane around and guided it on a five-hour-long, zigzag route along waypoints with broad altitude changes toward the Indian Ocean.
Still, the word “terrorism” seemed difficult for anyone to utter, replaced by musings of “piracy” or “sabotage.”
Carney was asked at the daily briefing if the disappearance of the Boeing 777 “may have been caused by a person, and it could have been an act of piracy.”
“Who’s saying that?… Which U.S. official?” Carney wanted to know of the reporter’s anonymous source.
The press secretary said the Malaysian government is leading the investigation, and U.S. officials are “working closely” with them in Kuala Lumpur.
“This is a difficult and unusual situation, and we are working hard, in close collaboration with the Malaysian government, to investigate a number of possible scenarios for what happened to the flight,” Carney continued. “Our hearts of course go out to the families of the passengers who are in this agonizing situation. Unfortunately, definitive conclusions still clearly cannot be drawn at this time.”
“The U.S. government is tracking the situation closely, and we are in communication across agencies and with international partners to provide any appropriate assistance we can in this investigation. We are also continuing to participate actively in the search efforts. We are consulting with our international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy, including to the new search areas to the west.”
Carney said they don’t have “conclusive answers,” but are “assisting the Malaysian government in the effort to find out what happened to the plane and where it is.”
When asked if the U.S. should step up its involvement in the case, he responded that the administration has “dedicated a lot of assets to the search effort.”
“What we aren’t engaged in, publicly, anyway, or anonymously, is in speculation about what might have happened. We’re working with a whole host of authorities to try to find out what did happen,” Carney said, adding Obama has been “fully aware of it and has been briefed on it, and knows where things stand.”
Over at the State Department today, spokeswoman Marie Harf was defending the Malaysian government’s response, which has included sending U.S. 7th Fleet assets to and fro as different tips developed in the week after the plane’s disappearance.
“We and a number of other countries – China, Thailand, other countries as well – are assisting in the investigation and we’re cooperating with them and helping in any way we can. I’d remind people – and I don’t probably need to say this – but it is a pretty unprecedented situation that a plane is missing for this long,” Harf said. “They’re looking at a number of different explanations. But they’re operating in a very difficult situation. They, more than anyone, want to find out what happened to this plane. And so obviously we’ll continue working with them.”
When pressed about human intervention causing the disappearance of the plane, Harf again referred to the Malaysians’ lead.
“And I know right now they’re looking at a number of different explanations. I don’t know the latest in terms of if one is more probable than others. But the point is they’re committed to getting to the facts about what happened here. And when they have anything to update on their investigation, I’m sure they will,” she said.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday night that the investigation, at least on the U.S. end, was quickly turning toward sabotage committed by one or more people aboard the plane.
Jeh Johnson, the new secretary of Homeland Security, faced questions at a Thursday budget hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee about the concern of stolen passports being used by two Iranians aboard the missing flight.
“Can you describe what gap in the system that represents, and can you tell us anything about that?” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked the secretary.
Jeh Johnson said, “I asked the same question.”
“What I can tell you is that, at least with the United States government, we do a pretty good job of checking the Interpol database for stolen passports,” the DHS director replied. “…And other nations don’t quite have the same capability. And we need to focus on, you know, on this more globally.”
When the senator asked if the security was more stringent for flights from Malaysia to the U.S. than Malaysia to China, Johnson said he was “not sure of the answer to that.”
“But I’m told that flights from last-points-of-departure airports to the United States were pretty good at picking up stolen passports,” he added.