Sometimes fiction is the key to truth. The imagination runs ahead of reality and draws a map; never an exact one but more akin to glimpse. But it returns to us and reports what the future holds. A writer at the Telegraph recalls a book he read four years ago which helped him understand the mystery of MH470 more than any other of the tin-foil hat theories current.
As the story of MH370 unfolds, becoming more mysterious by the day, I keep being reminded of a thriller I read four years ago. Bolt Action, a novel by Charlie Charters, is set on board exactly the same plane – not just a Boeing 777, but a 777-200ER. In addition, the plane belongs to the national carrier of a Muslim state, though in Bolt Action's case it's Pakistan not Malaysia.
The thriller poses the question: What if a plane is hijacked but no one can regain control because the cockpit door is locked? Since 9/11 all passenger jets have bolt armatures fitted to the cockpit door (the Bolt Action reference in the title). The door remains locked during flight and it's virtually impossible for anyone to get into the cockpit unless the pilot or co-pilot chooses to open it. The locked door is designed to withstand a hand grenade being detonated right outside, a 9mm clip being fired into it at point blank range – even an axe attack. In Bolt Action, the terrorist is a member of the cabin crew, which allows him to access the cockpit where he poisons the pilot and co-pilot, and then bolts the door. The flight in question is from Manchester to New York, but the hijacker has no intention of landing the plane. Rather, his aim is to force the US Air Force to shoot the plane down, martyring everyone on board and advancing the cause of global jihad.
Chris Matthews of Time recently wrote a piece called 4 Real Life Events Predicted by Tom Clancy. One of them, you might be interested to remember, was 9/11. "In Debt of Honor, Clancy imagines a scenario where an economic dispute between the United States and Japan boils over into a military conflict. Though recurring hero Jack Ryan is able to outmaneuver the ruling Japanese cabal, the conflict results in the death of a Japan Air pilot’s son and brother. The pilot, driven insane with grief, flies his Boeing 747 into the U.S. capitol during a joint session of Congress."
Fact surely inspires fiction. But does fiction also inspire fact?
Wolf Blitzer of CNN actually asks "Do Terrorists read Tom Clancy's Fiction?"
In 1994, he wrote a thriller called Debt of Honor. Long before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Clancy had a character fly a Boeing 747 into the U.S. Capitol.
Clancy’s The Teeth of the Tiger, published in 2003, features a man named Mohammed who has a network of Colombian drug cartel thugs who plot evil deeds against the U.S.
His newest book is entitled Against All Enemies. A major plot line has Taliban terrorists joining hands with Mexican drug cartel killers to launch attacks in the United States.
A friend who’s read all the Clancy books alerted me to this when he heard of the Obama administration’s accusations that Iran plotted to have members of a Mexican drug cartel kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir.
“Seems like terrorists are big Clancy fans,” my friend suggested – probably just joking.
But there’s more....
So maybe it does. Well of course not. As a serious notion it would probably be dismissed as just another tinfoil hat theory by experts who will never admit to reading anything more lowbrow than Proust's Remembrance of things Past. Sober experts would never be caught dead quoting Bolt Action or Sum of All Fears. And to demonstrate their seriousness whenever Hollywood adapts a Tom Clancy story for the screen they make sure to change the villains from Jihadis to Nazis, or in one case to Russian Orthodox Christian extremists.
But we've all heard of copycat crimes. Those actually do exist, but why do they exist? "A copycat crime is a criminal act that is modelled or inspired by a previous crime that has been reported in the media or described in fiction."
A psychologist, Richard Amaral, believes copycat crimes are committed by those seeking attention -- what he calls "sensationalized aggression". But I've got another theory. Many copycat crimes are committed by people who are just too stupid to think for themselves and who need the stimulus of original thinking to get them going. Not everybody is Dr. No, but nearly everyone has heard of Dr. No, even if Julius No never actually existed. Criminals hear a story about something ... someone ... somewhere has done ... and they get to thinking: can I do that? As Richard Amaral put it, "we all copy something". And what do wannabee terrorists copy? Not the Remembrance of Things Past. Amaral writes:
In some way or another, I think we all copy something. Twenty years ago, my sideburns were just like Jason Priestly’s of Beverly Hills 90210. I wanted to look cool and get girls’ attention, and I thought copying Jason’s style would help me with that (and it did… until the show ended ;)).
From deciding what to wear, what gadgets to buy, what to read, we are all influenced in some way or other by social and commercial media.
Chris Warren actually thinks the bad guys are improving their game by watching crime dramas.
A number of prosecutors and police officers do believe that crime shows that focus so much on the importance of forensic evidence have also made some criminals keenly aware of the need to erase it [source: Farquhar]. Wayne Farquhar, a police officer with nearly three decades of experience with the San Jose, Calif. Police Department, does believe at least some criminals are learning.
"I see crooks more aware of protecting themselves against leaving DNA, whether it's by using gloves or masks, or the way they wipe things down and clean things," he says. For example, Farquhar remembers an instance when a criminal scrubbed a car down with bleach, assuring that no DNA evidence would be found. Although not a TV show, the movie "The Town," about a group of Boston bank robbers, featured similar techniques that would have given helpful tips to observant criminals. It showed how they avoided detection by using bleach and burning getaway cars to destroy evidence [source: Farquhar]. "You won't get anything out of a torched car," Farquhar says.
Warren thinks fiction affects juries too. And maybe the public as well, who expect something dramatic to happen when a man identifying himself from the FBI shows up at the door. The Malaysian police, not so much. Recently an official Chinese newspaper wrote a scathing editorial blaming America for not solving the MH370 by now. Either what they called "the intelligence superpower" would by now know where the plane is or they aren't trying.
You can only entertain conspiracy theories where some level of competence, imagination and intelligence is assumed. Which only goes to show that there are advantages to being the Federal Bomoh of Investigation rather than the original Bureau. Why? Because the Bureau must live up to its legend.
RIP Tom Clancy. Who knew that Gilbert and Sullivan inspired Star Trek? How soon before someone takes over a plane this way?
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific