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The Lure of Conspiracy

MH 370, Rewards and Whistleblowers

by BINOY KAMPMARK

It has been unendurable for those families who remain none the wiser for what happened to the Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board. In such a vacuum of uncertainty, theories form and hypotheses develop. If one of the most extensive aviation searches in history cannot uncover the remains of a vanishing flight, the reasons may lie elsewhere. Well, that is at least what is being proposed by such individuals as Ethan Hunt, whose namesake from Mission Impossible suggests tasks more foolhardy than constructive.

For Hunt, the absence of a plane equates to the presence of conspiracy, and that old faith in the malice that is human kind asserts itself. “The mystery is unprecedented in the history of aviation, and we need to work as a collective community with one goal of finding the truth, the plane and the passengers.”

There are those of like mind. Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, never averse to blending demagoguery with conspiracy when in office, suggested that the CIA, Boeing and the media were bound by a wicked design. “Clearly Boeing and certain agencies have the capacity to take over ‘uninterruptible control’ of commercial airliners of which MH 370 B777 is one.” In a blog post, he expressed puzzlement that, “For some reason the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA” (Breathecast News, May 26). Instead, Malaysian authorities were being singled out as the inept bogeymen of a badly directed mission.

Hunt has suggested tapping into the “crowd”, the huge vortex of prospects and options, to find the missing plane. Arise, the hidden whistleblower, evidently one enticed by the prospect of a $5 million award. “Utilising the immense potential of the crowd we believe we can achieve our primary goal of recovering the flight where others methods have failed in the past.” Hunt proves a touch vague in the event that the “whistleblower” in question proves to be a militant or a hostage taker. It takes all sorts, but behind the venture is a stark faith that survivors will be found, that the nightmare will end in the bright light of revelation.

Crowd potential will be harnessed by the crowdfunding webside Indiegogo, and is bound to target those in the aviation industry or military to disgorge valuable information. The problem with that, is its obtuseness. Assumptions abound in the entire enterprise. The entire venture is a pre-emption of what is supposedly self-evident: that there is, in fact, a vast mystery at work, one fed by the illuminati of aviation experts. When it comes to such expertise, they are bound to be as darkened as anybody else.

Hunt’s approach tends to be a sharp twist on the theme of crowdsourcing. Accordingly, the path to truth is found by a general mobilisation of scrutiny. Soon after the flight disappeared, armchair enthusiasts gazing at satellite imagery got busy. Digital Globe, a company with expertise in capturing vast amounts of digital imagery, launched a crowdsourcing campaign enabling people to trawl through satellite images. Let the satellite be your weapon of choice in this game of mystery.

Such projects are plagued by enthusiasts and keen viewers hoping to get their few cents worth in. By the company’s own assessment, there were 4.7 million “things” spotted soon after the project went live. To say that this spoiled the competition would not be an exaggeration. The search for MH 370 was being buried by vast amounts of inconclusive data and accounts of sightings. In such cases less data, not more, benefits the investigator.

The authorities have not endeared themselves either, behaving like ill-informed drunks, stumbling over details and fudging minutiae. Some of this has been occasioned by stock standard fears about sharing military data. Thai authorities were held out as being responsible for obfuscation by refusing to share radar data showing an unidentified object flying toward the Strait of Malacca minutes after the transponder signal of the jet was lost (Irrawaddy, Mar 19).

Such conduct is bound to feed conspiracies. Sara Bajc, partner of missing American passenger Philip Wood, is adamant that “there has been a cover-up.” She does admit, however, that it could be a range of things at work – intention, an appalling act that is being concealed, or just good plain incompetence. Faith, however, is a strong motivation. “But we do honestly believe that somewhere there is a person who knows something that will allow us to find the plane and find our loved ones” (The Independent, Jun 8).

Sightings, such as those by New Zealander Mike McKay, an oil rig worker who saw “an orange light” in the dark sky the night MH 370 vanished, have tended to disappear no sooner than they are mentioned. McKay had the misfortunate of being sacked by his Japanese employers of the Songa Mercur oil rig, Idemitsu, after his account to both his employer and the Vietnamese authorities was leaked. While he has been fed and discredited in mutual measure in social media outlets, the Sydney Morning Herald found two police sources accepting him as a credible and truthful witness.

While taking punts on the emergence of an elusive, yet enlightened whistleblower in this mission is inadvisable, the one scenario rejected by the conspiracy enthusiasts remains that of error and incompetence. Historical traction is often the result of both. If there is a true, systematic cover-up, it would only be relevant to concealing the vicissitudes of human error. And it is the worst kept fact imaginable.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com