The head of the CIA said today that his agency has “not at all” ruled out the idea that terrorism may have played a role in the “very disturbing” disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.
“I think there’s a lot of speculation right now,” Dir. John Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations. “[There have been] some claims of responsibility that have not been confirmed or corroborated at all. We are looking at it very carefully. We, the CIA, are working with FBI and TSA and others. Our Malaysian counterparts are doing everything they can to try to put together the pieces here. But clearly this is still a mystery, which is very disturbing.”
When asked whether he had ruled out terrorism as a factor, Brennan responded, “No, I wouldn’t rule it out. Not at all.”
However, the CIA chief said that analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center had not heard any “chatter” – a common indication of terrorist participation – related to the Malaysian Airlines flight prior to the incident. A senior counter-terrorism source told ABC News Monday that in addition to the lack of chatter beforehand, there has been a dearth afterwards as well.
“The bad guys aren’t even discussing it,” the counter-terrorism source said. “It could be great operational security, but I doubt it.”
Brennan also confirmed reports that the plane’s transponder had been disabled or turned off at some point during the flight, saying it was one of a number of “curious anomalies about all of this.”
“You cannot discount any possibility… Who had the ability to turn off the transponder? I don’t know," he said. "You know, might it have been something that had happened inside the aircraft that led to its ultimate fate? Or could it have just been some type of sort of catastrophic event that unfortunately led to that aircraft’s and those passengers’ demise? I don’t know. But I don’t think people should at this point rule out any of these lines of inquiry.”
Speculation about the flight having become a target for terrorists has abounded since the flight with 239 passengers on board disappeared in good weather without explanation Saturday. Over the weekend it was revealed two of the men on the flight had boarded with stolen passports, but today the two were identified as young Iranian men and Malaysian and Interpol officials downplayed any possible links to militant groups.
As to the fate of the plane, Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters that investigators have not ruled out any possibility, including hijacking, sabotage or a personal motive by someone on board to bring the plane down. Like American intelligence agencies, Bakar said Malaysian authorities “had no prior information or intelligence about any involvement of terrorists.”
“It’s an awkward situation,” the senior counter-terrorism source said. “There is nothing from which to draw any firm conclusion yet. We are in a period where we are concerned about an aviation threat, but there are justifiable explanations for the non-terrorism theories.”
Regardless of what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, Brennan said today the U.S. cannot let its guard down.
“It’s close to now 13 years since 9/11 and I think the memories and tragedy of 9/11 have receded in the minds of many people,” Brennan said. “This is not the time to relax because we know there are terrorist groups that are still determined to carry out attacks, including against – especially against – aircraft.”