On Saturday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Ruzak announced that “deliberate actions” diverted Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport on March 8.
Difficult questions linger, however, with the search area expanding from the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea to include the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea and the number of nations participating on search efforts swelling to 25.
Ruzak also announced that his government now believes that on-board communications were intentionally deactivated after take-off.
“In view of this latest development the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” Ruzak said. “Despite media reports the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear, we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate.”
Of grave concern to investigators is the revelation that two of the passengers aboard MH370 cleared airline security with stolen passports. The two Iranian passengers, Pouri Nour Mohammadi, 19, and Delavar Suyed Mohammad Reza, 30, were travelling on Austrian and Italian passports stolen in Thailand last year. While Interpol believes that this incident is indicative of human smuggling and not terrorism, hard questions linger about why the passports were not flagged as stolen before the men boarded the Boeing 777.
Mohammadi and Reza represent a lingering security flaw in international flights. Interpol estimates that in 2013, passengers were able to board international flights without having their passports checked against a screening database more than a billion times. This occurred despite the fact that Interpol manages the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database (SLTD), which was created in 2002 in response to the 9/11 hijackings to provide an international repository for information on stolen and forged entry documents.
Currently, 167 of the world’s 196 nations participate in the Interpol database program. Both the Austrian and Italian passports were listed as stolen in the database.
“It is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in INTERPOL’s databases,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said in a statement. “If Malaysia Airlines and all airlines worldwide were able to check the passport details of prospective passengers against INTERPOL’s database, then we would not have to speculate whether stolen passports were used by terrorists to board MH 370. We would know that stolen passports were not used by any of the passengers to board that flight.”
The reasons for not using the Interpol database vary, but in the case of India, it is because Indian authorities feared that inaccuracy of their own data could contaminate the Interpol database.
India, however, was a member of the advisory committee that helped develop the database in 2006.
“Basically, the issue that was raised was what happens if the information that we provide and integrated with SLTD proves to be wrong. Who bears the responsibility?” said an Indian government official who was aware of the discussions related to accessing the SLTD within the Indian government. The official argued that hesitancy over integrating with SLTD comes from liability should the Indian government’s data to the database be proven incorrect for a passenger.
“An innocent passenger in such a case has the right to apply for claim from the Indian government. So, most of the discussions around the SLTD revolved around who would take the responsibility for the accuracy,” the official continued.
Interpol has recently launched I-Checkit, which would prevent people from purchasing tickets with stolen passports. The information concerning the holder of the stolen passport would be identified and flagged before the purchase, as attempts to use the passport as identification in order to check into a hotel or rent a car would create an invalid identification hit in Interpol’s databases.
“We want threats to be identified by law enforcement as far away as possible from check-in desks, boarding gates or from the tarmac,” said Noble.