Malaysia says jet's disappearance was deliberate; investigation refocused on crew, passengers
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The Malaysian jetliner missing for more than a week had its communications deliberately disabled and its last signal came about 7 1/2 hours after takeoff, meaning it could have ended up as far as Kazakhstan or deep in the southern Indian Ocean, Malaysia's leader said Saturday.
Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement confirmed days of mounting speculation that the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was not accidental, and underlines the massive task for searchers who have been scouring vast areas of ocean.
"In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board," Najib said, stressing they were still investigating all possibilities as to why the plane deviated so drastically from its original flight path.
"Clearly the search for (Flight) MH370 has entered a new phase," Najib told a televised news conference.
The plane was carrying 239 people when it departed for an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at 12:40 a.m. on March 8. The plane's communications with civilian air controllers were severed at about 1:20 a.m., and the jet went missing in one of the most puzzling mysteries in modern aviation history.
Electronic trail, difficulty of hiding plane would make it hard to steal a big airliner
To steal Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 out of midair would require a pilot who knew how to elude detection by both civilian and military radar. It would take a runway at least a mile long to land the wide-body jet, possibly in the dark, and a hangar big enough to hide it. All without being seen.
Improbable but not impossible, experts say.
With the search for the missing airliner entering its eighth day, scenarios involving piracy or hijacking are increasingly being talked about as possible explanations for the disappearance of the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board.
Authorities say they're not ruling out other theories, which include a catastrophic structural failure causing the plane to break up, engine failure, or pilot suicide. But a U.S. official gave an intriguing twist to the story Friday by saying that investigators are considering whether the plane's disappearance was due to "an act of piracy" and whether the big jet might have landed somewhere without being detected.
A takeover of the plane seemed to be ruled out a few days ago, when officials discounted any link between terrorism and two passengers who were traveling on fake passports. The piracy theory, however, gained new life when it was reported that the plane's transponders had been turned off, making it more stealthy; and that signals from the plane indicated that it kept flying for several hours after the last radio contact, possibly turning west toward the Indian Ocean.
10 Things to Know: This Week's Takeaways
Looking back at the stories to remember from the past week:
1. MYSTERY OF MISSING MALAYSIAN AIRLINES PLANE UNSOLVED
Flight MH370, with 239 people aboard, vanished not long after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur for Beijng on March 8, and hasn't been heard from since. A search for the Boeing 777 has found no wreckage and the latest evidence suggests the plane didn't experience a catastrophic incident. Some experts theorize that one of the pilots, or someone else with flying experience, hijacked the plane or committed suicide by plunging the jet into the sea.
US urges Moscow to reject Sunday's vote in Crimea to join Russia and secede from Ukraine
LONDON (AP) — The West braced Friday for a vote by the Crimean Peninsula to secede from Ukraine — and likely be annexed by Russia — as the last attempt for diplomacy broke down despite threats of costly international sanctions and other imminent penalties against Moscow for forcibly challenging a pro-European government in Kiev.
Russia's top diplomat said Moscow will make no decisions about Crimea's future, including whether to embrace it as a new territory, until after a local referendum Sunday to decide whether it should remain part of Ukraine.
But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the vote's results are all but a foregone conclusion, and urged Russia's parliament against accepting any offer to claim Crimea as its own.
"We believe that a decision to move forward by Russia to ratify that vote officially within the Duma would, in fact, be a backdoor annexation of Crimea," Kerry told reporters in London after six hours of talks Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Kerry instead called on Moscow to support broad autonomy for Crimea — still as part of Ukraine — instead of a move by the strategic peninsula to secede. And he predicted the probability of "if the people of Crimea vote overwhelmingly, as one suspects they will, to affiliate or be associated with Russia."
For Obama, CIA spat highlights complicated role in managing post-Sept. 11 programs
WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Barack Obama, a public spat between his trusted ally at the CIA and a loyal Democratic senator has put into sharp focus his complicated role in managing the post-Sept. 11 anti-terror programs he inherited from George W. Bush.
The president wants to stay neutral in the feud that erupted last week between Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and CIA Director John Brennan, who served as Obama's top counterterrorism adviser before being tapped to lead the spy agency. Feinstein accused the CIA of illegally searching computers the Senate Intelligence Committee used to study documents related to the harsh interrogation techniques the agency employed after the 2001 terror attacks.
In brief comments on the dispute, Obama said taking sides was "not something that is an appropriate role for me and the White House to wade into at this point."
Staying out of the fray may prove difficult for Obama, given that he's already entwined with the issue at the core of the dispute: What kind of public reckoning should there be for those who carried out waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods?
Even as Obama was publicly declaring his neutrality in the dispute between Feinstein and Brennan, he dispatched his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and top lawyer Kathryn Ruemmler to Capitol Hill to meet with the California senator.
Killer who escaped from Army prison in 1977 recaptured in Fla. via face-recognition software
DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In the nearly 40 years after he escaped from the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, convicted killer James Robert Jones carved out a new life for himself in Florida, living under an assumed name, getting married and working for an air conditioning company.
It all came to an end this week when Jones — or Bruce Walter Keith, as the former Army private was known in Florida — was recaptured with the help of technology that was more sci-fi than reality when he broke out during the disco era: facial-recognition software.
"The first words out of his mouth were, 'I knew this would catch up with me someday,'" Barry Golden, a senior inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service, said Friday.
Jones, 59, was one of the Army's 15 most-wanted fugitives after his 1977 escape from the Kansas prison dubbed "The Castle" for its large walls and tower keeps.
He was convicted of murder and assault in the 1974 killing of a fellow soldier at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
Malnutrition grows among Syrian children as poverty, lack of heath care take toll
KAB ELIAS, Lebanon (AP) — Trapped in her northern Syrian village by fighting, Mervat watched her newborn baby progressively shrink. Her daughter's dark eyes seemed to grow bigger as her face grew more skeletal. Finally, Mervat escaped to neighboring Lebanon, and a nurse told her the girl was starving.
The news devastated her. "They had to hold me when they told me. I wept," the 31-year-old mother said, speaking in the rickety, informal tent camp where she now lives with her husband in the eastern Lebanese town of Kab Elias.
Her daughter Shurouk has been undergoing treatment the past three months and remains a wispy thing. The 9-month-old weighs 7 pounds (3.2 kilos) — though she's become more smiley and gregarious. Mervat spoke on condition she be identified only by her first name, fearing problems for her family in Syria.
Her case underscored how dramatically Syrian society has unraveled from a conflict that this weekend enters its fourth year. Such stark starvation was once rare in Syria, where President Bashar Assad's autocratic state ran a health system that provided nearly free care.
That system, along with most other state institutions, has been shattered in many parts of the country where the fighting between Assad's forces and the rebels trying to overthrow him is raging hardest. The war has killed more than 140,000 people and has driven nearly a third of the population of 23 million from their homes — including 4.2 million who remain inside Syria and 2.5 million who have fled into neighboring countries. Nearly half those displaced by the war are children.
Russia's propaganda campaign against Ukraine goes full tilt as media freedom withers
MOSCOW (AP) — This is Ukraine today, at least as seen by most Russian news media: the government is run by anti-Semitic fascists, people killed in protests were shot by opposition snipers and the West is behind it all.
And the room to disagree with that portrayal is getting smaller by the week.
With Crimea set to hold a referendum Sunday on whether to merge with Russia, the push to demonize Ukraine's leadership has reached fever pitch. Authorities in Ukraine have responded by blocking Russian TV channels.
Lev Gudkov, head of a respected independent Moscow-based polling agency, says the propagandist tone of Russian state television has reached new levels.
"For intensity, comprehensiveness and aggressiveness, this is like nothing I have ever seen over the whole post-Soviet period," Gudkov said.
RNC chairman Priebus defends changes to primary process as 'rebuilding,' heralds Florida win
BURLINGAME, Calif. (AP) — Planned changes to the Republican Party's presidential selection process are part of a rebuilding process that will strengthen the GOP brand and hopefully make its presidential nominee more competitive in 2016, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told California Republicans on Friday, calling the GOP's current primary process "a complete disaster."
Priebus said shortening the primary process by moving up the national convention at which the nominee is typically selected to June and cutting the number of debates are "not an establishment takeover. This is using your brain. Everything's not a conspiracy."
"I think a traveling circus of debates is insanity in this party," Priebus told about 200 delegates. "We're proposing to have fewer than 10, and this time around, we're going to pick the moderators."
Priebus is proposing to hold just 10 debates for the would-be GOP nominees in 2016, compared with the 27 held ahead of the 2012 race in which former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was eventually selected as the party's nominee.
The chairman also touted a key victory this week in a hard-fought Florida congressional race that is seen as a possible bellwether of November midterm election. Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in a special election Tuesday that largely turned on President Barack Obama's health care law.
Records opened: Clinton feared 1994 losses; team later gave conflicting advice on response
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sensing a Republican tidal wave, President Bill Clinton worried in the summer of 1994 that Republicans were energized heading into the midterm elections while his Democratic base was deflated. "There's no organization, there's no energy, there's no anything out there," Clinton said of his own party.
"They're organized and they're working," the president observed of conservative activists, according to an August, 1994 transcript. "And our cultural base. ... They walked off."
Clinton's concerns turned out to be justified: Republicans swept to power in the fall elections, wresting control of the House and Senate from the president's party. The transcript was among 4,000 documents released Friday by the National Archives.
They're just part of the roughly 30,000 pages expected to be released in coming weeks. The documents, which cover Clinton's two presidential terms, are much anticipated in the political world, partly because then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is considering her own bid for the presidency in 2016.
The documents shed ample light on her husband's administration, highlighting the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of aides, the stroking of allies and erstwhile opponents and the sting of the first Republican takeover of Congress in 40 years.