HEAR NO EVIL
The New Year progressed with nary a word from D.C. The Bureau had still not deigned to reply.
Periodically, I checked with my main contact who told me that it would probably take longer for them to reply. He was certainly correct in that assessment.
HH spoke often about Abu Sayyaf; sometimes more than I would have wished. He could not comprehend why Uncle Sam had not bothered to reply to his offer of ‘dismantlement.’ Since I didn’t understand it either; I was hardly in a position to explain the situation to him.
In April, the Abu Sayyaf attacked the village of Ipil in the Philippines, killing 53 people. Surely this attack would awaken the Bureau. No word from the eastern front; D.C. remained silent.
The Prince was determined to push ahead. I was the designated “push-ee.” The attack on Ipil had angered him further.
Yet again, I went back to my locals at the FBI. They still knew ‘nothing’ and had been told ‘nothing.’
“The offer was in D.C.”
Rigid protocol and a multitude of manuals precluded them from querying Headquarters. Like nuns, we were told to sit quietly and wait.
I wasn’t a nun and I was having none of it. At the very least, I did deserve the courtesy of a reply.
Since the locals had no answers, I would go to the top. As long as I was contacting D.C. anyway, I decided to dust off my Christmas card list and write everyone and anyone within the Beltway who might be willing to write back.
Perhaps, someone somewhere had some answers. Who knew; they might even be willing to share them?
Ignorance was working in my favour. To ensure that my mail did not go astray, every letter was sent certified mail, return receipt requested.
I became fast friends with the nice lady of the local post office. She even sent back the green bingo cards when the government forgot to sign for the letters.
This lady was a government employee to enjoy. Every month I showed up with my stack of letters. It quickly became a ritual. We chitchatted and caught up with one another while she processed the letters.
My infamous FBI-designated ‘letter campaign’ had begun.
I continued to watch the mailbox. My vigilance was not in vain. On July 28th, a letter appeared from one of the people on my Christmas card list. It had been sent by the Senior Senator from my home state. Now, I would get some action.
I tore open the letter and flew through the contents. The Senator began by thanking me for informing him of HH’s offer to the FBI, etc. to stop the terrorist activities of the Abu Sayyaf. He then informed that he had written to the Bureau requesting that they look into the matter and respond directly to me. He also requested that the FBI send him a copy of their reply so that “they [would] know of my personal interest.”
Now, the Bureau would have to reply. He ended the letter by thanking me for keeping him informed.
August and September rolled by with nary a reply. Apparently, the Bureau’s bureaucrats either suffered from a severe shortage of either stenos or paper.
Initially, the Prince has been please with the Senator’s letter. We had both naively believed that the FBI and the other agencies would be compelled to comply. After all, a Senior Senator was a Senior Senator.
Several months later, that ship sank on the shoals of silence. The campaign carried on.
I religiously made my monthly pilgrimages to the post office. The nice postal lady and I had refined our certified mail system down to an art form. I would outlast Uncle Sam. A reply had become a point of honour. Sooner or later, I would force a response.
November 1st arrived. Lo and behold, I got mail. Two letters from Uncle Sam’s servants in the same year; what was the world coming to?
The letter came from the Acting Director of PIMBS (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei & Singapore) of the US Department of State. It referred to my recent letter of October 4th. It neglected to refer to the previous pile of postal communiques. It read as follows:
“This is in response to your October 4 letter to the Department of State concerning your inquiries on behalf of… [HH].”
“The issue of [the Prince’s] dealings with regard to the Abu Sayyaf Group is one of Philippine internal security, and is the province of the Government of the Philippines. I would suggest that you or [HH] pursue the matter directly with that government.
I hope this information is useful to you.”
This letter could be described in a lot of different ways; ‘helpful’ was not one of them.
I was stunned. The Abu Sayyaf Group was kidnapping American citizens. The were kidnapping fellow countrymen who were traveling in blue American passports, issued by the same US Department of State which was now saying that the “issue of [kidnapping American citizens] is one of Philippine internal security.”
Once again, I did not understand. Somehow, I had concocted the crazy concept that the American government had been created to protect its citizens regardless of where they happened to be. Apparently, I was grossly mistaken.
There was one wee bit of good news for which I was truly grateful. The Department of State had NOT referred me back to the FBI. Almost an entire year had passed and the Bureau bureaucrats had still not deigned to drop me a line.
I did not relish the idea of delivering this news to the Prince. He was still trying to come to grips with the mounting months of total silence.
According to the Department of State, I was somehow supposed to tell a Muslim Prince to open negociations with the current successor of the same corrupt Catholic governments which had created the problems that caused the Islamic rebellion, including the rebirth of the ASG, in the first place.
Furthermore, HH was supposed to sell out his Muslim ‘brothers’ to the Manila Mafia, who, in turn, would sell out their own mothers if there was a perky percentage in it.
This would do wonders for the Prince’s life expectancy.
At the end of the day, I couldn’t do it. I copped out. I told HH that it was too difficult to explain. Instead, I faxed him a copy of the letter and then took my telephone off the hook. It did buy me a 24 hour reprieve.
My stay of execution had ended. I finally screwed up my courage and rang through. We started off on a high note. The decibels were deafening.
After the Prince cooled down, the conversation got almost civilized. He didn’t understand. I couldn’t explain. We made quite a pair.
I had a brainstorm. Since the Department of State has responded one time; perhaps they would again. I had nothing to lose but a few more stamps. Besides, I was still commuting to the post office monthly, anyway. The letter campaign to the Department of State was reinstituted.
Abu Sayyaf celebrated Christmas late that year. On December 26th, they kidnapped 19 people. Six of them were American citizens. It certainly didn’t look like an internal Philippine problem to me. Then again, I was just a civilian, not a Bureau bureaucrat.
I talked with the Prince. While HH was not pleased with the kidnapping, he did appreciate the irony between the Department of State’s stance and the subsequent events.
The Prince was firmly convinced that this latest kidnapping would finally wake the dead and elicit a new response from Uncle Sam. I was not so certain.
It turned out that I was right. 1995 closed with no communication from Uncle Sam, not even a Christmas card.
The New Year began with a pleasant surprize. As a belated Christmas gift, the Prince had appointed and/or anointed me as a ‘Raja.’ I didn’t know ‘who’ or ‘what’ a ‘Raja’ was or what they did, but it sure sounded nice. It was not a bad way to start of the New Year.
Along with my new designation, the Prince had a new plan as well. The Casino project had bitten the dust. The interested parties were particularly uninterested in the proffered locations. Manila Bay had already been booked.
Now HH was into shipping, more specifically, the ferry business. It did make sense. There were hordes of islands in the neighborhood and little to no available service. Also, the current competitors in the region had the unfortunately habit of sinking their vessels on a regular basis.
Later on, I learned one of the reasons. Many of the hulls had been temporarily patched with Styrofoam; ‘temporarily’ being the operative word.
Since SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) was a total unknown in the Philippines, regulations governing safety, services, maintenance and repairs were nonexistent. Since the vast majority of the vessels were uninsured, pesky lawsuits were kept to a minimum.
No self-respecting owner worth his salt would ever be found on one of his own vessels. It wasn’t safe.
In between the nautical stuff, the Prince and I continued to monitor the Abu Sayyaf. While HH and I had become closer in the past couple of years, there were still certain things which were not discussed. His exact relationship with the ASG was one of those taboo topics.
I had been baffled by the Abu Sayyaf’s handling of the December kidnapping. Why did they bother to kidnap 19 people, treat them humanely and then release them all within a week, especially after receiving only a minor mayoral promise for good things in the future? It made no sense.
A passing phrase led me to the answer. The Prince informed me that he “had ‘encouraged’ a speedy resolution.
There was more here than met the eye.
During the same conversation, he also reminded me that APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Conference) would be meeting in the Philippines that year. He suggested that it would be wise to remind the Bureau that international travel, especially for visiting Heads of State, was always an ‘interesting’ adventure.
Why was HH reminding me in January about a meeting which wouldn’t take place until November, almost a year away? After the December kidnapping episode, I was beginning to see a trend.
Maybe being a ‘Raja’ wasn’t such a nifty thing after all. Whatever it was, it sure wasn’t dull.
All the while the Prince ‘encouraged’ this and ‘reminded’ me of that, my ‘infamous’ letter campaign flourished and grew in recipients. Appropriate politicos had been added to the roster.
The postmen still kept their appointed rounds. I still watched the mailbox and Washington was awash in unwanted paper. HH was happy and I still got to see my friend at the post office. By now, we were almost ‘family.’
The nautical projects were proceeding on course, though none of the ships had yet to sail. Foreign governments were involved so smooth sailing was not expected. At least the Prince and I were moving forward.
April 15th came and went with the traditional tax time lamentations. I continued to make my daily run to the mailbox. The exercise did me good.
A week or so later, HH rang through. He had received a letter from the FBI addressed to me, but delivered to him. It was dated April 15th, the same day Lincoln died from his wounds. How appropriate.
Scribed by the Assistant Director of National Security, it thanked me for my letters of October 31st and November 30th. The years were not specified.
The fellow was responding to my July 20th letter to my Senior Senator. It had only taken them 17 months to respond.
The letter went on to explain that the Bureau was the “lead agency responsible for combating terrorism within the United States.” Additionally, “the FBI had responsibility for investigation of terrorist attacks against US citizens and facilities overseas.”
However, I did need to first supply them with all the exact specifics: who, where, when, how, etc. For example, Osama bin Laden, the World Trade Center, September 11th, beginning at 0847 hours EST, hijacked passenger planes flown into the Two Towers, etc.
He went on to say: “However, if the matter does not involve a violation of law within FBI jurisdiction, the FBI is unable to initiate an investigation. Your correspondence to us contains no information which suggests that such a violation of law has occurred that is within the FBI’s jurisdiction.”
Apparently, the kidnapping of US citizens didn’t count. And all this time I thought that the FBI had handled the Lindbergh kidnapping.
It also became readily apparent that the offered “dismantlement of terrorist groups” was equally out of their jurisdiction.
However, he did very kindly “refer my letter to the Department of State.” Like the Department of State hadn’t already received a truckload of their own personalized mail from me.
Obviously, the ‘infamous’ letter campaign was kaput.
It was good new and bad news: the bad news was that I was going to miss my monthly chats with my post office buddy; the good news was that the Prince had received the letter first so I didn’t have to read it to him. He had had to read it to me.
HH and I continued to work on the shipping line. I never knew what had or had not been said; all was quiet on the Abu Sayyaf front.
It was probably their fear of Uncle Sam’s letters which had done the trick. They certainly had turned me off.
Summer arrived and then July. On July 17th, TWA#800 blew up just off the eastern Shore of Long island soon after takeoff. All 230 passengers died.
Theories abounded. Terrorism, foreign or domestic, took top billing. American fears, cooled since the Oklahoma City bombing and been officially declared a case of domestic terrorism, reignited with increased intensity.
Two days later, ABC reported “that a federal agency had been contacted by a group claiming responsibility for the TWA#800 Bombing, which they said was in retaliation for the capture of Ramzi Ahmed Youssef.”
An FBI spokesman refused to comment. Now that was NOT surprising.
After noting the ABC report, I contact the Prince, operating on the assumption that the ‘Group’ claiming responsibility for the downing of the TWA airliner was the Abu Sayyaf Group since it had housed, fed and protected Ramzi Ahmed Youssef was he was in the Philippines.
HH did not believe that the ASG was responsible since “they are now in silence because of the Philippine Council for Peace and Development of Muslim area.” Nonetheless, I was again ‘advised’ to watch the November APEC meeting closely. Talk about getting mixed signals.
November did finally roll around and with it the APEC meeting. This time it was being held at the old US Navy Base at Subic Bay.
Remembering the Prince’s advice, I rang through to him a few days before the conference began. As far as he knew, “the Abu Sayyaf Group ‘proper’ was going to behave, however…” We decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. After all, it worked well for Washington.
Neither HH nor I had long to wait. The following day, a pip bomb was found near the Conference and defused. From its description, it sounded reminiscent of the style built by the Abu Sayyaf renowned “Chemist,” Ramzi Ahmed Youssef. He, however, was firmly out of commission – life without parole in a US high security prison. Perhaps one of his many students was not carrying on the family tradition?
The Conference concluded without another hiccup. The 26,000 member security force probably helped matters considerably. There were no further bombs or incidents. Uncle Sam returned home safely.
After the Conference, the Prince and I concentrated on the shipping line. The government part was going to be completed early in the New Year, due to the rapidly approaching holiday season. HH and I were both pleased with that. Neither of us wanted to travel during the Holiday anyway.
We would soon be together. That was the important thing. We signed off as usual, wishing each other the appropriate greetings. We would talk again in the New Year.