HEAR NO EVIL
The New Millennium
Under one set of rules, we had entered the 3rd Millennium; under a different set we hadn’t. It depended on whom you asked.
HH and I enjoyed our customary exchange of New Year’s greetings and best wishes. He was off searching for financing for his fleet. Having already run through my bag of tricks, I offered to do due diligence on any source which he had found. I was certain that he would think long and hard before bringing a new deal. The last guy he found was sitting in jail.
The Prince was concerned about the Abu Sayyaf. The Leader and Founder, Abdurajik Janjalani, had been killed in a shootout with police over a year earlier. With his demise, HH had lost some of his abilities with ASG.
After much ado, the youngest brother, Khaddafy Janjalani, had assumed the Abu Sayyaf leadership. According to the Prince, Khaddafy was a loose cannon. Unlike his elder brother, Khaddafy’s acquaintanceship with the Koran was passing at best.
Unfortunately, HH’s fears were fully justified. After a year of hibernation and internal battles for control, the Abu Sayyaf emerged from their cave; lean, mean, hungry and feral.
Under Janjalani the Elder, the ASG had stood by their principles, both political and ethnical. The Elder had kept the Younger on a short leash. Now the Younger was free to roam and act at will. He had a reputation to make and make it he would. He would correct the mistakes of the past and lead the Abu Sayyaf to fame, fortune and glory.
It was no long until the Prince’s concerns were confirmed. In spring, the ASG attacked a government outpost and kidnapped 53 civilian, mostly students, to cover their getaway.
ASG demands and government counter demands flew back and forth for months. Two hostages were beheaded. The Abu Sayyaf had hit a new low.
It seemed surreal. This group which a few years ago had humanely treated their captives and then released them unharmed was now beheading them. If they had only been ‘dismantled’ then. The Elder would have listened; the Younger was beyond hearing.
From Uncle Sam’s lack of comment or action, it appeared to the Prince and me that the ASG was still an ‘internal Filipino issue.’ After all, no American citizens had been kidnapped this time.
Four days after the beheadings, a different branch of Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 people from a Malaysian resort. This time the majority were foreigners, many from Europe. The World sat up and took notice. The ASG had finally captured center stage.
The lethal farce played out for months. Kidnappings begat counter kidnappings, attacks begat counterattacks.
Finally, foreign powers intervened and the final curtain was brought down on the dismal drama. The Abu Sayyaf emerged the big winner, if that term can be applied in this case.
By the end of their kidnapping spree, the ASG had signed up over 2,000 new recruits and purchases tons of new weapons and 3,000 landmines with the US$28,000,000 they had collected in ransom. American dollars flooded the previously impoverished Basilan and Sulu.
As a consequence, every gold and diamond merchant within a several thousand mile radius flocked to the islands. There were so many greenbacks on the islands that the weakened Philippine Peso increased in value from PP45=US$1 to PP20=US$1. Armalite guns which had previously sold for under $900, sold for over $3,000. In the South, it was a seller’s market.
The Prince was disgusted by the Abu Sayyaf under its new leader. He could not understand why Uncle Sam did not accept his offer.
A few days after the ASG began their kidnapping spree, the President of the Philippines, the former actor Jose Estrada, decided to make matters worse. He instructed the Armed Forces of the Philippines to arrest the MILF Special Operations Group. This was tantamount to a declaration of war. Just what the southern Philippines needed. The Abu Sayyaf was off on a magical mission of mayhem as the MILF battled it out with the AFP in the Mindanaoan countryside.
The “Conflict” raged for over half a year. The final tally was gruesome. Over 800,000 Filipinos had been displaced. !50,000 were living in refugee camps in the Philippines. Another 57,000 were refugees in Malaysia. Over 6,600 home had been destroyed. Of the over 600 casualties of the “Conflict,” over 500 had been innocent civilians.
HH and I were appalled. While the Abu Sayyaf was not the sole cause; their actions had triggered a southern Filipino apocalypse. Since American citizens were not involved, once again, Uncle Sam sat on the sidelines. It was bureaucratic business as usual.
Having successfully concluded their kidnapping spree, the Abu Sayyaf returned to bombing. They attacked Zamboanga. They didn’t make any money but they did kill five people.
The Prince as disgusted. He had understood the kidnappings. That was a time-honoured profession in his neck of the woods along with piracy and smuggling.
He did not understand the beheadings: “That was not of Islam.” He had been appalled by the Philippine government and the havoc that they had callously wreaked on Mindanao.
HH firmly believed in the right of self-determination for all Moros. Equally, he just as firmly believed that the ASG was giving all Moros and Muslims a bad name.
The year ended as badly as it had begun. Christian sites in six Indonesian cities were bombed on Christmas. The Abu Sayyaf, in cahoots with Jema’ah Islamiyah, bombed Metro Manila a few days later.
As was out customs, the Prince and I spoke together at the end of the year. It was difficult to wish each another a happy New Year.
We fervently clung to the ‘Purist’ theory that the new millennium would not begin until 2001. If 2000 had inaugurated the ‘New Millennium,’ we preferred to return to the old one.
Nonetheless, HH and I made it through the holidays and spoke soon after the “Purist” Millennium had begun. We wished good riddance to 2000 and prayed for a better 2001.
We fervently hoped that the Abu Sayyaf would have been satiated and worn out by their previous year’s activities and would choose to spend the new year in happy hibernation.
With the New Year, America also got a new president. This time, he was a Republican. Perhaps this one could keep his zipper closed. After all, it was a new year.
Neither the Prince’s prayers nor mine were going to be answered. On May 26th, the Abu Sayyaf struck again, kidnapping 20 people from a resort on Palawan island in the Philippines. Three of them were American citizens. HH was hot, though he did hope that now Uncle Sam might take his offer seriously.
Soon after I had spoken with the Prince, I decided to contact my buddy at the Bureau and discuss the ASG’s latest escapade. Eight years earlier, the FBI had been responsible for our involvement in the first place.
It was an interesting phone call. I was informed that my FBI file had been closed. In fact, it had been officially closed two years earlier when the convoluted courier system had been set up. Apparently, someone somewhere had forgotten to tell me.
Accordingly, I had dutifully continued to write up my reports. My federal courier had continued to collect them and send them. Someone had accepted them at the other end.
Nothing happened in the Bureau without a file and case number. Precious little happened with a case number. I had no idea if and where my reports were going.
We agreed to still talk and I still agreed to collect intelligence. That ‘agreement’ was probably not one of my better moves.
HH and I followed the newest Abu Sayyaf saga. It held pretty much to the pattern of the previous two kidnappings the previous year. The Philippine government threatened, the ASG counter-threatened. It was laughable until the Abu Sayyaf beheaded two hostages.
One new element was added to the mix. Uncle Sam was first in line to offer a US$5,000,000 reward for the capture of all of the 5 selected ASG leaders. The US also promised to assist the Philippines in the planning and coordination of rescue operations.
The Prince momentarily expected Uncle Sam on his doorstep, accepting his longstanding offer. I didn’t, despite the FBI’s arrival in Zamboanga.
Soon after the Bureau’s appearance on the scene, the Abu Sayyaf, “doubting the sincerity of the Philippine Government,” beheaded Guillermo Sobero. He had been an American citizen. The stakes had just been raised.
The Philippine government did not believe the ASG who told them to “look for the head in Tuburan.” They did finally look in Tuburan. They did find the head.
The Prince and I watched in horror as offers and counteroffers flew back and forth. The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) with great support from Uncle Sam would make futile attempts to capture the captives and the ASG would behead those who had not managed to escape during the fighting. The remaining two American hostages were closely guarded.
Once again the AFP, with American assistance and planning, made yet another attempt to rescue the three remaining hostages. It did not go well. All three of the hostages were shot; two fatally.
A day later, the Philippine Defense Minister proudly announced that the United States had played a significant role in the planning of the rescue mission. I’m sure the hostages appreciated their involvement.
I made the Prince promise me that if I was ever taken captive by the Abu Sayyaf, he would do everything within his power to ensure that I was not rescued by the AFP using a plan drawn up by Uncle Sam. He promised. HH still waited for the call; I still didn’t.
A few weeks later, the Bureau did grant the Prince and me a really good laugh. In July, the FBI finally released the official inventory. There was a slight problem: 449 firearms and 184 laptop computers, under the Bureau’s watchful eye, had come up ‘missing.’
After learning about it, I chortled for days. Their ‘missing’ inventory was probably with my ‘missing’ correspondence and their ‘missing’ replies.
A couple of days later, I received a call which greatly alarmed me. A reliable source and a ‘FBI person of interest’ warned me that bin Laden and his Boys were planning to do something “spectacular” in the not-too-distant future.
The word ‘spectacular’ got under my skin. That was not a word that was often used by or customarily known to foreigners. Hell, we Americans didn’t use it that often, if at all.
Regardless of my pleasure over the ‘missing’ inventory, I promptly called the Bureau and passed on the information. I had done my duty. There was nothing else I could do. What the FBI did or didn’t do with it was up to them. I didn’t know if they could do anything without a case number.
August had ended and autumn was rapidly approaching. Finally, the mornings had moved from muggy to clear and crisp. I was luxuriating in semi-soporific state, somewhere between sleep and reality when the phone rang.
I grabbed the receiver and listened. It was my news producer friend, informing me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. He asked:
“Was it terrorists?”
Without hesitation, or perhaps instinctively, I answered:
He hung up. The word ‘spectacular’ began flashing in my brain. I leapt out of bed, threw on my clothes and turned on the telly, in time to see the second plane crash into the towers. It was ‘spectacular’ in the worst sense of the word.
Despite over six years of advanced warnings, 9/11 happened. As a result, 2,992 innocent people paid the ultimate price.
The day progressed from horrible to horrific as the Towers fell, NYC became engulfed in a mushroom cloud and news reports announced further attacks in DC and a plane crash in Pennsylvania.
In the late afternoon, I received a call from my flak jacket Fed from the local branch of the Bureau. I was rather surprized since I was a man without a file number, which in FBI terms, was worse than being without a country. He wanted to meet the following morning. I was to bring my files with me. I told him to bring a semi.
He was especially interested in having copies of several reports which I had written a year or so earlier, listing NYC and DC as the top two Al-Qaeda targets of choice. My Federal Courier fully expected that I would be officially reenlisted into the Counterterrorism corps. I was not holding my breath.
The Prince called the evening of 9/11 to express his condolences. If he had disliked Osama bin Laden before, his feelings had distilled to pure hatred. No gruesome, gory fate would equal the travesty of this crime. He reiterated and reconfirmed his offer to assist. Anyone, even remotely associated with bin Laden needed to be taken off the streets – permanently.
We met bright and early the next morning. After discussing the disaster over scalding coffee, we got down to business. Having had to cruise the countryside to send these reports, my FBI guy knew exactly what he wanted. He flew through the files, cherry-picking the desired documentation.
Having compiled his collection, we shook hands and he headed off. It had been a short but efficient meeting. He was resending his selected selection to someone, somewhere. He would call later.
In America, shock turned to anger. The country galvanized. Uncle Sam officially declared Osama bin Laden as the ‘9/11 perpetrator.’ There would be no hiding now. There would be no hesitation on America’s part to go all out. This was war. This was ‘War on Terror.’
Though bruised and hurt, America moved ahead. Work still had to be done. Children still had to be comforted. What little innocence which remained had to be nourished and protected. Innocence had become an extremely rare and precious commodity in this newly-changed world.
The month after 9/11, President Bush announced the creation of an Office of Homeland Security. In due time it would become a full-fledged Department. It was a sad commentary on America that we had come to the point of needing a ‘Homeland Security.’ We had successfully lived for over 200 years without one. It was a new day in a new world.
The Prince and I spoke often. We continued to watch the Abu Sayyaf. We went through our customary routines and duties. By mutual unspoken consent, we did not discuss 9/11. There was nothing else to say.
HH held true to the belief that 9/11 would wake up Uncle Sam and he would finally want our participation. After all, the Abu Sayyaf were known associates of Al-Qaeda. I still wasn’t holding my breath. I had not heard from the Bureau since I had spoken to my flak federale the day after our last meeting.
The year was almost over. American had totally taken out the Taliban in Afghanistan in two months and 2 days. Bin Laden was on the lam; Mullah Omar missing in action.
Both the Prince and I had avidly watched the downfall of the Islamic Emirate. It had been seriously satisfying to see them get their comeuppance.
As customary, HH and I spoke together at year’s end. Each of us was careful not to mention the strange new world. We quickly wished each other a happy new year and ended the call.
The new millennium, however defined, stunk.