Monday, August 11, 2003

The Keystone Cops

On August 10, the Philippine Daily Inquirer intimated that Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi, notorious Al-Qaeda operative and escape artist, had been killed by Philippine troops in Mindanao. On August 11, the Philippine Star's headline was that Al-Ghozi had been captured in Mindanao. Later that same day, the Philippine Sun Star reported that Al-Ghozi had slipped the "military dragnet". Assuming that Philippine journalists did not set out to make fools of themselves, the only explanation for a state of affairs in which a suspect can be simultaneously dead, captured and still at large, must be that the news sources never had him in custody, but thought they did; or had him in custody, but never knew they did; had him and then lost him; or were making the story up out of whole cloth, like the storyboard artists of Filipino horror komiks, such as Hiwaga or Lagim.

In the debate over whether President George Bush should visit the Philippines, one must evaluate what the information is obtained by dealing with Philippine government authorities. In any exchange of messages, there is typically a signal which contains the information masked by a certain degree of noise. When the noise overwhelms the signal, you are better off not listening to the signal. The disinformation is greater than the information.

Because the principal protective tool of the Secret Service is the security advance, which aims to detect any possible threats to the US President and route him around those threats, any coordination with Philippine authorities actually increases, rather than decreases the danger to the American President. Information provided by the Philippine Government is so unreliable it dangerous to act on it. It is better to assume that one knows nothing and not enter a situation rather than assume one knows something and enter it on that basis. Moreover, because the Philippine Government is the host country and cannot be kept ignorant of President Bush's itinerary, his movements will almost certainly become known to terrorist groups in the process of "coordination".

The United States should not insult the Philippines by flying President Bush into an airfield secured by US Forces and have him appear unannounced to Philippine officials. That would be extremely offensive to most Filipinos. But on the other hand, neither can he "coordinate" with the Filipino authorities because that is tantamount to handing the Al-Qaeda a program to his movements. Given this dilemma, the US President can only give the Philippines a miss and reschedule a visit when things are better. God send a near day.