Press Conference -- Manila, PhiippinesAmbassador Henry Crumpton, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
October 22, 2005
Ambassador Crumpton: Thank you and good morning. Manila is my fourth and final stop in a tour of regional capitals that included visits to Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Singapore.
I am here to thank the Philippine government for its role in fighting terrorism, and to learn from our partners on how they are dealing with terrorist threats. I am impressed by what I have learned. From March 2004 to October 2005, the Anti-terrorism Task Force neutralized 183 terrorists, including 156 members of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) and four Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorists.
Notable achievements have included the capture of JI operative Zaki in Manila earlier this year, and the discovery, also in Manila, of 600 kilograms of explosive materials that terrorists had planned to use in a suicide bombing targeting the United States and other allies in the war against terrorism.
The United States stands with the Philippines in this fight. We are working closely with the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines to help them defeat these enemies. Your success is our success.
U.S. and Filipino forces worked together in 2002 on Basilan to eradicate Abu Sayyaf Group havens on the island through a combination of civil-military operations and improved counterterrorism coordination. This model offers a highly successful example of what we can do together.
There is still much to do, and the challenges are great. I am concerned about potential terrorist efforts to use chemical-biological weapons. We need to do a better job collectively, employing the rule of law, in policing porous borders, eliminating terrorist safe havens and addressing the conditions that our enemies exploit.
We know the House and Senate are working hard to pass an effective anti-terrorism law. Early adoption of this legislation will give law enforcement and security officials the tools and legal framework they need to fight terrorism, while protecting civil liberties and human rights.
We also need to do a better job of working towards a regional approach to counterterrorism. I am encouraged on this front by the Asian Development Bank's Regional Trade and Financial Security Initiative, jointly funded by the United States, Japan, and Australia. This initiative aims to enhance port security, and combat money-laundering and terrorist financing. The Philippines has already tapped into this $3 million fund to improve its anti-money laundering efforts, and we are looking at new projects that can improve maritime security among countries in the region.
This is my first trip to the Philippines, but it is certainly not my last. I am impressed by the professionalism of my counterparts and the determination of President Arroyo to defeat terrorism and to build a better future for the Philippines.
Thank you very much.
Oliver Teves, Associated Press: With regard to the overall capacity of the Philippines in fighting terrorism, in what respect do you think it is strongest and weakest?
Ambassador Crumpton: I think some of the strongest efforts are reflected in the dedication and courageous efforts of the Filipino police and military, and most importantly the Filipino people. Their assistance to the government is critical and I think that this is where I am most impressed. As far as weaknesses -- I think there are certain areas of technical expertise where the United States is trying to help, with the full realization that this is an enormously complex problem. This a problem not just in the Philippines, but a regional issue, and a challenge not only for the Filipino government, but for other countries and for us as well.
John Grafilo, German Press Agency: Does the present political disturbance in this country affect the governmentís capacity or program in counterterrorism?
Ambassador Crumpton: During my visit here, and as I said in my opening statement, I have been impressed by the focus, the determination, and the professionalism of the Filipino government and the intelligence, security and military authorities. I remain very hopeful that this progress will continue. I am also hopeful that the current political debate will be resolved.
Manny Mogato, Reuters: I have two questions. We were just wondering on the timing of the United States putting the bounty on Dulmatin and Umar Patek, because I think in Jakarta these two are not even prominent. How come they were given that very high bounty? And about the timing --I think these two people have been in the Philippines since April 2003, and for almost two years they have been roaming in southern Philippines. How come the bounty was only raised now? My second question is that there are obvious links between the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), JI (Jemaah Islamiya) and the Abu Sayyaf. Do you think thereís some contradiction when the Philippine government said that they donít want the MILF to be listed as a terrorist group when there are obvious links between the elements of the MILF, the JI and the Abu Sayyaf?
Ambassador Crumpton: On your first question -- there are a variety of factors and variables that come into our decision regarding use of the Rewards for Justice program. These include close consultation with our foreign government partners, and we also look at threat reporting, and the impact of such a reward. All these things come together when we make a decision. We think this is the right decision and we think that it will certainly help the Philippine government, countries of the region, and us in capturing these two enemy leaders. Regarding your second question -- I must note that I am encouraged and hopeful concerning the ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF. Iím also grateful for the role that the government of Malaysia is playing in brokering these negotiations. We all need to see these negotiations come to a successful conclusion and to bring the MILF into the fold because not only will it bring them into the broader community here in the Philippines, it will require the MILF to participate and help the Philippine government in counterterrorism efforts. We think this is the right way to go. We also believe that when this accord is signed, it will put enormous pressure on Jemaah Islamiya and the Abu Sayyaf Group. So in the long term we think this is the most effective way forward, and important in bringing the political elements in the Philippines together.
Menardo Macaraig, Agence France Presse: There was a statement by the military just a few days ago in which they admit that Jemaah Islamiyah is still continuing to train in the southern Philippines, and there has been a statement that says about as many as 80 terrorists are here. Could you elaborate on what you know of this and what kind of threat does the JI play in the south?
Ambassador Crumpton: Your question was two parts -- is there JI in the Philippines, and then what is the threat for the region from the JI. Is that correct?
Macaraig: Well, the military has admitted that they are still in the south and they are still training, so we want to know just how wide this threat is.
Ambassador Crumpton: We think the threat is very serious. If you look at the recent history, the deaths of innocents, the intentions of these enemy forces, their collaboration with affiliated elements throughout the region and not just in the Philippines, their technical skills in terms of bomb-making, their tradecraft skills -- yes, they are a concern. I think that is why the Philippine government is focused on this with our help, and I am confident that we will make progress.
Carlos Conde, New York Times/International Herald Tribune: There has been a lot of talk about civic-military operations in the south involving U.S. forces. Has there been any significant shift of engagement as far as the U.S. forces are concerned from specific anti-terrorism activities or projects into a civic-military component?
Ambassador Crumpton: Thatís a good question. Counter-terrorism is not only about intelligence and law enforcement and military efforts. It is a much broader issue than that. It encompasses economic assistance and the broader rule of law. It requires building liberal institutions of civic society, and the importance of providing economic opportunity and hope. This is part of our broader counter-terrorism policy and strategy. As I noted in my opening comments, the island of Basilan is an excellent example of that which we hope to see repeated. This is reflected not only in our policy statements, but its also reflected in our aid projects. Since 1991, U.S. assistance to the Philippines has exceeded a billion U.S. dollars. Weíre hopeful that this, plus non-state actors, and private investors will follow suit, especially once these areas that are stabilized Ė as has occurred in Basilan for example. So this assistance plays a critical role in our counter-terrorism efforts.
Charmaine Deogracias, NHK: What is the explanation on the shifting of role of the U.S. in the Philippines fight against terrorism -- and Australiaís keen interest in the fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia most particularly in the Philippines? Do you suppose that Australia is the U.S. proxy in the war on terrorism in Southeast Asia and with its apparent entry to the ASEAN Summit, will that change the course of how ASEAN is handling the counter-terrorism campaign?
Ambassador Crumpton: Your question is how I assess the role of the Australians here in the Philippines and the region, correct?
Charmaine: Is Australia taking the role from the U.S. in a military way in combating terrorism?
Ambassador Crumpton: No, we donít see it that way at all. We see an extraordinarily close relationship throughout the region with the various governments and we certainly welcome Australiaís contributions. We defer of course to the government of the Philippines and to the government of Australia to work out the details of that bilateral relationship. As I noted in my opening statement, the more regional cooperation we have, the more regional interdependence, -- that is a great thing.
Tamaki Korita, TV Asahi: Two questions. Do you believe that these men -- Dulmatin and Patek -- were involved in the recent bombing incident in Bali? And how do you see Mindanao as a hiding place for terrorists who are active in Southeast Asia right now?
Ambassador Crumpton: Iím sorry, I wonít be able to go into details about their links to the most recent Bali bombing for obvious reasons. Your second question about Mindanao as a safe haven for terrorists -- this is an enormous challenge, starting with the geography, for one reason, and not only in Mindanao but extending into the Sulawesi Sea and the littoral over to Sabah in Malaysia. It is a challenge for any nation, and that is why weíre focusing on assistance in that area, including the economic assistance I referred to earlier of more than a billion dollars since 1991 -- 60 percent of that has gone to Mindanao. The bulk of our economic assistance is going to the southern Philippines, and the bulk of our military assistance -- working with our Philippine partners -- is focused on that area. It is a concern, especially given the evolving nature of enemy forces, of their expertise, their modus operandi. This is a strategic concern for the region, I think.
RG Cruz, ABS-CBN: Sir, two questions: Earlier you raised a point about biochemical warfare or biochemical threat. First question, how well prepared or ill prepared is the Philippines, in your assessment for the threat of biochemical attacks? Second, how real is the threat of biochemical attacks in the Philippines? Is there any specific group which is planning, or have any of the groups which we now know are involved in terrorist operations planning any specific biochemical warfare attack in the future?
Ambassador Crumpton: I have concerns not only about the Philippines, but about all countriesí preparations for chemical or biological attack. It is extraordinarily difficult to detect in many respects, and our defenses need to be improved. One example is avian influenza, which is a major challenge for us, and I think there are many similarities between this and a biochemical weapons attack. Regarding your second question: Al-Qaida and its affiliates like Jemaah Islamiyah have made their intentions abundantly clear. You can read their public statements, you can read the training manuals that have been captured, you can go to the Internet and see the instructions there about chemical and biological weapons and the use of toxins. Moreover, they have demonstrated this. In Afghanistan, anthrax laboratories were revealed after 2001 and 2002, and we know that Al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah were looking at Southeast Asia as a target. This is a concern for every nation in the world, because if your have a biological attack, it is not only a problem in Manila, it will be problem in Chicago, in London, in Buenos Aires, in Sydney. This is part of the challenge that we face, and I certainly think we all need to more aware of this. We all need to think about how we can defend ourselves, and the issue underscores our collective efforts in intelligence and in law enforcement.
Manny Mogato Reuters: Sir, in your meetings with Philippine officials during the last two days, what were the discussions? Did you discuss anything about U.S. assistance in terms of counter terrorism? Can you give us more specific details? For example, for next year, how much will the Philippines get from the U.S. in terms of counter terrorism? What kind of program are we expecting from the U.S.? My second question is based on U.S. assessment, what is the role of Mindanao in the Jemaah Islamiyahís campaign for a pan-Islamic state in the region? They were saying that Mindanao could be just a safe haven, but the presence of JI could become a base operation where they can plan, and they can stage attacks from that site? Thank you.
Ambassador Crumpton: I think Iíve got three questions. The first is the content of my meetings with Philippine government officials here. I must say I was impressed by their focus on counterterrorism. We had a very frank exchange and a broad range of discussions. I met with Secretary of National Defense Cruz, I met with the Foreign Affairs Secretary, I met with my counterpart, the Ambassador for Counterterrorism here. I met with the President, met with leaders in the AFP and PNP, and we talked about everything from economic aid to technical assistance, to integrating our efforts across the board, not just here but anywhere we can help each other. Our talks were fairly broad ranging, and I would prefer not to go into details of specific operations that we discussed. Regarding your second question regarding how much we will we invest, Iíll give you one figure in terms of military assistance. In fiscal year 2004, more than a $100 million was spent here in Philippines. There are other programs as well. Iíll give one good example - our Department of Justice has a program in which they assign prosecutors overseas, and there is a US prosecutor here working with the Philippine government looking at the rule of law, not just legislation but how the police and judiciary can work more closely together. I think that this is an important element in counterterrorism. Your third question is about Mindanao. I think that Al-Qaida and its affiliates have made clear their intent. There is an objective to establish a pan-Islamic state from Morocco all the way to Mindanao. I refer you to the recent letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, which goes into some detail about their political aspirations. This is not only about killing innocents, itís not only about disrupting local and state and national governments, it really is challenge to the nation-state system. That is why we talk about the global war on terrorism, since if you look at the enemyís objectives, they are talking about a fundamental shift in how people or governments are organized -- they are talking about doing away with the civil liberties and the human rights that we all cherish and work so hard for. So, yes in a larger sense, Mindanao is part of the enemyís objectives.
Oliver Teves, Associated Press: Can you tell us in terms of regional cooperation, during your visits to the four countries that youíve been to, what do you think should be the biggest focus at this point to improve or enhance cooperation among countries in the region?
Ambassador Crumpton: It is such a broad front. We must engage this problem, from developing liberal institutions and economic investment, all the way to intelligence collection, law enforcement and sometimes military power. To pick out only one front would be incorrect. I think the integration of all these instruments of statecraft in a regional strategy is the big objective where we need to go. There are some good examples that I mentioned earlier, and it is outlined in President Bushís national strategy for combating terrorism for the U.S. that we must pull together all those instruments of statecraft. It is also about addressing the conditions the enemy exploits. The radicalization and recruitment to enemy ranks is a big part of this, and we need to address that at a regional level. I hope that answers your question. I think we have to look at this issue as comprehensively as possible.
Celerina del Mundo, Daily Manila Shimbun: There is now this move by the Philippine government to pass the anti-terrorism bill but there are also some talk opposing this. In your opinion, how important is this anti-terrorism bill to be passed in Congress?
Ambassador Crumpton: How important is the anti-terrorism legislation thatís pending? We think it is very important. In the U.S., we struggled with this, and we continue to struggle with it, because it is a very complex issue. We passed the Patriot Act and we reformed our intelligence community, and there is an ongoing debate over how we can better address these threats through the rule of law and legislation. I think it is very important that we continue these efforts in the U.S., and important for the Philippine government to move forward with the legislation. We need to give the police and the judiciary the tools they need to engage the enemy and protect the citizens of the Philippine nation, and I am hopeful that this legislation will do that.
Thank you, and I wish you all the very best.
Released on October 27, 2005