Oct 312013

President Barack Obama walks with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel toward a group photo outside of the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg in this September 6, 2013 file photo. AP

In geopolitics, even best friends don’t tell each other everything. And everybody’s dying to know what the other guy knows.

Revelations that the US has been monitoring the cellphone calls of up to 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have brought into sharp relief the open secret that even close allies keep things from one another — and do all they can to find out what’s being held back.

The Israelis recruited US naval analyst Jonathan Pollard to pass along US secrets including satellite photos and data on Soviet weaponry in the 1980s. The British were accused of spying on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan before the Iraq War. The French, Germans, Japanese, Israelis and South Koreans have been accused of engaging in economic espionage against the United States.

But the technology revealed by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden has underscored the incredible reach of the US spy agency. And it is raising the question for some allies: Is this still OK?

National Intelligence Director James Clapper testified this week that it is a “basic tenet” of the intelligence business to find out whether the public statements of world leaders go with what’s being said behind closed doors.

What might the Americans have wanted to know from Merkel’s private conversations, for example? Topics could include her thinking on European economic strategy and Germany’s plans for talks with world powers about Iran’s nuclear program.

Allies often have diverging interests, and the explosion of digital and wireless communication keeps creating new ways to spy on one another. Shifting alliances mean that today’s good friends may not be sometime soon.

“It was not all that many years ago when we were bombing German citizens and dropping the atomic bomb on the Japanese,” says Peter Earnest, a 35-year veteran of the CIA and now executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington.

News that the U.S. has tapped foreign leaders’ phones was surprising to many — the White House claims that even President Barack Obama wasn’t aware of the extent of the surveillance — and has prompted loud complaints from German, French and Spanish officials, among others.

It’s all possible because “an explosion in different kinds of digital information tools makes it possible for intelligence agencies to vacuum up a vast quantity of data,” says Charles Kupchan, a former Clinton administration official and now a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. “When you add together the Internet, wireless communications, cellphones, satellites, drones and human intelligence, you have many, many sources of acquiring intelligence.”

“The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a radio interview. “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop, too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don’t have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous.”

Protests aside, diplomats around the world know the nature of the game.

“I am persuaded that everyone knew everything or suspected everything,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said of the reports of US monitoring.

And while prime ministers and lawmakers across Europe and Asia say they are outraged, Clapper told Congress that other countries’ own spy agencies helped the NSA collect data on millions of phone calls as part of cooperative counterterror agreements.

Robert Eatinger, the CIA’s senior deputy general counsel, told an American Bar Association conference on Thursday that European spy services have stayed quiet throughout the recent controversy because they also spy on the US.

“The services have an understanding,” Eatinger said.

Still, Claude Moraes, a British Labor Party politician and member of the European Union delegation that traveled to Washington this week for talks about US surveillance, was troubled by the broad net being cast by US intelligence.

“Friend-upon-friend spying is not something that is easily tolerable if it doesn’t have a clear purpose,” he said. “There needs to be some kind of justification. … There is also a question of proportionality and scale.”

Obama has promised a review of US intelligence efforts in other countries, an idea that has attracted bipartisan support in Congress.

The United States already has a written intelligence-sharing agreement with Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand known as “Five Eyes,” and France and Germany might be interested in a similar arrangement.

A database maintained by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center covering Americans who committed espionage against the US includes activity on behalf of a wide swath of neutral or allied countries since the late 1940s. US citizens have been arrested for conducting espionage on behalf of South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Israel, the Netherlands, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, El Salvador and Ecuador, according to the database.

Oct 312013
NY’s ‘brightest, most committed’ Fil-Ams honored

A “class picture” with winners, keynote speakers, performers and TOFA-NY board led by Elton Lugay (far right), Sally Nunez, Grace Labaguis, Cristina DC Pastor and Oliver Oliveros. Judge Lorna Schofield told loving stories about her strict Filipino mother. NEW YORK—In a fitting culmination to Filipino American Heritage Month, this year’s The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA-NY) gala was a night of re-creating, re-enacting and reconnecting with Filipino roots. Judge Lorna Schofield of the Southern District of New York, a keynote speaker, recalled memories of her mother, Priscilla Tiongco, who as a young Filipina married a US Air Force pilot after the war and came to the US. Through the blur of fraying photographs and college transcripts, the first Filipino-American federal judge remembered affectionately her mother’s distinct qualities. “She was very strict and had a ferocious temper” and constantly reminded Schofield to get straight As and to practice the piano. “She used to punish me, but when I read her transcripts, she didn’t get all As,” Schofield recalled with fondness. “King of Latin Soul” Joe Bataan sang his composition “Afro Filipino,” which he dedicated to his Filipino father. He said the succession of accolades he has received this year alone has reconnected him, although belatedly, with his “great Filipino legacy.” The evening program at Carnegie Hall opened with youngsters from the Philippine community of Southern New Jersey dancing the “tinikling,” mish-mashing the traditional with hiphop and Gangnam Style moves. Rousingly applauded It was a rousingly applauded number. It was Read More …

Oct 312013
If only Aquino had said this …

It could perhaps be described as President Aquino’s Nixon moment. Did President Benigno Aquino III’s communications team not realize that? “I’m not a crook,” Richard Nixon declared in the ’70s as he rejected allegations related to the Watergate scandal. President Benigno Aquino III delivers his speech on national television at Malacanang on Wednesday Oct. 30, 2013. Aquino said officials implicated in a corruption scandal involving the pocketing of huge development funds were muddling the issue to confuse the public instead of addressing the allegations against them. AP PHOTO Now comes Aquino proclaiming: “I am not a thief.” As I’ve noted in the past, many Filipinos still believe he is sincere in his desire to eradicate corruption in government. Until recently, they had reason to be hopeful. But the Napoles fiasco and the other scandals that followed have simply overwhelmed Team PNoy (Aquino). They were silent, then they became defensive. Then they started throwing a fit. PNoy’s speech underscored this. “The issue here is theft. I am not a thief,” he said. But it isn’t just about theft. It’s about a system that has made theft by trapos, by the country’s elites, so easy to pull off. So easy. But PNoy unfortunately gives the impression that he doesn’t get it — that he only recently discovered the brazen corruption that’s been part of the Philippine politics for generations. “We were stolen from, we were deceived—and now we are the ones being asked to explain?” he said. “I have pursued truth and Read More …

Oct 312013
U.S. Embassy closed on Nov. 1 for All Saints’ Day

INQUIRER.net 3:33 pm | Thursday, October 31st, 2013 US Embassy in Manila, Philippines. AP FILE PHOTO The Embassy of the United States in Manila and its affiliated offices will be closed to the public on Friday, November 1, 2013, in observance of All Saints’ Day, a Philippine holiday. The Embassy and its affiliated offices will resume services on Monday, Nov. 4. Follow Us Recent Stories: Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines. Tags: all saints’ day , Global Nation , Holidays , u.s. embassy Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer’s Reader’s Advocate. Or write The Readers’ Advocate: c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94

Oct 312013
EU to give P148M  in humanitarian aid to quake-ravaged Central Viasayas

By Dennis Atienza MaliwanagINQUIRER.net 2:53 pm | Thursday, October 31st, 2013 EU Ambassador Guy Ledoux FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—The European Union is providing P148 million in humanitarian aid to about 350,000 people who lost their homes and livelihoods when a powerful earthquake ravaged Bohol island and nearby provinces in Central Visayas. “We have seen the destruction and suffering caused by the powerful earthquake,” EU ambassador to the Philippines Guy Ledoux said Thursday. “We stand by the people of the Philippines in this hour of need and this EU assistance reaffirms our commitment to immediately respond to the needs of the families affected by the disaster,” he said. The quake that struck underneath Bohol on October 15 left 222 people dead, 796 injured and eight missing mostly on the resort island, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in its latest report Thursday. The aid, made available through the EU’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), is intended for the emergency  needs of the victims, such as shelter, water and sanitation, primary health care and the management of evacuations sites, the EU Delegation to the Philippine said. Ledoux said that two humanitarian aid experts—Torben Bruhn, regional health coordinator of ECHO based in Bangkok and Arlynn Aquino, humanitarian aid officer in the Philippines—went to the Bohol towns of Calape, Maribojoc and Loon shortly after the tremor jolted the island to determine the priority needs of the affected population. They noted that most of the houses collapsed and access to Read More …

Oct 302013
Bad weather, aircraft situation prompt flight cancellations

MANILA, Philippines – Eight domestic flights were canceled on Thursday due to bad weather and aircraft situation, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Media Affairs Division said. PAL Express called off its Manila to Basco, Batanes flight 2P-084 and its return flight 2P-085, along with its Manila-Tuguegarao-Manila 2P-014/015 flight. Meanwhile, Zest Air flight Z2 763 from Manila to Cebu which was supposed to depart at 7:20 a.m. and its return flight 2P-764 expected to arrive at 10:25 a.m. were also suspended, citing aircraft situation as reason. Cebu Pacific Air also had it flight 5J-504/505 Manila-Tuguegarao-Manila canceled.

Oct 302013
Pag-IBIG fund announces dividend earnings

SAN FRANCISCO—Dividend earnings in 2012 of the Pag-IBIG Home Development Mutual Fund reached 4.17 percent, crediting a total amount of P9.28 billion tax-free to the accounts of Pag-IBIG members, the fund announced. Meanwhile, members under the Modified Pag-IBIG 2, a voluntary savings program for members who wish to save more than the minimum savings, earned a dividend of 4.67 percent. Mandatory fund coverage was expanded in January 2010 to include overseas Filipino workers (OFW) through Republic Act 9679, or Home Development Mutual Fund Law of 2009 (HDMF Law of 2009). Currently, 24 percent, or 3.144 million, of the 12.864 million Pag-IBIG members are OFWs. The Pag-IBIG Membership Program for Filipinos Abroad aims to provide Filipinos who are working and living abroad the opportunity to save and avail themselves of Pag-IBIG’s housing loan program. Pag-IBIG’s loan programs have also been developed to be more accessible and affordable to members. The loans available to members are as follows: •Multi-Purpose Loan Program (MPL)—may be used to provide immediate assistance to finance needs such as minor home improvement or repair, health and wellness, livelihood and educational expenses. •Calamity Loan Program—may be used to provide relief to members affected by recent calamities. Its interest rate per annum has been reduced to 5.95 percent. •Housing Loan—maximum loan amount is P6 million with an interest rate of 7.98 percent per annum. •Affordable Housing Loan—offered to members who are minimum wage earners.  Interest rate for this loan ranges from 4.5 percent to 6.5 percent per annum. OFWs, Filipino Read More …