Spy in the house

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am

The Russians, Chinese and North Koreans have not managed it. Even the fictional James Bond has not dared to try. Now, it seems the dubious honour of being the first spy to successfully infiltrate the White House goes to a Filipino.

Actually, he is a Filipino-American, an ex-marine who filched briefings from the vice-president's office to sell to politicians here. The information casts President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in a dim light. One supposedly pilfered US embassy report which made it to the newspapers here, for example, describes Mrs Arroyo as 'paranoid' and a mediocre leader.

But, although the discovery of the espionage has caused a big stir, I do not think it was all that great a coup. Think of how easy it is to get information from the White House: I imagine the spy slipped into the Oval Office while the president was out in the yard preparing for a speech ('Iran begins with what letter?' I can almost hear political guru Karl Rove asking). The vice-president probably left his laptop unattended while he was in the library, spinning a globe and looking for another country to invade.

No, what really has the Americans cheesed off is that it is the United States that is supposed to do the spying on Filipinos, not the other way around. In the 1950s it was a poorly kept secret that not only had Americans infiltrated the presidential palace, they were actually running it. A CIA operative, Ed Lansdale, effectively ruled the country through a willing, not-very-bright henchman who only happened to be the president of the Philippines - Ramon Magsaysay.

Things are no longer as blatant, but it is a safe bet that American spies abound in Mrs Arroyo's palace. It is easy to picture the executive secretary rounding on an assistant and angrily asking: 'Why aren't you working on that draft plan to arrest all our enemies?' And the assistant would reply: 'In a minute sir. I'm just finishing this secret report for the US embassy.'

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, everyone is wondering how the spy got planted in the White House to begin with. That's easy enough to answer: He's a Filipino, and we Filipinos are everywhere. The navy stewards in the White House are Filipinos; so, in fact, is the chef. There's no escaping us.

Even the Americans most harsh in criticising the spy are themselves Filipinos. But what I think is most baffling is this: why would anyone want to go through all that effort to mount such a risky, high-level intelligence operation, just to get information showing the Philippine president is a stinker?

I mean, what is so secret about that?