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American Morning

American Troops Setting Up Camp On Island in Philippines; Homeland Security Now Part of Daily Vernacular

Aired January 17, 2002 - 08:10   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: In the strongest indicator yet that the U.S. is committed to taking their war against terrorism globally, American troops are setting up camp this morning on an island in the Philippines to join the country's operation against a Muslim group, Abu Sayyaf.

CNN's Maria Ressa is in Manilla. She takes a look at a woman who has become America's newest ally in phase two of its global war.


MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Standing barely five feet, she's petite. But this Philippine president has a fighting spirit. Last year, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo resigned as vice president to protest corruption. Helping further (UNINTELLIGIBLE) power the vote which brought her in as her nation's new leader.

Soon after, she declared all out war against the Abo Sayyaf. About a thousand strong, the Muslim extremist group had clear ties to Osama bin Laden. It's also notorious for kidnappings, making an estimated $18 million in ransom in 2000.

Last May, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped three Americans, along with 18 Filipinos, from this resort. One of the Americans and four Filipinos were later beheaded.

PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, PHILIPPINES: We've been fighting terrorism in southwestern Philippines for a long time now. And when September 11 happened, and the responses of September 11 happened, then, in fact, I felt that now we have allies.

RESSA: For the 650 U.S. troops set to arrive this will be a radically different front from Afghanistan. Instead of sand and snow, they'll deal with piercing heat and a tropical jungle in what could be a protracted guerrilla war, bringing up memories of Vietnam.

Instead of leading the fight, U.S. troops are here to help a friend, focusing on training and coordination, rather than actual combat. In fact, it would be against this country's laws for any U.S. soldier to fight against the Abu Sayyaf.

MACAPAGAL-ARROYO: There are two limits. One is the constitution, but even -- even before you either reach the limit of the constitution, the limit of what our people can accept with regard to self-respect. And operationally speaking, that's what our soldiers can accept with regard to self-respect.

RESSA: There are other risks for this president. The arrival of U.S. troops could trigger a nationalist backlash in this former American colony. And already, some Muslim leaders are saying they fear this could be the beginning of a campaign against the Muslim minority here, charges Mrs. Arroyo denies.

(on camera): In fact, Mrs. Arroyo says the fight against terrorism is taking resources away from her main enemy: poverty. "The sooner she can wipe out the Abu Sayyaf," she says, the sooner she can get on with her overarching goal: "to get the economy back in shape and give her people a better life."

Maria Ressa, CNN, Manilla.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Homeland Security, it's a phrase that chances are prior to 9-11 you may have never have used in a sentence before. But now it's very much a part of the vernacular on a daily basis. Just this week, Tom Ridge, the National Domestic Security Director, said that this country is "now safer and stronger since the events of September 11."

This morning, we're talking to top law enforcement officials in three cities around the country about hometown security.

Joining us from Philadelphia, the Police Commissioner, Sylvester Johnson; from Phoenix, Arizona, the Police Chief, Harold Hurt; and from Huntsville, Alabama, Deputy Police Chief Leon Schenck. Gentlemen, it's a pleasure to have you all with us.

Let me begin in Philadelphia with Mr. Johnson. And let me ask you this, is the city of Philadelphia on the same heightened state of alert today as it was immediately following the events of September 11th?

SYLVESTER JOHNSON, PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yes we are. There's a lot of things that have changed. I don't think law enforcement will ever be the same after September the eleventh. What we basically had done a week after that happened, we put a lot of our major anti-crime people into Center City, because here we have the Liberty Bell, we have Independence Hall, we have a lot of other major places here.

And what we found out was that by taking off (ph) from the crime areas our crime rate went up, especially the homicide rate. The homicide rate went up approximately 25-30 percent in a two-month period after September 11th in those areas. So what we basically have done is put the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) back into the area, and we came up with what we call now a rapid response team. We have 23 police districts in the city of Philadelphia. We've assigned two officers from every single district in a matter of minutes. When we make a call -- the last time we tried this was approximately a month ago -- we can have approximately 50 to 60 officers in a matter of 25 or 30 minutes.

Also, we've taken extra (UNINTELLIGIBLE) patrol and put them in our Center City areas. So we've assigned people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Philadelphia. We have what they call a regional task force, a regional terrorist group, not only of the officers in Philadelphia, but we're linked up with the FBI, the surrounding areas, everyone working together, which makes it (ph) very important with the idea that if we can get intelligence with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) be (ph) exactly in Philadelphia, but if it's in surrounding areas. And we communicate a lot more than we did in the previous.

CAFFERTY: All right. In Phoenix, Arizona, Harold Hurt is the Chief of Police there. Did you experience a similar problem by reassigning police officers? Did you see, suddenly, a change in the crime rate there in the city of Phoenix? And, if so, tell me what you've done about it.

HAROLD HURT, CHIEF OF POLICE, PHOENIX: We did see a change in the crime rate in the city of Phoenix. Violent crime really escalated. I could not hear the response from the gentleman in Philadelphia too clear, but we did have to reassign some of our officers to the airport to meet the FAA mandates. But we're still dedicated to providing that same level of quality service that we're providing to our citizens prior to 9-11.

CAFFERTY: What about relationships with other law enforcement agencies? Prior to 9-11, I know from experience as a reporter here in New York over the years a great deal of inter-agency bickering, lack of cooperation, resentment, turf struggles among federal agencies versus local agencies versus state agencies. Has that situation improved any?

JOHNSON: Well, if I can answer that, in Philadelphia it definitely has. We have U.S. Attorney Mr. Nehm (ph) is here in Philadelphia, and what he developed, along with the FBI, is a regional task force. There's (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) police officers involved in it, other local police forces involved in it, the state is involved in it. All law enforcement, and as a matter of fact, we have officer outside the state of Pennsylvania from Delaware and from New Jersey, who is also involved in this regional task force. And the purpose of it is to share information and share intelligence.

CAFFERTY: All right. Leon Schenck is in a little different situation in Huntsville, Alabama. You have both a big massive facility close by and you also have military installations near Huntsville. What has that meant for your assignment and your job as it relates to domestic security?

LEON SCHENCK, DEP. CHIEF, HUNSTVILLE, ALABMA POLICE: Well, as you know, since Huntsville has a very good crime -- very low crime rate, we have had an enhanced presence of our police officers on the street, and that has collateral effects in that crime rate has been going down steadily. We have a great relationship working with the local law enforcement in the area, especially with the FBI. Our capacity to fight crime has been enhanced by some of the efforts that the FBI has assisted us in in task forces. As you know, the Homeland Security Act, as well as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Domenici Act, has provided us with some additional funding for practice to really test our first responders to a terrorist attack. So we've been practicing, we've been training our people. And because of that extra presence of training and equipment that we're going to be getting, our presence on the street has been enhanced, crime rate has been going down. And we're really seeing a good effect behind this whole situation.

CAFFERTY: Let me ask any of the three of you that want to respond to this, is there any sense of complacency in your areas, as a result of the fact that there's been no further terrorist activity since September 11th? Are people sort of not paying as much attention perhaps as they were shortly after those events?

SCHENCK: In Huntsville, right after the even of 9-11, of course there was a lot of anxiety by our citizens. But as time has gone on, we see now that people are getting back to a sense of normalcy. So the calls for service relating to Anthrax or terrorist attacks or any type of event like that has ceased. So we're really getting back to a sense of normalcy, but we're still maintaining a high level of vigilance.

CAFFERTY: All right, gentlemen, that's all the time we have. I appreciate very much the three of you joining us this morning on AMERICAN MORNING. Sylvester Johnson, the Police Commissioner in the city of Philadelphia...

JOHNSON: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Harold Hurt, Phoenix Police Chief; and Leon Schenck of Huntsville, the Deputy Police Chief in Huntsville Alabama, thanks very much fellows, and continued success in your efforts to keep us all safe.

SCHENCK: Thank you.

HURT: Thank you very much.

CAFFERTY: All right.