CIA agents join Vatican in effort to secure pope

THE Central Intelligence Agency and the Vatican have sent intelligence agents to the Philippines to evaluate the security situation ahead of Pope Francis’ visit here on Jan. 15 to 19, an unimpeachable source said Tuesday.

The CIA and the Vatican aside, other allied countries in the Pacific rim and in the Association of Southeast Asian Countries had also mobilized their people to study the security situation here and the possible threats during the pope’s visit, the source said.

In other developments:

Ready for Francis. Coast Guard personnel lay an oil-spill boom along
Manila Bay at the back of the Quirino Grandstand where Pope Francis
will celebrate mass. Danny Pata
• The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines has issued a notice to airmen grounding all the operations of the flying schools in the country during the pope’s visit.

The grounding will be in effect starting at 65 am on Jan. 15 until 11 am on the 19th, when the special Philippine Airlines flight carrying the pope and his entourage leaves Manila for Rome.

• All the afternoon masses in all the Catholic churches under the Archdiocese of Manila will be canceled on Jan. 18 to give way to the mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Quirino Grandstand on that day.       

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle encouraged all priests in the archdiocese to say additional masses on Saturday night.

• More banks announced on Tuesday the continuity of their daily operations in select branches in Metro Manila during the days of the papal visit that were earlier declared special non-working holidays.

• Rep. Terry Ridon on Tuesday expressed hope that the pope’s visit will not only bring hope to the Filipinos but also help speed up the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the National Democratic Front.

• Farmers from Hacienda Luisita on Tuesday appealed to Pope Francis to look after the welfare of the 491 political prisoners in the country of whom some are peasants on a hunger strike.

The source from the local intelligence community said Vatican security personnel will handle the internal security at the pontiff’s official residence, in the masses in Palo, Leyte, and at the Quirino Grandstand and in the meetings with religious leaders at the University of Santo Tomas and at the Manila Cathedral.

Last week, the US State Department issued a five-page global terror alert two days before terrorists went on a rampage at a satirical newspaper in Paris.

The US warned its citizens in the East Asian and Pacific region on the continuing risks from terrorist groups including the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiya the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The source said thousands of foreigners had started arriving to witness the pope’s visit here.

“Intelligence agents from various countries have also arrived to study the potential threats to the pope,” the source said.

So far, the military and the Philippine National Police have not monitored any threats to the Pope’s safety.

Former police intelligence director Rodolfo Mendoza said the deployment of foreign intelligence agents in the country was part of an all-out counter-terrorism effort.

Meanwhile, 400 soldiers from the Southern Luzon Command will be flown to Tacloban City on Jan. 13 and 14 to augment security requirements for Pope Francis’ visit there.

A Navy vessel from Southern Luzon will be prepositioned at Matnog Port while additional UH-1H helicopters will be prepositioned in Legazpi City.

“We expect an influx of commuters especially at Matnog port and we hope nothing untoward happens,” said SOLCOM Chief Major General Ricardo Visaya.

He said the prepositioning of naval and air assets to Bicol would enable the military to react immediately to any eventuality.

Earlier, SOLCOM directed all units to beef up security along the national roads and major ports in coordination with the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast Guard to ensure the safe passage of the people traveling for the Papal visit.

“We are preparing well for the security of the pope, pilgrims and devotees and those who just want to see him,” Visaya said.

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