By Marilyn Berlin Snell
"If you harbored a terrorist, if you fed a terrorist, if you hid a terrorist, you're just as guilty as a terrorist."
— President George W. Bush, February 2002
WHEN KAPITAN INGGO WALKED THROUGH THE GATES at Echo Bay's mining operation in the Philippines, he bypassed the reception area and went round the building to the offices of the security personnel. He didn't ask directions. Inggo, one of the Philippines' ten most-wanted men, knew his way around.
Allan Laird, the newly appointed project manager at the Kingking gold and copper mine, was in a warehouse when he saw the unfamiliar man walk by. A Filipino employee told Laird that the man was a murderer who specialized in extortion and the kidnapping of businessmen for ransom. There was a one-million-peso bounty on his head.
Laird had a crisis on his hands: Two board members from Echo Bay Mines Limited — a Denver-headquartered, Canadian-chartered company — were at a nearby hotel preparing for a site visit. Laird had to head them off. He raced to the hotel and found the men having breakfast with his Denver-based supervisor. "I told them not to come down to the offices because we had a security situation — Kapitan Inggo was on the premises and we needed to get rid of him," Laird says. He thought it strange at the time that the directors reacted "with equanimity" to news that a notorious criminal was in Echo Bay's office complex.
Trained as an engineer and employed by Echo Bay for nine years, Laird had been assigned to the Kingking exploration project on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao only the month before. Prior to his arrival in August 1996, he had been informed that ore grades were low, projected development costs high, and disposal of cyanide-laced mine tailings problematic. But he did not know about Kingking's security issues. "I was sent in blind," he says. "Superiors knew what I was getting into and didn't tell me."
What Laird found was a nightmare. From his first week on the job, when he stumbled across security-related expenses that had no receipts, he began to uncover a trail that led straight from the mining operation to the most violent terrorist organizations in the Philippines-two of which had direct links with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda. Laird later discovered that such liaisons were sanctioned by executives at Denver headquarters; in the years to come he also found out that the U.S. government refused to do anything about it. Why was the company so reckless? And why didn't the Justice Department use Laird's information to pursue terrorists around the globe? A two-month Sierra investigation of Echo Bay reveals how one mining company's greed in a far-off land can jeopardize our safety here at home. It also signals that mining companies, which have given millions to Republican politicians, may be a blind spot in President Bush's war on terror.
EVENTUALLY, THE GANGSTER LEFT KINGKING and the visitors got their tour. A month later, the two board members submitted a project report on Kingking to Echo Bay's president, chairman, and other senior executives. The report laid out the costs and benefits of developing Kingking, and ended with explicit support for fraternizing with terrorists.
Under the heading "Security and Social," the firm's leaders wrote: "The area is obviously one of political and physical volatility... To not have a dialogue with the various bandits, terrorists, insurgents, patriots, or whatever nomenclature Denver wishes to put on the 'outside' groups, is to put the people on site, let alone the project, at risk...Insurance and knowledge are things to be paid for. Until Head Office — to the most senior level — says 'I'll go there and do it' to not buy insurance is immoral and hypocritical."
Article Sidebar: The Resource Curse
Photo above copyright A.P./Wide World Photos; used with permission.
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