AN audio expert presented by Environment Secretary Michael Defensor at a press conference this morning belittled the three-hour "Hello, Garci" tapes that former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director Samuel Ong had bought from T/Sgt Vidal Doble of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Jim Sarthou said the tapes could not be the original or master copy because, he pointed out, these contained annotations.
"He (Sarthou) doesn't know what he's talking about," an ISAFP operative told PCIJ today.
In the world of local intelligence, the "master tape" is the version that has been purged of "basura (garbage)" or irrelevant information and annotated by the agent who did the wiretapping.
Conversations that remain in the "master tape" are continuous. "Hindi inii-splice (No splicing is done)," the source said.
The ISAFP operative said this is the common procedure followed in most agencies engaged in intelligence work, identifying some of these as the Presidential Security Group, National Bureau of Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Security Group and the Philippine National Police Intelligence Group.
According the intelligence operative, Doble's unit — the Military Intelligence Group 21 or MIG21 — wiretapped then elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano on orders of the ISAFP top brass who, in turn, had received their orders from the Palace. "No agent moves on his or her own in matters like this without an official order," he said.
At the MIG21, the wiretapped conversations are recorded on audio cassette tapes by two to three agents working round the clock. The practice is to record everything, include inane conversations, even those about trips to the market.
The agent on duty is required to make notes, particularly the exact time the calls are received or made and, if possible, the parties who are on the phone. "This information is material when you later match the conversations to events that are happening on the ground," the ISAFP operative said.
"ASAP" assignments include the one on Garcillano. "Tinapay na mainit yan (That's hot bread)," he said.
This means that once the conversations fill one tape, the agent on duty removes it from the recording device and immediately starts preparing what would later become the "master tape."
"We call that 'minamaster,'" the operative sad.
The raw conversations on the first tape are then poised to be transferred to another. "That's how crude and low-tech the ISAFP still is in doing electronic surveillance," the source said ruefully.
At this stage, the agent cleans up the tape by removing irrelevant or nonessential items such as the conversation on the trip to the market. While several conversations do get purged, those that remain in what would be the master tape are " buo (whole)."
The agent also retains the ringing tone for incoming phones and the dialing sound for outgoing calls. The latter is important because it helps the intelligence body decode the telephone numbers, the ISAFP operative said.
The agent then annotates the tape, taking great care to time-stamp the conversations.
The source also stressed that conversations in the master tape follow the original chronological sequence.
Conversations recorded in one day could be annotated by several agents because these could take up several tapes, he added.
The ISAFP operative said that access to the room where the wiretapping is being done is restricted only to agents on duty. "We call that the exclusion area. If you're not on duty, you can't go in," he says.
But for those permitted to enter, security is not as tight as most people think it is. Tapes are stored either in boxes or cabinets, with agents on duty having easy access to these. "We're not a department store; nobody checks bags," he said. "Everybody trusts each other. Parang pamilya (We're like a family)."
That explains how easy it was for Doble to retrieve the tapes.
Things, of course, have changed since the "Hello, Garci" tapes were leaked.