Being Watched, Indonesia Seeks Answers

Embassy security looks through a binocular as he guards in front of the US Embassy in Jakarta in this file photo taken on March 14, 2006. (EPA Photo/Adi Weda)

By : Jakarta Globe | on 8:00 AM October 31, 2013
Category : News, Crime, Featured

Indonesia has demanded the United States formally clarify a news report that its embassy in Jakarta has been used as a base to hack into the electronic communications of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other Indonesian leaders.

Indonesian experts and lawmakers have asked the government to stand up to the US, and to take stern actions, including sending home several American diplomats or scale back Indonesia’s diplomatic mission in that country.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported — quoting intelligence data leaked by US intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden and several Australian officials — that the US Embassy in Jakarta was one of the super power’s 90 surveillance facilities worldwide used to monitor “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet” including e-mailing, web browsing, Internet searches and social media.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa called on Wednesday for Kristen Bauer, the US Embassy’s charge d’affaires, to confirm whether there was any credibility to the news.

“Indonesia can’t accept it and has lodged a strong protest on the news that there are wiretapping facilities inside the US Embassy in Jakarta,” Marty said in a statement sent to the Jakarta Globe.

The Herald also reported, late on Wednesday, that the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was being used for the same illegal purposes of spying on Indonesian officials. An Indonesian official said the Australian ambassador will be summoned to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s office to provide an explanation.

Australian intelligence sources confirmed to Fairfax Media that Australia’s electronic espionage agency, the Defense Signals Directorate, is a “full partner” in the program, which they said “overwhelmingly harvests diplomatic, political and economic intelligence, not just information relating to terrorism and security.”

The operations are said to take up an entire room within the embassy compound and that local telephone calls can be listened to at will.

Getting the US to explain

As for the US in the meantime, Marty has asked for an explanation from US officials.

“I have talked with the US Embassy charge d’affaires and demand an official explanation from the US government on the news,” Marty said. “If it’s confirmed, then the activities are not just security breaches but also a serious violation of diplomatic norms and ethics. It’s certainly against the spirit of interstate friendship,” he added.

Bauer is temporary representing the US as Robert Balke, the designated ambassador to Jakarta, has yet to arrive in the city.

During Marty’s phone call to Bauer, the charge d’affaires was only listening, said an official, who asked for anonymity.

“She can’t say anything because she has to report back to Washington. That’s why we are now waiting for the US response,” the unidentified official said.

He said that whatever the answer, Indonesia would ask the US not to conduct any illegal surveillance with the country in the future, and would demand a political commitment to respect the friendship that Indonesia and the US have forged so far.

When contacted by the Jakarta Globe, US Embassy press attache Troy Pederson confirmed that the charge d’affaires has spoken with the Indonesian foreign ministry about the matter.

“We will continue to address these issues in diplomatic channels with our partners and allies,” he said.

Fachry Ali, a senior political expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said the damage has been done on the image of the US, and that Indonesia — as well as many countries in the world — has lost trust on whatever the US has to say and do.

“It’s against human rights — illegal and an attack on our sovereignty. So what else is left? We probably will keep on suspecting the US diplomats even when we do something together,” he said. “Indonesia should be tougher on this issue.”

Ethically wrong

Hikmahanto Juwana, a law professor at the University of Indonesia, said actions by the US were against international ethics and law.

“There are a number of measures to show that we can’t accept such conduct. We can expel several US diplomats or scale down our representation in the US. But the question is do we dare to do such things?” he said.

Hikmahanto said Jakarta’s reaction would most likely only be aimed at taming public anger, and should the US provide an explanation, do nothing.

He said Indonesia should be more cautious in the future when having to work together with the US.

“BIN [Indonesian Intelligence Agency] should actively do its own part to prevent such massive wiretapping from happening again,” he said.

While Indonesia awaits a US response, it also seeks an explanation from Australia on alleged spying activities.

Fairfax Media, the owner of the Herald, has been told that Australia’s collection of signals intelligence takes place from embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili, and High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby, as well as other diplomatic posts.

A secret US National Security Agency document leaked by Snowden and published by Germany’s Der Spiegel reveals the existence of a highly sensitive signals intelligence collection program conducted from sites at US embassies and consulates and from the diplomatic missions of other “five eyes” intelligence partners including Australia, Britain and Canada.

Code named “Stateroom,” the program involves the interception of radio, telecommunications and internet traffic.

The document explicitly states that the Australian Defense Signals Directorate operates Stateroom facilities “at Australian diplomatic facilities.”

Surveillance in small size

The document notes that the surveillance facilities “are small in size and in number of personnel staffing them.”

“They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned,” the document says.

The NSA document also observed that the facilities were carefully concealed. “For example antennas are sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds,” according to the report.

A former Australian Defense Intelligence Organization officer told Fairfax Media that the interception facility at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta played an important role in collecting intelligence on terrorist threats and people-smuggling, “but the main focus is political, diplomatic and economic intelligence.”

“The huge growth of mobile phone networks has been a great boon and Jakarta’s political elite are a loquacious bunch; even when they think their own intelligence services are listening they just keep talking,” the source said.

He said the Australian Consulate in Denpasar, Bali, has also been used for signals intelligence collection.

An Indonesian official said Indonesia would lodge a similar complaint with the Australian Embassy today.

“Yes, we will also ask for clarification on the news,” the official, who declined to be named, said.

It’s not the first time that intelligence gathering in Jakarta by other nations has come to the fore.

Intelligence leaks to the media in the 1980s disclosed an installation of “extraordinarily sophisticated’’ interception equipment in Australia’s High Commission in Port Moresby and in the Australian Embassies in Jakarta and Bangkok.

Further leaks of top-secret defense intelligence reports on Indonesia and East Timor in 1999 also indicated that Australia intelligence had extensive access to sensitive Indonesian military and civilian communications.

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