US intelligence officers in Jakarta are secretly tapping the cell phones and reading the SMS text messages of Indonesian civilians.
Some of the Americans work out of the Jakarta headquarters of Detachment 88, a US-trained and funded para-military unit whose mission is described as antiterrorism, but that was recently involved in the arrest of a West Papuan human rights lawyer.
The Papuan lawyer, Iwangin Sabar Olif, was seized by police and Detachment 88 on the street and later charged with “incitement and insulting the head of state” after he forwarded SMS text messages that criticized the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), as well as the President of Indonesia, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. (West Papua is a restricted-access region where Indonesian forces have been implicated in rapes, tortures, kidnappings, assassinations, mass surveillance and intimidation.)
The information on the US surveillance program is provided by three sources, including an individual who has worked frequently with the Indonesian security forces and who says he has met and formally discussed their work with some of the American phone tappers, as well as by two Indonesian officials who work inside Detachment 88.
The first source says that the he was told that the Americans are employees of the US CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), but it could not be confirmed whether they work for the CIA or other US agencies. He says that through his work he has observed that these US intelligence specialists help run a sophisticated wiretapping network that uses much new US equipment.
He says the US operation includes the real-time monitoring of text messages, as well as mapping contact “networks,” ie. tracing who is calling or texting whom.
This individual deals frequently with Detachment 88, but says that he has not inquired about the seizure of the Papuan human rights lawyer, Iwangin .
He said that Detachment 88 units are also present in other outlying zones including Solo, Ambon, and Poso, the later two of which have been the scene of TNI – POLRI (the Indonesian National Police, who formally oversee Detachment 88) “provokasi” operations that have helped to spur deadly fighting between poor Muslim and Christian villagers.
This source also says that US intelligence is providing covert intelligence aid to Kopassus, the Indonesian army’s red beret special forces famed for abduction, torture, and assassination.
Classified Kopassus manuals discuss the “tactic and technique” of “terror” and “kidnapping” (see “Buku Petunjuk tentang Sandi Yudha TNI AD, Nomor: 43-B-01”).
Kopassus has, in the past, been heavily trained by US Green Berets and other forces, in topics that included “Demolitions,” “Air Assault,” “Close Quarters Combat,” “Special Reconnaissance,” and “Advanced Sniper Techniques” (all of these during the Clinton administration, under a program called JCET — Joint Combined Exchange Training).
But after this training was exposed and after the TNI – POLRI Timor massacres of 1999 (which followed a UN – supervised independence vote, and in which Kopassus was implicated), many in Congress were under the impression that they had succeeded in stopping US aid to Kopassus.
(Congress is due to decide within days on a new lethal aid bill for Indonesia).
The American presence inside Detachment 88 was confirmed by an Indonesian Detachment 88 official who said that a team of Americans did telecommunications work in the “Intel Section,” along with an individual whom they believed to be a British national.
A second Detachment 88 official also confirmed the US presence, but said he did not know the name of the American team leader. Like the first Detachment 88 official, he gave the name of the operative whom he said was British, but that named individual could not be reached for comment.
Asked for comment on December 12, during the late afternoon, local time, Stafford A. Ward, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Jakarta at first said he was not familiar with such a US program and did not know what Kopassus was.
An hour later Ward read out a statement that said that “there are no Americans in either Detachment 88 or Kopassus.” When asked if there was any kind of US assistance to those units he said: “The US is not involved with either of those organizations. I can confirm to you that the US has no involvement with either Detachment 88 or Kopassus.”
In fact, though, that US Embassy statement appeared to contradict the public record. US officials have frequently spoken on the record about their involvement with Detachment 88, including to the press and in meetings with and testimony to the US Congress.
Twenty minutes after issuing that denial, Embassy spokesman Ward sent the following email: “I misspoke earlier when you called me a second time today. The U.S. government works with Indonesia to bolster its counterterrorism capabilities. For example, the Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance has trained Indonesian Antiterrorist Units.”
This revised Embassy statement did not repeat the denials of the earlier statement, nor did it deny the presence of US personnel inside Detachment 88, nor did it deny the existence of covert US intelligence aid to Kopassus.
US officials have never acknowledged on the record the presence of US intelligence wiretappers inside Jakarta’s security forces, nor have they acknowledged on the record the provision of intelligence assistance to Kopassus.
The initial Embassy denial, phrased in the present tense, came less than 24 hours after the US Congress, in Washington, made private inquiries to the US Executive Branch about whether the US was aiding or planning to aid Kopassus.
These Congressional inquiries came after this blog reported on December 7 that “the State Department this week was putting out urgent queries around Washington that make it sound as if they are planning to openly aid Kopassus,” and after people in a position to know privately declined to deny that report.
It is not known whether the Congressional inquiries included the question of Detachment 88.
But in a call to the Detachment 88 office hours before today’s initial carefully-phrased Embassy denial, the Indonesian officer who answered the phone said that the Americans had not come in to work today and that, as far as he knew, the British staffer there was on vacation.
Detachment 88 has been mentored by veteran CIA and State Department official Cofer Black, who was one of the architects of the US invasion of Afghanistan.
Detachment 88 is publicized as being aimed at violent jihadists, like the groups implicated in the bombings in Bali and Jakarta that killed more than 200 civilians.
But the US wiretapping program provides a capacity to target any kind of phone user in Indonesia, an issue of concern in a country where the security forces — often US-assisted — have killed many hundreds of thousands of civilian dissidents.
ALLAN NAIRN can be reached through his blog.