Apr 17, 2024 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Apr 15, 2024

Indonesian spying on East Timorese exiles

The Indonesian government is using its embassies worldwide in a campaign of surveillance and intimidation against East Timorese activists and their supporters, claims the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta. 'The Indonesian intelligence activities, in fact surveillance, blackmail, pressure, harassment, is carried out primarily through the embassies, the military intelligence, who pose as diplomats, who are assigned as diplomats to the embassies in Canberra, in Madrid, in The Hague in Holland, in London, in the US, in the Permanent Mission in New York, in Canada,' Ramos-Horta told the ABC's Background Briefing.


These are the key places where there is a very active Indonesian intelligence gathering, and pressure, harassment activities, not only of the East Timorese but also of East Timor supporters, Australians, Europeans, and Americans, primarily those activities aimed at acquiring photographic evidence of demonstrations of East Timorese participating in demonstrations,' says Mr Ramos-Horta. 'Those photographs then are sent to East Timor to the Indonesian military intelligence branch in Dili. In turn they identify the families of relatives of those who participate in demonstrations. They are called in for interrogation, they are harassed, they lose their jobs, they are constantly reprimanded, harassed by the Indonesian military, and in some instances they end up in detention,' he says. 'The Indonesian Embassy in Canberra, the consulates in Darwin, in Sydney and Melbourne, are the most active in terms of gathering information on the pro-East Timor activities, all the East Timorese activists, on Australian activists who support the East Timor struggle.' The Indonesian government response to the claims has been stinging. Mr Ghaffar Fadyl of the Indonesian foreign office in Jakarta accused Ramos-Horta of having lost credibility in the international community. 'It's a pack of lies and anti-Indonesian propaganda, and nobody is going to believe it,' he said.


While the Australian government has so far remained silent on Ramos-Horta's call to issue a formal protest to Indonesia, it has been aware for at least four years of the Indonesian intelligence gathering in Australia and its use in East Timor. Confidential Australian diplomatic cables sent from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta to Canberra in 1993 and 1994 were revealed in recent Refugee Review Tribunal cases, and confirm the surveillance and intelligence gathering activities of Indonesian officials. A March 1994 cable from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta makes it clear who is doing the surveillance and what the consequences of the intelligence gathering may be: 'Usually Indonesian Embassies and Defence Attache offices will keep a close watch on Indonesians and particularly East Timorese youth and students abroad. They will send reports back to Jakarta on their observed or reported activities. Hence the authorities tend to build up a picture of what they may consider are anti-government activities.' The same cable says it is 'very possible' that a family member of someone involved in anti-government activities overseas 'could be treated adversely by the authorities even though that person themselves had no direct political involvement'. The family could be visited repeatedly, put under surveillance, and their mail and other communications can be monitored, says the cable.


Human rights lawyer, ex-diplomat and a former Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory, Bernard Collaery, says that Indonesian consular staff in Australia are overstepping their duties and breaching the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). 'There have been a number of incidents in my experience that have indicated to me over the years that the Indonesian government uses its own nationals, former nationals, and friends to obtain information on the activities of the East Timor relief and refugee organisations in Australia,' he says. 'It would be pushing the realms of ordinary common sense to suggest that the Indonesian government does not have a well developed antenna in our midst.' The Indonesian Embassy did not reply to a request for an interview, and several Australian ministers including the Attorney-General and Foreign Minister were approached but declined to comment. Darwin, in the north of Australia 600 km south of East Timor, is the nearest city to East Timor outside of Indonesia. Although far from the heart of international diplomacy in the northern hemisphere capitals like Geneva and New York, Darwin is no forgotten backwater on the southern shore of the Timor Sea. It has a substantial East Timorese community of some 3,000. For many Indonesians living there, the prospect of trade is said to be the attraction, but the Indonesian consul, Widodo Surono, is no businessman. His background is as a former senior Indonesian military officer. Darwin resident for 15 years, Jose Gusmao, a representative of the East Timorese resistance and a close relative of the resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, says the intelligence collection by the consulate is well known. 'The activity of the Indonesian consulate in Darwin is mainly spying activities, or intelligence activities, but in very sophisticated ways,' he says. 'So they try to set up a network throughout the community even by paying some members of the Timorese community to perform as their sources of information.' Gusmao says his photograph has been seen on the wall of the military intelligence centre in Dili, along with several other Darwin residents. 'I was warned by a friend of mine who went to East Timor and she says she was at the police and she saw my photo on the wall. Even she was surprised that photos that were taken in my house, a copy was there,' says Gusmao.


East Timorese community representatives in Darwin say that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) is aware of the activities of the Indonesian Consulate , but do not appear to have intervened. 'We wonder what is the main reason behind Asio's coming to have talks with us,' says 'Maria' [not her real name]. Maria says that the Asio officers ask about any threats from Indonesians in Australia, but also ask about leaders inside East Timor and in Portugal, about demonstrations, and divisions in the community, and they usually want names. 'I don't think [we] have been protected, because the names of people that we gave Asio agents as spies sent by the Indonesian military to spy on others, they have kept coming to Australia,' she says. A former senior intelligence worker described the role Asio plays in communities like these, as being that of an 'honest broker'. It seems that while the Indonesians are watching the East Timorese, the Australians are watching both. US Colonel (Retired) John Haseman spent 10 years at the US embassy in Jakarta as a Foreign Military Area Officer. In his role as the embassy's Defence Attache from 1990 to 1994 he made 13 trips to East Timor. 'My observation of the Indonesian military intelligence system is that it is very effective in domestic affairs. They are tasked to keep track of dissident movements, insurgent movements, anything that threatens internal stability and national security from within. They are quite good at that.' Former defence analyst and a former Australian consul to Portuguese Timor, James Dunn, disagrees. 'I think that intelligence organisations in undemocratic countries are often not very efficient, simply because they are inclined to tell their masters what their masters want to hear,' he says. The Indonesian intelligence agencies form a very important link between the military side of Abri and Indonesian politics. Surveillance and monitoring of East Timorese and their supporters in Australia seems likely to increase as the stakes get higher, and some of the information gathered by Indonesian intelligence may be provided to them by Asio.

Timor Sea

Under the Petroleum (Australia-Indonesia Zone of Co-Operation) Act 1990, Australia and Indonesia agreed on how to exploit the rich oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea. Article 13 of the Agreement provides that the signatories 'shall exchange information on likely threats to, or security incidents relating to, exploration for and exploitation of petroleum resources of Area A'. This section seems to be aimed at terrorists, but Bernard Collaery argues the broad wording will catch up many East Timorese and their supporters. 'It's not legitimate for there to be an exchange of information about those who peacefully and lawfully protest,' he says. 'And it is illegitimate for there to be an exchange of information about any ongoing activities of those emigre or expatriate groups.' The quantity and quality of Australian signals intelligence can be very high. A 1996 book by New Zealand activist, Nicky Hager, revealed a sophisticated computer analysis system, code named Echelon. With a worldwide network of spy satellites, operated in Australia by the Defence Signals Directorate, it enables the selective monitoring of telephone, fax, telex, and email communications in Australia and the region. The 1995-96 Asio Annual Report states that Asio is 'seeking to increase its understanding of potential sources of security harm in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region'. Asio says it would provide intelligence only where a country has similar 'regard for democratic and human rights'. At the same time the report notes that Asio now liaises with 156 approved foreign intelligence services belonging to 76 countries. The report also notes that the diplomatic mission of Indonesia, and several others, 'were afforded additional protection at various times during the year, in response to our assessments of potential threats to their security'. In Article 8 the Joint Authority is empowered to 'request action by the appropriate Australian and Indonesian authorities ... in the event of terrorist threat to the vessels and structures engaged in petroleum operations in Area A'. 'It implies that they [the East Timorese] are terrorists,' Collaery says. 'We have seen over the years how the security apparatus responds to likely threats. 'It is not an insurgency; it is not a terrorist campaign; it is not a guerrilla campaign; these are people in an occupied state fighting for their freedom.' Peter Cronau is a Sydney-based researcher and journalist; Matthew Brown is a producer with ABC Radio National's Background Briefing. Extracted from reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and on Radio National's Background Briefing.

Inside Indonesia 53: Jan-Mar 1998

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