News and Comment, http://www.newsc.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 (9:21 AM US Eastern time)
By Allan Nairn
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
@2007 by Allan Nairn, News and Comment, http://www.newsc.blogspot.com/