Indonesia demands answers on spy claims

18Sep

According to an intelligence document leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, the United States has been covertly tapping Jakarta’s political elite.

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The intelligence data – first published in a report by German Magazine Der Spiegel – reveals that clandestine NSA programs are also being operated from within Australian embassies in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and East Timor, and at high commission in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby.

Codenamed ‘Stateroom’ the monitoring program reportedly intercepts telecommunications and internet traffic. The documents describe the surveillance facilities as carefully hidden, such as in the roofs of maintenance sheds, and notes that the majority of diplomatic staff are unaware they exist.

LISTEN: Monash University Indonesia expert Greg Barton speaking to World News Australia’s Kristina Kukolja

Foreign Minister Natalegawa described the alleged surveillance as ‘unacceptable’ and if proven would qualify not only as security breaches, but also as a ‘serious violation of diplomatic norms and ethics.’

The US embassy’s charge d’affaires in Jakarta Kristen Bauer was summoned by the Indonesian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to explain the allegations but is yet to comment.  The US State Department has also declined to respond to the specific reports, saying only that reviews of its intelligence gathering will be completed by the end of the year.

In a statement released late Thursday the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Australian Ambassador Greg Moriarty on Friday to explain Australia’s involvement in the purported espionage.

University of Indonesia law professor Hikmahanto Juwana says the allegations could undermine relations between Indonesia and the US, but revelations that Australia is also involved could be more damaging.

The claims come at a time when Australia is working closely with its neighbor to deepen co-operation to combat people smuggling, and newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott attempts to ingratiate himself with Jakarta.

“I think it is going to be very difficult for the Indonesian government to go against the US very harshly,” says Juwana, “However this is different with Australia because Indonesia sees Australia as less powerful and I think the Indonesian government can make a big fuss about this issue.”

Juwana says Indonesia has more bargaining room with Australia than the US and if the reports are verified Indonesia could refuse to co-operate on key issues, such people smuggling and granting parole to Australians in Indonesian jails.

Parole for convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby is currently in the hands of Indonesian bureaucrats, but Juawana says it is unlikely the government will approve the request at a time when Australia’s actions could rouse public anger.

Political analyst Aleksius Jemadu from Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta says the allegations undermine Indonesia’s strategic partnerships with Australia and the US at a time of growing interdependence.

“I think it will harm the relationships because now they know that there is a big deficit of trust on the part of the US and Australian governments,” said Jemdau.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would not make public comment on intelligence matters but stressed Australian agencies and officials have always acted in accordance with the law.

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