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Indonesia recalls its Australian ambassador alleging phone-taps on President Yudhoyono

Published time: November 18, 2013 09:29
Edited time: November 18, 2013 10:53
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (AFP Photo / STR)

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (AFP Photo / STR)

Indonesia is recalling its ambassador to Australia over allegations that Canberra listened in on phone conversations of the Indonesian president.

Indonesia said the ambassador was being called to Jakarta for "consultations".

The move by Jakarta comes as the Australian Department of Defence and the Defence Signals Directorate, or DSD, (now known as the Australian Signals Directorate), has been accused of monitoring the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati, as well as eight other high-ranking officials, including the vice president, Boediono.

Kristiani Herawati, the wife of Indonesian President (AFP Photo / Adam Berry)The latest leak, provided in May 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was released jointly by The Guardian newspaper and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, and will likely aggravate another diplomatic firestorm between Canberra and Jakarta.

The top secret material from the DSD is in the form of a slide presentation, dated November 2009, and divulges information on the monitoring of mobile phones just as 3G technology was being introduced in Asia.

In one of the presentations, entitled Indonesian President Voice Events, a graphic of calls is given on Yudhoyono's Nokia handset over a 15-day period in August 2009. The data provides CDRs – call data records – which record the numbers called, the duration of communications, and whether the transmission was a voice call or SMS.

The Australian spy agency “appears to have expanded its operations to include the calls of those who had been in touch with the president,” the report indicated. Another slide, entitled Way Forward, gives the simple command: “Must have content,” perhaps a reference to encrypted material.

Attached to the bottom of each slide in the 2009 presentation is the DSD slogan: “Reveal their secrets – protect our own.”

Also named in the surveillance slides are Dino Patti Djalal, then-foreign affairs spokesman for the president, who recently resigned as Indonesia's ambassador to the US and is seeking the candidacy in next year's presidential election for Yudhoyono’s Democratic party, and Hatta Rajasa, current minister for economic affairs and potential presidential candidate for the National Mandate party. Hatta served at the time of the surveillance as minister for transport; his daughter is the wife of the president's youngest son.

Other high-level officials on the list of “IA Leadership Targets” are: Jusuf Kalla, the former vice-president who ran as the Golkar party presidential candidate in 2009; Sri Mulyani Indrawati, then a reforming finance minister and since 2010 one of the managing directors of the World Bank Group; Andi Mallarangeng, who was at the time the president's spokesman, and later minister for youth and sports; Sofyan Djalil, who served until October 2009 as minister for state-owned enterprises; Widodo Adi Sucipto, a former head of the Indonesian military who served until October 2009 as security minister.

Another slide, entitled DSD Way Forward, acknowledges that the Australian spy agency’s must “capitalise on UKUSA and industry capability”, apparently a reference to assistance from telecom and internet companies, the same method that the NSA used to collect data on millions of individuals around the planet.

News of Australia’s high-level snooping on the Indonesian president and his top aides is certain to provoke a harsh response from Jakarta, especially considering this is not Australia’s first breach of trust between the Pacific Rim countries.

Tensions between Canberra and Jakarta began in October when top secret files revealed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel and published by Fairfax newspapers showed that Australian diplomatic posts across Asia were being used to intercept communications.

Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, issued a harsh response and threatened to review bilateral initiatives on issues important to Australia, including people smuggling and terrorism.

During a visit last week to the Australian city of Perth, Vice president Boediono - not yet privy to information that his own Blackberry device had been compromised by Australian spy agencies - briefly mentioned the long-standing spying controversy.

I think we must look forward to come to some arrangement which guarantees that intelligence information from each side is not used against the other,” he said. “There must be a system.”

Yudhoyono is the latest in a growing list of global leaders who have had their personal communications listened to by the American intelligence service.

It has recently been reported that the leaders of Germany, Brazil and Mexico have been listened to by the so-called Five Eyes, the collective name for the intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who share information. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters / Tobias Schwarz)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in late October demanded a personal explanation from US President Barack Obama as to why the NSA had tapped her mobile phone. The White House attempted to reassure the chancellor that her phone was “not currently being tapped and will not be in the future”.

It will be interesting at this point to see if the diplomatic backlash in wake of the recent wave of revelations will curb the Five Eyes’ surveillance program, or if it will just go deeper underground.
 
The Guardian then reported that the DSD worked together with the NSA to stage a massive surveillance operation in Indonesia during a UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.

On Monday a spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: "Consistent with the long-standing practice of Australian governments, and in the interest of national security, we do not comment on intelligence matters."

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