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US Intelligence Tapping Phones of Indonesian Civilians

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Investigative journalist Allan Nairn reveals that U.S. intelligence officers in Jakarta are secretly tapping the cell phones and reading the SMS text messages of Indonesian civilians. Some of the Americans involved in the spy operation work out of the Jakarta headquarters of Detachment 88, a US-trained and -funded paramilitary unit which is part of Kopassus, the Indonesian army’s special forces famed for abduction, torture and assassination. The news comes as Congress weighs whether to send more military aid to Indonesia. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Investigative journalist Allan Nairn has revealed that US intelligence officers in Jakarta are secretly tapping the cell phones and reading the SMS text messages of Indonesian civilians.

Some of the Americans involved in the spy operation work out of the Jakarta headquarters of Detachment 88, a US-trained and —funded paramilitary unit whose mission is described as antiterrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Detachment 88 was recently involved in the arrest of a West Papuan human rights lawyer who had sent a text message critical of the Indonesian military and the president, Yudhoyono. The lawyer, Iwangin Sabar Olif, was charged with “incitement and insulting the head of state.”

Sources have also told Nairn that US intelligence is providing covert intelligence aid to Kopassus, the Indonesian army’s Red Beret special forces famed for abduction, torture and assassination. These disclosures come as the US Congress is deciding whether to send more military aid to Indonesia.

Allan Nairn is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported from Indonesia for years. I reached him on the phone in Indonesia yesterday and asked him to lay out his findings.

    ALLAN NAIRN: US intelligence officials in Jakarta are secretly tapping the cell phones and reading the SMS text messages of Indonesian civilians, and they’re doing this from inside Indonesian paramilitary units that have been involved in arrests and attacks on civilians. And it also is the case that the US has been covertly aiding Kopassus, the most notorious unit of the Indonesian army, a unit that has been implicated in torture, disappearances, assassinations, and that the US Congress believed it had stopped aid to.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Detachment 88?

    ALLAN NAIRN: Detachment 88 is supposedly an antiterrorist unit. It is advertised as going after jihadist groups, like the ones that did the bombings in Bali and Jakarta in Indonesia that killed more than 200 civilians.

    But recently, Detachment 88 was involved in the seizure on the street of a human rights lawyer in West Papua, a lawyer by the name of Iwangin, and he was seized because he had received an SMS text message on his cell phone that criticized abuses that the Indonesian army was committing in Papua and criticized the president of Indonesia, General Susilo. And so, he forwarded these SMS text messages, and somehow Detachment 88 got wind of this. They snatched him off the street, and he was charged with incitement and insulting the head of state. And now we learn that US intelligence has personnel in Jakarta working inside the offices of Detachment 88, and one of the tasks is precisely to intercept SMS text messages.

    AMY GOODMAN: How do you know that Americans are involved?

    ALLAN NAIRN: Three sources have told me this, one of them a person who works regularly with the Indonesian security forces and who has spoken directly formally with the US intelligence people involved in the phone tapping. And the presence of the Americans was confirmed by two Indonesian officials who work inside Detachment 88.

    And further, when I asked the US embassy in Jakarta today for comment, they at first issued a blanket denial, but then, twenty minutes later, revoked that denial and issued a statement which did not deny the presence of US phone tappers inside these units and did not deny US covert intelligence assistance for Kopassus.

    AMY GOODMAN: In the piece you wrote, you talk about classified Kopassus manuals that talk about the technique of terror. Can you explain?

    ALLAN NAIRN: Yes, in their own internal training manuals, they talk about training their people in what they describe as the “tactic and technique” of “terror” and “kidnapping.” We have these manuals, because they were abandoned in East Timor in 1999 after Kopassus helped to massacre the population there after they voted for independence, and then fled the country, and they left behind some of these manuals. And they reveal that -— what had long been suspected, that it is formal policy of Kopassus to commit terrorism and to kidnap civilians.

    It should be noted — and this is a very important point — that although Detachment 88 is defined as an antiterrorism unit, it only claims to be antiterrorist in the sense that President Bush defines “antiterrorism,” and that is Islamic jihadists who attack Westerners or the allies of Westerners. In fact, if you use an objective definition of “terrorism,” actually similar to that in the USA PATRIOT Act, which is attacking civilians, killing civilians for political purposes, if you use that kind of definition, then the main terrorist threat in Indonesia is not these jihadist groups, which have killed several hundred civilians, but other [inaudible] and the Indonesian military and police themselves, who have been involved in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian civilians. They are the main terrorist threat, by any definition. So the US is giving antiterrorist aid to terrorists.

    AMY GOODMAN: Explain again the relationship between Detachment 88 and Kopassus.

    ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Detachment 88 and Kopassus are two different units, but they are both receiving covert US intelligence aid. Kopassus is part of the army. They’ve been around for many years, and they have been involved in torture and massacres in East Timor, in Aceh, in West Papua, in other regions.

    Detachment 88 is newly created, just within the past five years. It is nominally under the Indonesian police, but Detachment 88 was essentially created out of whole cloth by US intelligence. It was a project of a longtime CIA and State Department official by the name of Cofer Black, one of the architects of the US invasion of Afghanistan. Detachment 88 was provided with advanced US sniper rifles and pistols and machine guns. Former US Green Berets were brought in to train them.

    And now, in this piece today, I disclose that there are actually US personnel working inside the Detachment 88 headquarters in Jakarta. And what they are doing is tapping the cell phones of Indonesian civilians. They’re listening in on their calls. They’re reading their text messages. And it’s precisely such an SMS text message that led to the recent arrest by Detachment 88 of a Papuan human rights lawyer, a man by the name of Iwangin. And his offense was merely that he forwarded an SMS that criticized the Indonesian army and criticized the president of Indonesia. And for this, he was seized by this US-created antiterrorist unit.

    AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the Detachment 88 mentored by Cofer Black, well known for his CIA ties, also vice chair of Blackwater and a top adviser to the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

    ALLAN NAIRN: Well, I wasn’t aware of Black’s recent activities with Romney and Blackwater, but he was definitely one of the key men in the launching of Detachment 88. And now, his successors in US intelligence have people there directly on the ground in Jakarta, Americans who work inside Detachment 88 headquarters and are eavesdropping on Indonesians.

    One of the sources who described the work of the Americans — and this is someone who has worked with them and has heard them describe their tasks to him — he said that they have very extensive and sophisticated equipment provided by the US, which, in theory, would enable them to tap into any cell phone in Indonesia, so they could target anyone and listen in on their conversations or read their text messages.

    AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, why would the US embassy official in Jakarta first deny any US involvement, or knowledge even, of Kopassus or Detachment 88? And then, tell us what’s happening now in Washington in the US Congress?

    ALLAN NAIRN: Well, about twenty-four hours before I called the embassy this afternoon to ask for comment, the US Congress had asked the US executive branch in Washington about the question of aid to Kopassus. They were asked whether the US was covertly providing aid to Kopassus or was planning to do so. The US embassy may have heard about these inquiries, because the Congress is now deciding within the next few days a military aid bill that includes aid to Indonesia. So when I called the embassy, they issued the blanket denial, saying the US is not involved with either Detachment 88 or Kopassus. That was odd, because they had already acknowledged on the public record in the past that the US was involved with creating Detachment 88.

    So, twenty minutes later, I received an email from the embassy saying that the spokesman misspoke, and they said that “The US government” — and then this is the quote — “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,” end-quote. Now, this statement did not repeat their earlier denials, 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.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why, do you think, the difference in the two responses?

    ALLAN NAIRN: I’m not sure. I think possibly the first time around, they may have been trying to finesse the matter. The statement used the present tense. They may have been trying to get away with saying, “Well, we’re not aiding them at this minute.” And it so happened that just hours before, I had called the Detachment 88 office, and the Indonesian officials there said that the Americans didn’t come into work today. So maybe they were trying to get away with a statement like that.

    But then, I guess they reassessed it and realized that their blanket denial contradicted some facts that were already on the public record. Some US official had already testified to Congress about the fact that they had given public aid to Detachment 88. So they decided to back off. So the final statement they issued really doesn’t deny anything. It doesn’t deny any element from my report that US intelligence has people inside Detachment 88 tapping the phones of Indonesians, reading their text messages, and that US intelligence is also covertly aiding the notorious Kopassus special forces.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the debate that’s going on right now in Washington, what is it over?

    ALLAN NAIRN: It’s an appropriations bill. It’s called the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. And the Bush administration is pushing for millions of dollars in aid to the Indonesian military. The House and the Senate are now trying to reconcile their different versions of the bill. A decision may be made within days.

    People can contact the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Some of the key players in this decision will be Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is a critic of the Indonesian military and who’s chair of the Senate subcommittee; Representative Nita Lowey of New York, who is also a critic of the Indonesian military and chairs the House subcommittee. A lot of this depends on how strong a position Lowey and Leahy take.

    Another key player is Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia, the ranking Republican on these matters in the House. He previously had stood up for human rights. He previously was a critic of the Indonesian military, but now he’s switched, and now he’s backing them, and he’s pushing for many millions of dollars in aid to these murderous Indonesian armed forces. Another key player is Senator Bond of Missouri, who is a key apologist for the Indonesian armed forces and intelligence establishment.

    AMY GOODMAN: On the ground, where you are, Allan Nairn, what does it mean if the US directly funds Kopassus?

    ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Kopassus — the Indonesian military is hated by the Indonesian public. The term, if you talk to regular people, poor people in the neighborhoods, the term they use for the Indonesian military is “sadists.” And everybody knows that. In fact, it’s so well known that the Indonesian military a couple of years ago even put up an entry on their website in which they denied that they were sadists, because they know that that’s what the people call them.

    Within that military, the most-hated and -feared unit is the Kopassus, because they are the most highly trained, they are the most specialized in torture and abduction. And they also are the unit that has historically been closest to the United States. Previously, Kopassus has received courses from US Green Berets and other units in matters like advanced sniper technique, psychological operations, reconnaissance, surveillance, air assault, etc. So Kopassus is really the worst of the worst in an army that has massacred hundreds of thousands of Indonesian civilians since they seized control back in 1965.

    AMY GOODMAN: Finally, General Prabowo, you write, the most notorious of the Kopassus commanders, his connection to the United States?

    ALLAN NAIRN: Yes, Prabowo was the commander of Kopassus a few years ago, and he was also one of the officers most highly trained by the US. He trained at Fort Benning, he trained at Fort Bragg, and other places. And, in fact, Prabowo once complained to an American that he was so closely identified with the United States that some of the other Indonesian generals made fun of him, because he spoke English so well. He said they called him “The American.”

    At one point a few years ago, the US embassy in Jakarta wrote a memo defending the IMET military aid training program for Indonesian officers, and they listed what they considered to be several success stories of US-trained officers, and one of them was General Prabowo, who has been implicated in torture and kidnappings and massacres in Timor, in abductions in Jakarta and in many other places. This was an officer cited by the State Department as a model of US training success.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything else you want to add, Allan?

    ALLAN NAIRN: Yes. It’s very important, when we talk about terrorism, to be objective. Terrorism is the killing of civilians for political purposes. By that standard, the jihadist groups, like those that did the Bali bombings, are certainly terrorists, and they’ve killed several hundred civilians in Indonesia. But by this standard, the Indonesian military and police are also terrorists, and terrorists on a much larger scale. They have killed many hundreds of thousands of Indonesian civilians.

    President Bush has what Karl Rove has called “the Bush doctrine,” and that is, “You aid a terrorist, you are a terrorist.” And if we apply that standard, when the US is aiding the Indonesian armed forces and the Indonesian police, which meet the objective definition of “terrorism,” the definition included in the USA PATRIOT Act, i.e. killing civilians for political purposes, then Bush, the US, by the US’s own standard, by the Bush doctrine, is engaging in a terrorist action by aiding terrorists, and he should stop. We should stop aiding any forces that kill civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative journalist Allan Nairn, speaking to us from Indonesia. To read his full report, you can visit his website at newsc.blogspot.com. We will link to newsc.blogspot.com at democracynow.org.

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